Capitol Alert

AM Alert: FPPC to vote on fine for Commerce councilwoman

Fair Political Practices Commissioners Patricia Wynne, left, Chair Jodi Remke, and Eric Casher conduct business on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014 in Sacramento, Calif.
Fair Political Practices Commissioners Patricia Wynne, left, Chair Jodi Remke, and Eric Casher conduct business on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014 in Sacramento, Calif.

The Fair Political Practices Commission hopes to break a month-long stalemate today over Tina Baca Del Rio, a Commerce councilwoman who repeatedly failed to file financial disclosure forms with the state.

Baca Del Rio first appeared on the political watchdog’s monthly agenda in July facing a proposed fine of $104,000. It was one of the highest FPPC fines ever proposed against a local elected official.

The FPPC found evidence to support 24 counts against Baca Del Rio for violating the Political Reform Act. The violations included transferring more than $8,000 from her campaign committee to her personal bank account and using campaign money to buy stuff at Lowe’s and Wayfair for her kitchen renovation.

Baca Del Rio ignored repeated notices from the agency, making it a default case. In default cases, the agency often suggests the highest possible fine as a way to draw violators to the negotiating table.

On the day of the July meeting, Baca Del Rio showed up at the FPPC office on J Street. She provided evidence to lower the number of violations and agreed to pay a reduced settlement of $55,000 on 12 counts.

The case was held over until the August meeting, where something unusual happened. Commissioners Maria Audero and Gavin Wasserman rejected the lowered fine, while Chair Jodi Remke and Commissioner Patricia Wynne voted in favor of it. The tie-breaker, Commissioner Eric Casher, was not present.

In an extensive discussion, the dissenting commissioners said they wanted to make more of an example of Baca Del Rio, a repeat offender who blatantly violated the law, and send a message that the agency takes cases seriously. They thought the lowered counts and weaker fine would let her off too easily.

Remke said the fine was appropriate compared to similar violations and considering that Baca Del Rio agreed to a settlement, which guarantees payment that can otherwise be difficult to obtain in default cases.

A handful of Commerce residents drove nearly 400 miles to Sacramento to attend the meeting, begging the agency to give Baca Del Rio the highest possible fine. The town’s mayor, Ivan Altamirano, faces his own FPPC fine of $15,500 for appointing his sister to the city planning commission and committing other violations.

All five commissioners are expected to vote on Baca Del Rio’s proposed fine today.

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Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna