Local Politics

Friday, Dec 07 2012 05:42 PM

Former candidate fined for illegal use of campaign funds

BY CHRISTINE BEDELL Californian government editor cbedell@bakersfield.com

A onetime city council candidate who hacked into a political rival's computer and distributed the secrets he found has agreed to pay a state watchdog agency $6,000 for spending campaign funds on criminal legal fees unrelated to his election bid, according to government filings.

Filings also show two sitting local lawmakers have agreed to pay fines for inadequate campaign finance reporting.

The Fair Political Practices Commission is scheduled to take up the staff-recommended settlements of all three cases next Thursday.

In the first matter, 2010 failed Bakersfield City Council hopeful Martin Bertram faces a $6,000 fine for using campaign money to defend himself against criminal charges of accessing the computer of then-Republican state Assembly candidate Ken Mettler and distributing what he found, including to The Californian.

He found emails indicating Mettler had recruited Shannon Holloway to run in the same 2010 32nd Assembly District GOP primary he was running in to create name confusion that would damage his main rival, Shannon Grove. Grove ultimately won the primary and general election.

Bertram told The Californian in October 2010 that he did what he did because voters had a right to know what Mettler was up to.

In September 2011, Bertram pleaded no contest in Kern County Superior Court to a misdemeanor charge of delaying an investigation and an infraction charge of unauthorized access to a computer. A misdemeanor charge of illegally taking campaign information was dismissed.

Bertram racked up legal fees, some of which were covered or advanced by Bertram campaign consulting firm Western Pacific Research, which still have not been repaid, according to the stipulation between Bertram and the FPPC. It says Bertram paid some of the legal fees directly from his campaign funds.

On or about Jan. 27 and May 9 of 2011, the FPPC says, Bertram spent campaign funds totaling $1,500 and $2,500, respectively, on the fees.

"Personal use of campaign funds is a serious violation of the Act because the prohibition against such personal use is the only thing separating campaign contributions from bribery," the FPPC agreement says.

The two violations carried a maximum penalty of $5,000 each. The FPPC says it cut Bertram a break in part because he agreed to an early settlement with the agency.

Campaign finance reports filed with the city of Bakersfield show that as of July 1 of this year, Bertram's 2010 council campaign still owed Western Pacific Research $58,354.

Bertram did not return a phone message left at his work Friday afternoon. Mettler said in a statement: "Candidates and professional consultants who consistently violate the law and the expectation of transparency in our political process deserve to have severe penalties imposed upon them."

Grove and Kern County Supervisor Zack Scrivner are facing FPPC fines, too.

Filings show Scrivner and his 2010 campaign treasurer Shawn Kelly have agreed to pay $4,750 for two violations: failing to report information about payments to subvendors totaling about $297,182 in original campaign statements filed between July 1, 2009, and Oct. 16, 2010; and failing to report accrued expenses totaling approximately $99,685 in statements filed for the period of Jan. 1-Sept. 30 of 2010.

Grove and campaign treasurer Karen Cain have agreed to pay $2,250 for failing to timely report subvendor information for payments totaling about $229,374 during the 2010 primary, FPPC documents say.

Grove said Friday she had reported paying a media group to buy advertising time for her but didn't specify which media outlets ultimately were paid. She said she now understands the rules better and filed amended reports.

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