WatchSonoma Watch

FPPC launches probe into Santa Rosa council race


Scott Bartley

The state’s campaign finance watchdog has opened an investigation into allegations that three Santa Rosa City Council candidates improperly shared expenses during last fall’s campaign.

Scott Bartley, Jake Ours and Juan Hernandez all received letters from the enforcement division of the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission explaining that it had opened a formal investigation into a complaint filed last month by local attorney Richard Meechan.

Herb Williams, a Santa Rosa lobbyist and campaign consultant for all three candidates, confirmed his clients had received copies of the letter last week. He said they had hired an attorney and would have no comment until the investigation is complete.

Jake Ours

Meechan, co-chairman of the Coalition for a Better Sonoma County, said he had not yet received a copy of the letter, but was pleased to hear of the decision.

“It does tell us that they think there’s something there,” Meechan said. “It sure smells like smoke.”

A prior complaint Meechan filed over the election was dismissed. That one alleged a public safety managers’ union and a political action committee delayed disclosure of donations until after the election.

Meechan’s latest complaint claimed that the three candidates, two of whom (Bartley and Ours) were elected, violated campaign spending rules by sharing expenses equally without raising money equally.

Juan Hernandez

He argued that Bartley, who received the most contributions of the three, carried his runningmates by spending money on promotions for all three of them. Meechan claimed those expenses were effectively undisclosed in-kind contributions that violated state campaign finance disclosure requirements, as well as local rules limiting contributions to $500 per person.

He said his issue was less with the individual candidates than with their campaign manager, Williams. “If it was manipulation, then it was his manipulation, I believe,” Meechan said.

Williams noted the March 8 letter expressly stated the opening of an investigation in no way suggests anyone did anything wrong.

The letter to Meechan reads in part that “we have not made any determination about the validity of the allegation you have made nor about the culpability, if any, of the person you identified in your complaint.”

City Attorney Caroline Fowler explained that anyone found violating the city ordinance can be fined three times the amount given exceeding $500, or $2,500 per violation, whichever is greater.

Her office had received a complaint similar to the one filed with the FPPC, she said. Because it involves two sitting council members, however, she plans to forward it to the county district attorney for investigation, she said.

14 Responses to “FPPC launches probe into Santa Rosa council race”

  1. John Hudson says:

    There is nothing unusual about this. It is simply an adversary system at work. Naturally, in an adversary system that is designed to govern political activity, the allegations are going to be made by one political opponent against another just like in an adversary system designed to govern relations between parties to a contract or between estranged spouses or neighbors with a dispute. People who are not directly involved will take sides, as you see here. Whether the forum is judicial, arbitration, or administrative, people are going to behave as you see here.

  2. kat says:

    wonder if Rick Meechan and Susan Gorin is working together on this…..who’s on who’s payroll. We all know that Susan G. don’t like to play fair and she only likes you if you are on her side.

  3. Paul I. says:

    Nothing here but complaint files. Now it will cost in law fees, until a resolution.

    That is politics, like it or not.

    Do we need more biking news or what. Good that they are gone.

    Now Oakmont will rise up as it has in the past.

  4. Villager with Pitchfork says:

    As you will recall, the last slate: Wysocky, Michael Allen, Vas Dupre, Lee Pierce, spent money on flyers and advertising. Who paid?

    It’s looking like an investigation will be requested on that.

    This is Meecham thing is a minor filing issue–NOT like what Michael Allen did: major conflict of interest being a secretly paid lobbyist while supposedly being an impartial commissioner.

    Meecham is an operative, an attention diverter. This is a stunt.

    Both sides of the council are nasty, self-serving manipulative climbers. A pox on both their houses. It’s too much to ask that a real person, not beholden to the environmental mafia, fat-cat unions, or shiny suit developers would actually get some funding to get elected and serve the people. Santa Rosa, what a town.

  5. Beef King says:

    It sounds to me like ‘Not a Chance’has ‘not a clue’ and watches way too much Fox News and Glenn Beck.
    Wipe the froth from the corners of your mouth and re-focus on the facts. Michael Allen was found guilty as charged of betrayal of public trust, and slapped with a fine that wouldn’t inconvenience him or anyone else.
    The local council people are being investigated for what serious offense? Oh yeah, sharing expenses.
    Emotional tirades in the comment section expose your lack of objectivity.

  6. Mitch Fowler says:

    I’d vote to reduce all my taxes across the board and force the government to do less and spend less. Herb Williams can’t stop me from voting in favor a a tax decrease. Can we get more such issues on the ballot? I personally don’t know of anyone who would not vote to reduce taxes if the issue came up. I doubt Herb Williams mail out has anything to to with anyone’s decision to vote to reduce taxes.

  7. John Hudson says:

    One election Herb Williams did NOT win was the campaign against Rohnert Park Measure L in 2008, the sewer rate roll back. Williams had every possible advantage on his side, including the endorsements of every “respectable” in Sonoma County, a war chest filled with developer money, and friendly media. No campaign was waged in favor of Measure L. The conduct of the campaign run by Williams has been criticized by Jud Snyder, an ardent opponent of Measure L as not being credible and making contentions that the public just did not believe. As a result of Williams’ failure to fool the people of Rohnert Park, the Rohnert Park city despairs of winning an election to repeal Measure L and is trying to repeal it without a vote of the people.

  8. TheObserver says:

    @ not a chance:

    loved your dig at the P-D…very funny!

  9. Not A Chance says:

    @Beef King

    Real quick, you admit to being biased to the right, correct?

    I just want to make sure you don’t actually think you are ever even keeled about anything that happens politically. Your rhetoric needs work, you can’t pick and choose which rulings you’re okay with from the FPPC, for example you don’t like Michael Allen, so short of a prison sentence it isn’t a strong enough ruling. But when it comes to the “evil businessmen” (your words not mine, good choice though) you find them to be persecuted by the FPPC, textbook hypocrisy.

    The FPPC is truly non-partisan body they don’t care about who Michael Allen or Herb Williams are as people; they care about their behavior when it relates to political matters.

    Stop trying to put a Fox News twist on things you just simply aren’t as talented as Bill O’Riley or Glenn Beck. Leave the partisan accusations to the pros like Derek Moore.

    Seriously though, have a good day.

  10. Chris says:

    @ben You got it wrong. Scott Bartley made unreported contribution to the two other candidates to float the weaker fundraising and in the process exceeded the local donation limits. They are now trying to cover it up. These unethical leaches need to be fined and then booted from office.

  11. Michael Henderson says:

    Isn’t this the same slate that made a pension deal with the SR Cops on the way in…? And had one of their slate members “forget” to make payroll taxes for years? Why are we surprised that Mr Williams candidates are being investigated by the FPPC? I’m just surprised that it took them this long…

  12. cyclist says:

    At least someone is watching! Fairness is what it is all about. Do you have something against the FPPC? Skeleton in your closet?

  13. Ben Romeu says:

    If I get this straight, former candidate and Susan Gorin’s ally Rick Meechan has filed charges against three people to attempt to get at consultant Herb Williams for winning elections? By Meecham’s own admission, it has nothing to do with the elected officials, and he is dragging their names through mud to do what? Win the elections his side lost over the last two decades? Make no mistake, this is sour grapes.

  14. Beef King says:

    So the ‘watchdog’ FPPC is at it again. Now that they have given Michael Allen a massage instead of the punishment he deserves for being found guilty of deceiving the public, we can watch as they crucify the evil businessmen for ‘sharing expenses’.
    Who is watching the watchdog?