Capitol Alert

State watchdog launches probe of California GOP spending

Charles T. Munger Jr.
Charles T. Munger Jr. Sacramento Bee file

The state’s political ethics watchdog has launched an investigation into whether the California Republican Party violated campaign finance rules in the Central Valley’s 21st Assembly District.

In a letter Thursday, the California Fair Political Practices Commission informed campaign attorneys that the agency was looking into an Oct. 16 complaint concerning the California GOP and party mega-donor Charles T. Munger Jr. Republican officials have repeatedly denied the allegations and say they followed the law.

The complaint challenges the state party’s ability to receive unlimited sums from Munger and use the money to make independent expenditures on behalf of Republican Jack Mobley and against Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced. Gray won the race by 6 percentage points.

Independent expenditures are allowed as long as parties and other committees making them don’t coordinate with a candidate. While the ethics agency has fined campaigns and outside groups for illegal coordination in the past, this would be the first violation by a state political party organization.

The complaint in Gray’s district, filed by local Democratic activist Faye Lane, contends that the party and its chairman, Jim Brulte, were actively involved in the Mobley campaign, contributing phone-banking and other nonmonetary aid.

“I think the only reason these were reported as independent expenditures is because they were funded by large contributions to CRP from a wealthy donor, Charles Munger,” Lane wrote in the complaint. “He gave $2 million to (the party) starting September 29, and the IEs started right after that.”

A similar complaint was filed against the GOP in the 14th District race between Republican Sen. Andy Vidak of Hanford and Democrat Luis Chavez.

In a prepared statement Friday, state GOP spokeswoman Kaitlyn MacGregor said the political ethics agency is “simply doing their due diligence in looking into the complaint, but we are confident in our process and that the IEs implemented were in full compliance with the law.”

MacGregor said the party is encouraging the commission to investigate the California Democratic Party for coordinating on behalf of Gray and for Tom Torlakson in his successful re-election for superintendent of public instruction.

Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago.

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