Local Politics

Thursday, Feb 21 2013 09:20 AM

Local Young Republican groups face fine over campaign finance reports

BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

The Kern County Young Republicans Political Action Committee and the KCYR Voting Guide face what to them is a heavy $11,000 fine from the state agency that enforces campaign finance laws.

The two linked groups, according to staff for the California Fair Political Practices Commission, failed to report spending, obscured the name of a candidate they supported with a mailer and did not report where some money they did spend was going during the 2010 campaign season.

FPPC commissioners are scheduled to take up the fine at a meeting Feb. 28.

In a written statement, current Kern County Young Republican Chairman Matthew Braman acknowledged the violations. He said the group is an all-volunteer organization that ran afoul of "convoluted" reporting requirements and has been punished by an agency that seeks to make money off small groups of volunteers just trying to express their First Amendment rights.

According to an agreement with the FPPC, the Kern County Young Republicans have agreed not to contest the fine and accept the penalty.

"We made some errors in our reports. State regulators pointed out six errors involving eight required government reports of political communications during 2010," Brahman wrote. "Those errors were mostly of a technical or timing nature, not intentional failures to disclose donors."

The two groups are affiliated with local Republican political consultant Mark Abernathy. Braman said that Abernathy "would have had no idea about this spending," and has "little or nothing to do with these (Young Republican) committees, they are strictly volunteer run."

The groups are closely connected. In 2010, Bryan Williams, then an employee of Abernathy client Assemblywoman Jean Fuller (who is now a state senator), was the treasurer of both groups.

He said in a campaign finance report that on May 18, 2010, he "inadvertently" took a $10,000 donation from the politically active Giumarra family to the Voter Guide and deposited it into the PAC bank account.

Williams, who is currently a staffer for Kern County Supervisor Zack Scrivner, shifted the money to the Voting Guide and added it to another $3,900 received from Kern Refuse Disposal meant for the guide that same day.

According to campaign statements the group did file in 2010, the KCYR Voting Guide group received the $13,900, kept $100 of it and then shifted the balance to Western Pacific Research, Abernathy's political consulting business.

Abernathy's company then used the money to put out a voter guide that supported the candidacy of Republicans, including clients Congressman Kevin McCarthy, Fuller, current Assemblywoman Shannon Grove and Scrivner.

But, according to an FPPC report, the KCYR Voting Guide spent $27,020 on the voting guide in 2010. Group campaign finance reports filed at the time show the additional $13,220 was debt owed to Western Pacific Research.

Additional reports show that the KCYR PAC shuttled a $5,000 payment from Republican donor Diane Lake into a mailer for Abernathy client Grove.

But the PAC failed to identify Grove on its campaign finance reports, instead only referring to the mailer being funded on behalf of a "state Assembly candidate."

The FPPC dinged the group for leaving Grove's name out of its reporting.

Braman said the $11,000 fine is a huge blow to the group. A campaign finance report filed for the reporting period that ended in December 2012 showed the Young Republican PAC had only $2,076 in its coffers.

Braman said the Kern County Young Republicans are currently working to raise funds to pay the fine.

"We have not paid the fines. We do not have the money. The deadline to pay is February 27th," Braman wrote in an email.

"Our bookkeeping is done by volunteers with little experience dealing with the very complicated reporting to the government when we engage in political communications," Braman wrote. "As a volunteer organization committed to using our limited funds to educate and inform voters, the Kern County Young Republicans do not have accountants or attorneys to produce our reports. We are manned by volunteers."

Gleason

The FPPC board will also review a fine against newly elected Kern County Supervisor Mick Gleason, another Abernathy candidate. Gleason acknowledged the mistake and said his campaign has already paid the $2,000 fine. He said it was a technical error.

"We paid all our bills but we just didn't list our subvendor," Gleason said. "We re-filed (the reports) with all our proper subvendor payments."

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