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Monday Aug. 4, 2014 12:30
Deputy Legislative Secretary Martha Guzman-Aceves, her boss Legislative Secretary Gareth Elliott, California Secretary of Labor David Lanier, and other employees appointed by Governor Brown also violated state law and the Governor’s own Conflict of Interest Policy by failing to turn over complete and accurate records to the Fair Political Practices Act as required by law.
By Brian Hews and Randy Economy
Hews Media Group-Community News has found through a public records request that California Deputy Legislative Secretary Martha Guzman-Aceves intentionally filed false documents with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) to conceal hundreds of thousands of dollars, filed false tax returns, failed to report receipt of payment from a political committee, and omitted third-party relationships that directly conflict with her position and duties as Deputy Legislative Secretary in the Office of Governor Jerry Brown.
Guzman-Aceves was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown on June 6, 2011, and is considered one of his top trusted administration insiders.
In addition to Guzman-Aceves’ involvement, Legislative Secretary Gareth Elliott (her boss), California Secretary of Labor David Lanier, and other employees appointed by Governor Brown violated state law and the governors own conflict of interest policy by failing to turn over complete and accurate financial disclosure records to the FPPC as required by statute.
In Nov. 2013, another media outlet filed a public records request with the Governor’s office. Ms. Theresa Poon of the FPPC responded, “We don’t have anything for Martha Guzman Aceves.”
HMG-CN learned from a source of the unfulfilled request and sent its own request to the Office of the Governor back in April 2014. The request, containing 72 pages, was completed three days later.
A close review of the documents obtained by HMG-CN also show that Guzman-Aceves’ omissions on her Statement of Economic Interests 700 Forms are directly related to pending and enacted legislation, regulations, and policy issues she personally handled for Governor Brown, Elliot, and Lanier.
During one period of unreported income and undisclosed conflicts of interest, Guzman handled at least 93 legislative bills in her specialty areas of Energy, Environment, Food, Agriculture, Natural Resources and Water, including 43 chaptered or enrolled laws.
Intentional Omissions on 700’s
State law requires that a person entering public office must file an “Assuming Office” Form 700 thirty days after appointment. When Guzman-Aceves first became a member of Brown’s administration in 2011, she rightfully disclosed her relationship as a partner in Cultivo Consulting, a lobbying firm, on her Form 700.
But Guzman-Aceves failed to disclose that she served as both chief executive officer and as a founder role at two other organizations.
Those two organizations, which received hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions, payments, and political committee expenditures, are the Communities for a New California Education Fund (CNCEF) a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable educational corporation, and Communities for a New California, Inc., (CNC), a 501(c)(4) non-profit social welfare corporation.
Shockingly, all three companies were not disclosed on Guzman-Aceves’ 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 700 Forms.
Equally as shocking, the Office of the Governor attempted to hide it.
How and Why?
After reading this expose, many will ask why Guzman-Aceves would attempt, and then intentionally hide, the cronyism and corruption she and her close colleagues have engaged in.
She is a graduate of the UC Berkley School of Law and was appointed to one of the most prestigious positions in California politics, assisting the Governor of California in legislative duties.
By her actions, Guzman-Aceves has put all of her hard work and Governor Brown at risk.
Her boss David Lanier had to know what was going on.
This expose answers the questions of what, when, and where, but how and why this happened will be only be answered by those involved.
CEO of Communities for a New California Education Fund
HMG-CN found through tax returns that CNCEF’s business office is located at 1108 Hawk Ave., Sacramento CA 94833, an address listed by Guzman-Aceves as her primary residence on her voter registration form.
The same tax return listed the phone number of the entity as 916-524-2241, a Cingular cellular telephone billed to Martha Aceves.
In addition, Guzman-Aceves signed the 2011 and 2012 tax documents of CNCEF as the entity’s CEO. For part of her term of appointment, Guzman was also the designated Agent for Service of Process of CNCEF corporation.
This company was never listed on Guzman-Aceves Form 700’s.
Fiscal Sponsor-Funneling Dollars
CNCEF also has a ‘Fiscal Sponsor’ relationship with the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment (CRPE), a 501(c) (3) “environment justice litigation organization.”
CRPE gave CNCEF $210,000 in 2011, $342,585 in 2012, and $315,681 in 2013, for a total of $868,266.
Guzman-Aceves failed to report these amounts on her FPPC Form 700 filings.
CNCEF also received $40,000 in 2011 from the Women’s Foundation of California, $15,200 from the Western Conservation Fund in 2012, $25,000 from the Tides Foundation and $11,000 from the California Endowment in 2013 for a total of $91,200.
Once again, Guzman-Aceves failed to report these amounts on her FPPC Form 700 filings.
And CRPE is equally at fault. The Chief Financial Officer of CRPE is Arminda Montoya. Ms. Montoya prepared and signed CNCEF’s 2012 tax returns.
Guzman and her accountant for CNCEF also filed false tax returns. According to records, in 2011 CNCEF was given $210,000 but only reported $155,656.
In 2012, CNCEF was given $342,585 and only reported $322,115.
The examination shows that the funds of CRPE were commingled, making it impossible to segregate the origin of specific funds used to make its grant to CNCEF, which could include government grant funds.
In 2012, CRPE reported over $1.4 million in program service expenses with $0 grants made to other organizations and $0 in revenue derived from those services. Yet further on in the tax returns, CRPE reported receiving $313,206 in revenue from government grants funding programs by U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. CRPE also answered the question “YES” that they are working towards influencing legislation.
Similar numbers were reported for 2011, with $50,000 being received in government grants.
Government grant funds given to CNCEF by CRPE and used for a get-out-the-vote campaign would place CNCEF, CRPE and their officers in violation of Federal Granting Laws, which is a federal offense.
Co-Founder of Communities for a New California, Inc.
In 2008, Guzman-Aceves, along with her long-time business partner Jennifer Hernandez, established the lobbying firm Cultivo Consulting. Guzman-Aceves listed Cultivo Consulting on her initial Form 700 filed in 2011 and listed Ms. Hernandez as a “partner/owner” of Cultivo.
Communities for a New California, Inc. (CNC) was established March 12, 2010, and documents show that Guzman-Aceves holds major influence over the operations of CNC.
In January 2013, Ms. Guzman-Aceves provided her biography to Latino Journal prior to receiving the “Spirit of Latina Award.” In the published biography, Ms. Guzman-Aceves described herself as “co-founder of Communities for a New California, a 501c4.”
Directors and Staff in Common
After formation, Jennifer Hernandez was immediately elected as President of CNC. Ms. Hernandez is also a Director on the Guzman-Aceves’ CNCEF’s Board.
Pablo Rodriguez, who controls the accounting books and is Executive Director of CNCEF of which Guzman-Aceves is the CEO, was hired as Executive Director of CNC.
Ironically the agent for service is Rich Rios, partner in Olson, Hagel & Fishburn, LLP which touts itself as a “Law Firm focusing on Political Law, and Campaign Reporting Services. The listed address for service is Olson’s law firm.
A HMG-CN review of documents shows that CNC also received material amounts of money directly from other sources that Guzman-Aceves failed to report on her FPPC Form 700 filings.
In 2012, the Alliance of Local Leaders for Education stated it paid a grant of $116,084 to Communities for a New California for “Field Work.”
Once again, Guzman-Aceves failed to report these amounts on her FPPC Form 700 filings.
That same year, CNC claimed expenses on its tax returns of $128,414 that included several “Program Service Accomplishments,” including work by CNC subcontractor “Pesticide Action Network,” (PANNA).
In violation of federal tax laws, CNC failed to list expenses for each program, including PANNA, which calls into question exactly where the money went.
PANNA is an anti-pesticide advocacy and lobbying firm engaged on legislative matters directly related to Guzman’s official duties overseeing environmental legislation. Prior to and during a portion of her appointment term, Guzman served a term as a PANNA director, according to PANNA’s website.
Guzman’s oversees that legislation with the California Environmental Protection Agency and California Department of Pesticide Regulation.
This includes working with governor-appointed Cal-EPA Secretary Matthew Rodriguez, Cal-EPA Deputy Secretary for Science and Health, Gina Solomon, and Cal-DPR Director Brian Leahy.
PANNA’s 2012 tax returns were similar to CNC, claiming expenses of $516,175, citing a project in Kern and Fresno County, locations where CNC operates.
In violation of state laws, PANNA failed to list expenses for each program, which again calls into question exactly where the money went.
CRPE even got in on the game when it gave $20,000 to PANNA in 2011.
Guzman-Aceves and Jennifer Alvarez Hernandez are partner/owners of Cultivo Consulting according to FPPC Form 700 Assuming Office Statement Guzman-Aceves filed in 2011
But Guzman-Aceves omitted from her later filings her continuing role and activities with Cultivo Consulting.
Cultivo Consulting is a privately held partnership established in 2008. Its office addresses in Sacramento and Los Angeles, California are unlisted.
The office telephone number of Cultivo Consulting’s Sacramento office, 916-524-2241, is registered to a Cingular cellular telephone billed to Martha Aceves and is the same telephone number listed on IRS tax filings as the primary telephone number of Communities for a New California Education Fund.
Communities for a New California – Fresno Committee
Communities for a New California – Fresno Committee is an active statewide independent expenditure committee formed in 2010. It is also registered with the Federal Election Commission as a federal independent expenditure committee.
The Treasurer is Rita Copeland with the business office located at 5429 Madison Ave., Sacramento, California 95841, the same as Communities for a New California.
The President is Daniela Simunovic. Documents show that Ms. Simuovic was an employee of CNCEF and remains an employee of CNC.
In late 2011, forms filed showed the committee owed Martha Guzman-Aceves $437.90 for accrued independent campaign expenditures she made on behalf of the committee. According to forms filed in 2012, the committee paid Ms. Guzman-Aceves $437.90 for that expense.
Once again, Guzman-Aceves failed to report on her 2012 FPPC Form 700’s the $437.90 political expenditure payment she received from Communities for a New California – Fresno Committee.
Established to Influence Legislation and Money
HMG-CN performed exhaustive research on Guzman-Aceves’ actions and found that she undertook activities counter to the 501(c)(3)-CNCEF, or a 501(c)(4)-CNC, charter.
The actions included lobbying California legislators, U.S. Congress-members, and taking positions on specific legislation, ballot-measure issues, and candidates.
Even more disturbing, HMG-CN found that Guzman-Aceves participated in making decisions as a government official on issues in which CNCEF and CNC had a direct financial interest.
Guzman-Aceves, with the help of her long-time business partner Jennifer Hernandez, lobbied and advocated for specific legislation and regulatory matters directly related to Guzman-Aceves’ duties for the Governor and state.
Communities for a New California Education Fund-2011 to 2013
In August 2013, Pablo Rodriguez, Executive Director of CNCEF signed on behalf of his organization his endorsement of a public comment letter from Pesticide Action Network North America’s (PANNA) Californians for Pesticide Reform urging the California Department of Pesticide Regulation not to register a soil fumigant pesticide.
This is a regulatory matter directly involving Guzman-Aceves in her official capacity.
CNCEF is listed by PANNA as a member of the Californians for Pesticide Reform Steering Committee on its Policy Roadmap position statement, “Investing in Innovation.”
CNCEF had in 2012 or has presently in place a contractual agreement with PANNA to conduct specific work for the organization on its behalf.
CNCEF also supported several bills, including AB 1081 (Ammiano) “Immigration Detainer Requests,” AB 2384 (Bradford) “Schoolsite councils,” and AB 2334 (Fong) “California Water Plan: Affordable drinking water analysis” during the 2012 legislative session.
Communities for a New California-2011 to 2013
Guzman-Aceves posted on Facebook in October 2012 her picture with CNC Fresno Team Leader Venise Currey, captioned “CNC co-founder Martha Guzman and CNC Fresno Team Leader Venise Currey encourage you to vote Yes on 30!”
In August 2012, CNC was a named sponsor of a PICO California Pilgrimage for a Pathway to Citizenship with activities that included invitations to U.S. Congressman Devin Nunes and letter-writing and phone outreach to Mr. Nunes’ office.
CNC was named a sponsor of a grassroots campaign on a flyer by the California Immigrant Policy Center (CIPC) urging specific votes on seven ballot measures in the November 6, 2012 election. CNC is a member of CIPC’s steering committee.
CNC advertised publically for open positions of Canvassers and Phone Banker jobs in Fresno from September 29 to November 6, 2012.
CNC was listed as a supporter of the AB 4 (Ammiano), “Federal immigration policy enforcement,” the TRUST Act. CNC also supported several bills including SB 1381 (Evans) “Food labeling: genetically engineered food,” and SB 1411 (Jackson) “Pesticides: application safety” during the 2014 legislative session.
A further review of documents found that CNC did not register with the FPPC as a major donor or an Independent Expenditure Committee, nor did it report political campaign expenditures.
CNC received funds from other 501(c)(4) organizations and registered political committees and paid campaign workers and other campaign expenditures of political committees during the 2011-2012 election cycles. A political committee also listed CNC as its agent or contractor, making expenditures on the committee’s behalf.
CNC and CNCEF co-mingled its money with grants to CNCEF and grants and contracts from other third-party entities.
HMG-CN Filing FPPC Complaint
As a result of the revelations found, HMG-CN will be submitting a comprehensive complaint to law enforcement officials, the Attorney General, and the FPPC citing Guzman-Aceves violations.
Even though we are a newspaper, we feel this is the correct action to take given the circumstances surrounding the violations.
Several calls into Guzman-Aceves went unreturned.
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