Capitol Alert

Former California lawmaker Tony Strickland faces $80,000 FPPC fine

Then-state Sens. Leland Yee, left, and Tony Strickland chat in private as the California Senate considers high-speed rail funding on July 6, 2012.
Then-state Sens. Leland Yee, left, and Tony Strickland chat in private as the California Senate considers high-speed rail funding on July 6, 2012. Sacramento Bee file

Former legislator Tony Strickland faces up to $80,000 in fines from the Fair Political Practices Commission, which alleges he laundered money to a campaign fund supporting his failed bid for state controller.

Strickland served in the California Legislature for 10 years, most recently representing Ventura’s 19th district in the Senate from 2008 to 2012. He previously served the 37th Assembly District from 1998 to 2004. The Republican lawmaker lost a race for state controller to Democrat John Chiang, and made two unsuccessful bids for Congress.

The FPPC’s investigation focused on contributions in 2010 from the Ventura County Republican Party and the Stanislaus County Republican Party to Strickland for Controller, a candidate controlled committee, according to the agency’s agenda documents.

The county committees worked with Strickland to illegally funnel $65,000 in contributions from three individuals to his campaign fund, the watchdog agency said.

Strickland asked the donors to give money to the two committees, which then passed the funds along to his campaign. In several instances, Strickland gave kickbacks to the other parties for their part in the money-laundering scheme, the FPPC found.

“These allegations are extremely old,” said Steve Baric, Strickland’s attorney. “ My client just wants to get this case behind him and move forward.”

The money-laundering plot allowed the original donors to conceal their identities in filings and avoid exceeding campaign contribution limits to Strickland’s fund, according to the FPPC. The donors include Texas oil and gas executive William Templeton, San Marino investment manager Andrew Barth and Matthew Swanson, president of Associated Feed & Supply Co. in Turlock.

“Laundering campaign contributions is one of the most serious violations” of the Political Reform Act, the FPPC wrote in case documents.

Pluvious Group, a political fundraising firm in Los Angeles that ran the Strickland campaign, set up many of the illegal donations, and all the parties involved, including Strickland, were aware of the money laundering plot, the FPPC said.

The agency documents e-mails in which Strickland gives orders on how to pay off the other groups.

“Templeton, Barth and Swanson each made maximum contributions to Strickland’s campaign,” the FPPC said in documents detailing the case. “Yet Strickland, an experienced candidate and officeholder, continued to solicit funds from Templeton, Barth and Swanson and directed them to make contributions to VCRP and SCRP.”

The case is listed as in “default” on the FPPC agenda and the agency said Strickland missed deadlines to file timely responses to notices. The FPPC first notified Strickland of the case against him nearly a year ago.

Baric, Strickland’s attorney, argued that he’s in “constant contact” with the FPPC and has been negotiating a settlement for months.

“We should be able to get something wrapped up on this shortly,” Baric said.

The Strickland case is similar to another FPPC case against Sen. Tom Berryhill, who was fined $40,000 for laundering money to his brother’s campaign account days before the 2008 election. The FPPC found that Berryhill colluded with GOP central committees in Stanislaus and San Joaquin to move money from his account to his brother’s to avoid campaign contribution limits. The FPPC opened the investigation in 2009 and the case dragged on until 2014.

The FPPC declined to comment on the Strickland case until the commission votes at its May 19 meeting.

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna