Capitol Alert

California ethics watchdog nabs its former leader

Dan Schnur is director of the American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeles regional office. He previously served as chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
Dan Schnur is director of the American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeles regional office. He previously served as chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

Dan Schnur is under fire from a state watchdog agency he once headed for failing to timely disclose a $125,000 personal contribution to his political fundraising committee.

Schnur led the California Fair Political Practices Commission for roughly seven months after then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger named him chair in June 2010.

Now the agency is seeking a $4,500 fine against its former chief for failing to report a contribution and using personal funds to pay campaign expenses during an unsuccessful bid for secretary of state in 2014. Schnur agreed to the proposed fine in negotiations with the agency staff, and the five-member commission is scheduled to consider the deal at its May 25 meeting.

Schnur’s campaign ended when he finished fourth in the June primary, trailing Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Republican Pete Peterson and disgraced lawmaker Leland Yee, who was arrested for illegal arms dealing before the election.

After realizing he couldn’t raise enough money to pay off outstanding campaign debt, Schnur made a post-election personal contribution of $125,000 to his committee in late June, according to FPPC documents.

State law dictates that every contribution over $5,000 received during an election cycle must be reported within 10 business days. The committee did not report the $125,000 contribution. Schnur later reported the money through a candidate campaign statement, although it was filed outside the 10-day window.

The FPPC further alleges that Schnur paid $12,658 in campaign expenses using his personal credit cards instead of through a designated bank account for the committee. The expenses were also not properly reported.

The agency listed aggravating factors against Schnur and committee treasurer Kelly Lawler: Failure to file 24-hour campaign contribution reports 11 times, prior histories of violating state election law and Schnur’s experience with California’s rules given his time as chair of the commission.

“I was originally disappointed when I saw such a significant fine for what was essentially a clerical error,” Schnur said in a statement. “But I developed tremendous respect for the FPPC staff during my time working with them, so of course I agreed to their proposal without complaint. This is how the process is supposed to work.”

Schnur previously faced a $200 FPPC fine for failing to report a $1,350 gift from the Northern California Lincoln Club on a statement of economic interest during the campaign.

Schnur worked in Republican state and national politics for nearly 20 years.

He served as John McCain’s communications director during the 2000 presidential campaign and spent five years as a spokesman for former Gov. Pete Wilson, among other high-profile posts.

Schnur began teaching politics and communications at the University of Southern California in 2004 and became director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute, which promotes civic engagement, four years later. He’s the founder of the USC/L.A. Times statewide political poll and frequently quoted in the press. He also lectured about American politics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Schnur accepted a role as director of the American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeles office and left his USC post earlier this year. Schnur said he will continue to teach classes at the university as an adjunct professor.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. May 16, 2017 to include Schnur’s statement and more detail on his teaching status at USC.

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna