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Los Angeles Based BIZFED Campaign Committee Supporting Cerritos Candidates Violated Election Laws

By Brian Hews

BizFed PAC (PAC), a political action committee sponsored by the Los Angeles Federation of Businesses (LAFB), recently sent out a very expensive City Council campaign flyer to Cerritos mailboxes supporting candidates Jim Edwards, Chuong Vo, and Naresh Solanki; a flyer that could put the PAC in the sights of the Fair Political Practices Enforcement Division (FPPC) for several reporting violations.

The flyer also places the three Cerritos candidates in a very uncomfortable position.

The LAFB does not list a single business within their 108 members from Cerritos.

Out of the 108 members, 45, or 42%, are Los Angeles County Chamber of Commerce organizations.

The list does not include the Cerritos Regional Chamber of Commerce. Chamber Executive Director Scott Smith told HMG-CN, “we didn’t join as we are already involved in other like organizations specifically the Gateway Chambers Alliance – a group of about a dozen chambers in the Gateway area of L.A. County.”

HMG-CN also obtained documents from the Cerritos City Clerk’s Office showing that Edwards, Vo, and Solanki recently received $500 each from the PAC.

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The donations raise serious questions of coordination between the committee and the three candidates, which would be a violation of state election laws.

Many political heavyweights in Cerritos told HMG-CN that they had never heard of the PAC prior to the mailing and were skeptical of its purpose.

The reporting violations stem from Chapter 11.13 of the FPPC Manual which states, “Committees that make an independent expenditure of $1,000 or more to support or oppose a single candidate during the 90 days prior to the local candidate’s election must file a separate Form 496 (24-Hour Expenditure Report) for each candidate supported or opposed. The report must be filed within 24 hours regardless of the day of the week and must be filed by fax, guaranteed overnight delivery, or personal delivery.”

The manual states for multiple candidates, “the cost may be attributed to each featured candidate calculating the prorated costs based on the amount of space allotted to each candidate or ballot measure supported or opposed in the mailer.”

Other FPPC regulations require all committees that receive contributions and expend funds in the run-up to an election to file separate pre-election reports, including reports covering specific pre-election periods, another for late contributions and still another for late expenditures. There is no evidence that the committee filed any of these required reports with Los Angeles County or the cities involved.

Cerritos residents received the flyer last Friday, Feb. 20. The flyer involves design, printing, sorting, and mailing, which, at the very least, takes at least one week.

The FPPC manual mandates that the Form 496 should have been filed with the Cerritos City Clerk on Feb. 13—possibly sooner—but certainly no later than the day it was dropped at the post office.

HMG-CN is in contact with the Cerritos City Clerk and as of today Friday, Feb. 27, a Form 496 has not been received by the office from the PAC.

The PAC is also mandated to file a Form 496 in Los Angeles County at the Norwalk Registrar’s Office. Once again, as of Friday Feb. 27, the form has not been received from the PAC.

The FPPC can fine up to $5,000 for each violation.

HMG-CN attempted to contact the treasurer of the PAC, Steve Bullock, CFO of Cerrell Associates, Inc. for clarification.

The email asked whether a small group of members paid for the flyer, using the PAC as their vehicle. The email also advised Bullock that under FPPC rules, disclosure of the ultimate sources of funding for the piece, not the PAC, is required by law. And finally, the email asked for the actual FPPC disclosure filings.

Bullock referred HMG-CN to Tracy Rafter the CEO of the PAC. Rafter was the Publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News from 2004-2006.

Rafter told HMG-CN, “BizFed PAC does not solicit nor accept contributions earmarked for any specific candidate or campaign. We are fully aware of an(d) are confident our activities reporting comply with the Political Reform Act. Our reports are available from each filing officer with whom we are required to file, which changes depending on our activities.”

Rafter did not volunteer to provide HMG-CN the committee’s FPPC disclosure filings.

Rafter went on, “the BizFed PAC is a “general purpose committee” and decisions about the PAC’s activities are made by a Board of diverse business leaders throughout the County.”

The PAC is actually “General Purpose County Committee” that is “sponsored” by the Los Angles Federation of Businesses. It is unclear whether members of the LAFB know their membership dues might be supporting candidates in different cities, candidates whom they might not agree with.

When asked who the PAC’s board members are, Rafter once again skirted the question.

When asked why they supported Edwards, Vo, and Solanki, Rafter said, “our candidates are chosen through interviews and a consensus vote (by the Board).”

Cerritos candidate Naresh Solanki told HMG-CN that he went to Pasadena for interviews, “in front of about 25 people.”

HMG-CN obtained from a source the one-page PAC questionnaire given to candidates prior to interviews, a document that contained very generic questions.

One question asked for the candidate’s background, “Tell us a little about yourself, your background in the region, and why you are interested in running for office? (One paragraph)”

Next up were “campaign” questions, “Who will vote for you – and why? Who do you consider your top endorsement – and why? What is your fundraising goal and actual funds to date?”

Last was “policy” questions, “What specific things would you do to create private-sector jobs? How would you increase revenues in your city? How do you view your city in the context of the regional economy?”

One Cerritos resident, who did not want to be identified commented, “so we have an organization that has nothing to do with Cerritos, that has a lot of money, summoning Cerritos City Council candidates to the mountain to fill out a soft-ball questionnaire.

He went on, “The candidates are then interviewed by people who we, as Cerritos residents, know nothing about, approved by a board that we know nothing about, after which the organization spends thousands on those candidates to get them elected. The question is what will the PAC demand if these candidates indeed do get elected, especially in light of the fact they also gave each candidate $500 each?”

One candidate, who declined to be identified said, “the interview process was a joke, very short, I did not get to say much.”

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