The State Worker

Former California pension leader says CalPERS broke election law, wants result overturned

J.J. Jelincic, a candidate who lost an election for the CalPERS Board of Administration in October, is formally protesting the election’s result, claiming the $380 billion pension fund improperly used government resources to support his opponent.

Jelincic filed a protest letter with the California Public Employees Retirement System Nov. 4 calling for a new election based on what he says are violations of election procedures.

The contested seat on the 13-member board represents retirees, who voted in the election in September. Henry Jones, the incumbent, won with a margin of 66 percent to 34 percent.

In the protest letter, Jelincic says elected officials and CalPERS staff members violated state law when they publicized a harassment finding against him from 2011, when Jelincic worked in CalPERS offices as an investment officer.

Jelincic claims state Treasurer Fiona Ma violated election laws by discussing the harassment in an official letter, that board members illegally discussed the harassment during an open meeting in a public building, and that CalPERS’ Office of Public affairs tried to get news outlets to publish stories on the harassment.

The letter also raises questions about CalPERS’ handling of mailed ballots and its use of internet voting.

Neither Jelincic nor his attorney, Jason Jasmine of Sacramento firm Messing Adam & Jasmine, immediately returned phone calls or an email Friday. The law firm represents a number of California public safety unions that endorsed Jelincic’s campaign.

Jelincic is a former state union leader who served two terms on the pension fund’s board, starting in 2010 while he still worked as an investment officer.

The 2011 sexual harassment complaint came from three lower-level CalPERS employees who worked with Jelincic at the pension fund. They said looked them up and down, made inappropriate noises when they walked by and commented inappropriately on their attire and appearance.

State Personnel Board Administrative Law Judge Teri Block in 2011 found merit to their complaint and ruled that Jelincic had violated the fund’s zero-tolerance harassment policy.

In July of this year, Sacramento Bee opinion columnist Marcos Breton published a piece detailing some of the women’s testimony to the judge.

Jelincic, in his protest letter, alleges CalPERS’ Office of Public Affairs was behind a push to get news organizations to publish the harassment finding.

When reached for comment, CalPERS spokesman Wayne Davis said only that the fund is following the protest process outlined in state law.

Three days after Breton’s piece was published, Ma, who in addition to being treasurer is a CalPERS board member, wrote an open letter on official letterhead urging Jelincic to drop out of the race over the harassment finding. It was co-signed by Democratic state Sen. Connie Leyva and by Theresa Taylor, a CalPERS board member and former vice president of SEIU Local 1000.

Jelincic claims Ma’s letter violated a state law that forbids elected officials from aiding or obstructing elections.

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On Aug. 21, two women who are associated with the three anonymous women who filed sexual haarassment complaints pressed CalPERS leaders to block Jelincic from running.

The board has no authority to do that, but several board members responded with supportive comments to the women. Jelincic said in his letter that the discussion, held in public building, violates state law. He said Jones, who is the board’s president, shouldn’t have let the conversation go on.

Jones didn’t return a phone call Friday.

In September, as voting got underway, a union-funded political action committee sent a mailer to voters that included a copy of Ma’s letter. It was packaged in an envelope made to look like it came from Ma’s office.

Jelincic alleges Ma’s letter was “sent to” the political action committee. Ma’s office has said she did not authorize the use of her letter in the mailer.

His letter also says the two women who spoke at the August meeting sent emails “campaigning against Mr. Jelincic” that were signed “CalPERS team members” and “CalPERS employees.”

Jelincic has used his own official email in the past to discuss CalPERS politics, according to emails The Bee obtained through a records request. He gave advice in 2017 to then-candidate Margaret Brown on how to write campaign materials.

The process outlined in state law requires CalPERS and the two candidates to agree on a set of independent arbitrators, who then must convene and weigh evidence and produce a decision within 30 days.

The law says “a protest shall only be granted upon a finding that board-adopted election procedures were not substantially followed and that, without this lack of substantial compliance, the election outcome would likely have been different.”

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Wes Venteicher anchors The Bee’s popular State Worker coverage in the newspaper’s Capitol Bureau. He covers taxes, pensions, unions, state spending and California government. A Montana native, he reported on health care and politics in Chicago and Pittsburgh before joining The Bee in 2018.