By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A former Santa Rosa City Council candidate claims the union representing police and fire managers may have violated campaign finance laws in the last election.
Richard Meechan, a local attorney who dropped out of last year’s City Council race, filed a complaint this week with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission.
Meechan claims that the union representing public safety managers and a political action committee bent on bouncing Mayor Susan Gorin and Councilwoman Veronica Jacobi from office appear to have struck a donation deal that wasn’t disclosed until after the election.
But Rob Muelrath, the political consultant for the independent expenditure committee, “The Coalition to Clean up the Mess at City Hall — Citizens Opposing Gorin and Jacobi for Santa Rosa City Council 2010,” said there was no such deal.
“It’s clear to me that they are trying to make this into something that it is not,” Muelrath said.
The 2010 council race was notable for the personal nature of the political attacks by public safety unions against Gorin and Jacobi, both of whom made it clear that budget pressures required the city to pursue further concessions from public employees.
The city’s main police and fire unions, the Santa Rosa Police Officers Association the Santa Rosa Firefighters Local 1401, joined forces with the two prominent builder groups, the North Coast Builders’ Exchange and the Sonoma County Alliance PAC, to donate $10,000 each to the committee.
The committee and the donor groups disclosed the contributions about two weeks before the election.
But the Santa Rosa Police Management Association, which represents 29 sworn managers in the police department and five managers in the fire department, did not report their $7,000 donation to the group until election day. And the committee didn’t report until Feb. 3 the donation it says it received Nov. 3.
The group ultimately spent nearly $49,000 on mailers against Gorin and Jacobi and donations to their opponents, Scott Bartley, Jake Ours and Juan Hernandez. Jacobi lost, shifting the balance of power on the council back in favor of candidates supported by business organizations.
“The reason this is more than just a technical violation of FPPC regulations is that it was newsworthy and likely to influence voters who were denied the opportunity to hear about it,” Meechan wrote in his complaint.
Meechan argues that the committee’s expense reports from mid- to late October make it “obvious from the spending that the contribution was promised.”
Rebecca Olson, the Sacramento attorney hired by the committee to file its campaign finance reports, said even if the union did agree to make a later donation, that’s not something either group needed to report unless it was an “enforceable promise,” like a written promise or guarantee.
The public would not be served by disclosures of informal agreements for future donations because promises can be broken, Olson said.
Campaigns often spend money they don’t have in hand and then raise funds to pay for those expenses, Muelrath said.
“We’re betting on the come that we’re going to continue to raise the money,” Muelrath said.
Sgt. Steve Fraga, union president, did not return a call for comment.
Gorin said she’s not familiar with the specifics of the complaint but has noticed a troubling pattern of large donations being made to campaigns on or just after election day.
“It speaks to the fact there is not transparency about what groups are funding the mailers,” she said.