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Central Basin Director Art Chacon Fined $25,000 by Fair Political Practices Commission

Central Basin Water Board Director Art Chacon.

By Brian Hews

The California Fair Political Practices Commission has hit Central Basin (CB) Director Art Chacon with a $25,000 fine for violations related to his 2014 re-election to his CB Water Board seat.

The violations are related to an independent expenditure committee Californians for Clean Water (Clean Water).

THE FPPC investigation found that Chacon did not disclose that he “controlled” Clean Water in terms of receipts, expenditures, and campaign decisions.

The remaining violations – incorrectly identified campaign mass mailings and financial control of both committees – were a direct result of the FPPC’s finding that Chacon controlled Clean Water.

The FPPC wrote in its stipulation, “although Chacon did not control every action and decision of Clean Water, the influence of his agents (that operated Clean Water) was significant enough that the committee qualified as his controlled committee under the Political Reform Act. “

Clean Water was operated by Cary Jones, and Chacon’s brothers, Hector and Fernando.

In a phone call to HMG-CN, Chacon denied having any control of Clean Water, “it was an independent committee, I did not have anything to do with Clean Water.”

HMG-CN also contacted Paul Fickas who validated Chacon’s comment, “my company (PJF Communications) controlled the committee called Californians for Clean Water that was set up to support Art Chacon and oppose candidates running against Art in November 2014. I am shocked and disappointed that Art got fined, Art Chacon is a good water board member and someone I believe in and that is why I was more than happy to create a committee to support him.”

The Clean Water committee sent three mass mailings “in opposition to Chacon’s opponents without identifying Chacon as controlling the committee.”

FPPC law dictates that all disclosure information must be included on mass mailings, in this case “Paid for By Clean Water.”

In mid-October 2014, the Clean Water committee sent a mass mailer in opposition to Chacon’s opponent, Elba Romo.

The mailer also opposed Sergio Calderon who was running for re-election to the Water Replenishment District.

The mailer urged the reader to “Vote No” on Romo and Calderon, both who were portrayed in a bad light and referred to as “bad apples.”

The disclosure said, “paid for by Californians for Clean Water ID #1365897; but the ID number was the ID of the Chacon’s personal committee Art Chacon for Water Board 2014, not the not Clean Water committee.

At the end of October 2014, the Clean Water committee sent two more mass mailers, the same Romo-Calderon bad apple mailer to 5,000 recipients and a mailer slamming another Chacon opponent, Jason Stinnett.

Both mailers included “paid for by” disclosures that were identical to the first bad apples mailer, except this time, the committee ID number that appeared in the disclosures was for the Clean Water committee— instead of the ID number for Art Chacon for Water Board 2014.

The FPPC noted, “the mailer against Stinnett first was printed using the ID number for Art Chacon for Water Board 2014, but this was “corrected” by the printer. The original ID number was covered with X’s, and the ID number for the Clean Water committee was added next to this.”

“In this way, Chacon and the Clean Water committee committed three violations which provides that when a committee sends a mass mailer, the mailer’s ‘paid for by’ disclosure must include the name of the controlling candidate.”

The FPPC finished, “the committee’s campaign statements never disclosed Chacon as the controlling candidate, he never signed or verified them, and the committee name never included Chacon’s last name.”

Lastly, since the FPPC found the Chacon controlled both his own personal committee and the Clean Water committee, the agency found that Chacon and the Clean Water committee violated Section 85201, termed the “one bank account rule.”

Simply stated, since the FPPC found Chacon controlled both committees and should have used only one bank account instead of two separate accounts that were used by Chacon and Clean Water.

The rule “provides that all contributions made on behalf of a candidate must be deposited into a single, designated campaign bank account, and all campaign expenditures must be made from this same account.”

The FPPC fined Chacon $25,000: $5,000 for failure to disclose controlling candidate relationship on campaign filings; $15,000 for failure to disclose the true sender of three mass mailings; and $5,000 in violation of the “one bank account rule.”