Elk Grove News

Elk Grove councilman faces fine for paying son’s legal bills with campaign cash

Elk Grove Councilman Steven Detrick was flagged for his second political violation this year after using nearly $100,000 in campaign funds to cover his son’s legal bills.

The Fair Political Practices Commission this week said Detrick violated a state ban on using campaign funds for personal expenses and proposed a $3,500 fine, which the second-term councilman has agreed to pay.

At issue was $93,500 Detrick paid to Sacramento law firm Boutin Jones between July 2013 and July 2014 for attorneys’ fees incurred by his son Brian Detrick, an Elk Grove event planner who was embroiled in a dispute with a local activist.

Constance Conley alleged that Brian Detrick had failed to register with the state attorney general’s office as a commercial fundraiser though he had solicited money for charities. Brian Detrick denied the accusation and in June 2013 sued Conley for libel, asserting that her claim had cost him a business relationship.

In the FPPC’s proposed settlement, officials said Steven Detrick “mistakenly believed” the expenditures were lawful because he considered Conley a political rival whose statements “were motivated by her personal and political rivalry” with the Elk Grove councilman. The FPPC document also says Conley was a former employee of Steven Detrick.

The councilman has personally reimbursed his campaign account for his son’s legal bills, avoiding stiffer penalties, according to the FPPC.

Steven Detrick did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

In June, Steven Detrick paid a $1,500 fine to the FPPC after using $425 in campaign funds to purchase a one-night Sonoma hotel stay and wine tasting at a charity auction for Elk Grove Teen Center USA. The FPPC used the councilman’s previous violation as one of three recent examples supporting the commission’s case for the new transgression.

Steven Detrick won re-election in 2012 after running unopposed for his District 3 seat.

He built a sizable war chest heading into that election, raising $166,000 in 2011 and 2012, according to campaign finance records. His biggest donors included developer and former oil executive Gil Moore, Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 447, developer Vintara Holdings and city transit operator MV Transportation.

His son’s legal bills were by far his biggest campaign expenditure to a single party in the last four years.

Steven Detrick will pay his $3,500 penalty out of campaign funds, as he did in June for his earlier violation. The commission will vote on his violation and settlement at its Aug. 21 meeting in Sacramento.

Conley applauded the finding Tuesday.

“The FPPC has actually shown its teeth of late,” she said. “It sends the message that if you misuse your campaign funds, you’re going to be held accountable.”

She added, however, that she doesn’t believe elected officials should be able to use campaign funds to pay fines.

“If you had to pay out of your personal account, you would be more mindful of the act,” Conley said.