Attorney defends Incorporate Olympic Valley’s ignorance of FPPC law
Incorporate Olympic Valley will host its monthly community meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4, at the Squaw Valley Public Service District building, located at 305 Squaw Valley Road, Olympic Valley.
This month’s guest speaker is Mammoth Lakes Town Councilman John Wentworth, according to an email from IOV. The group will also be providing an update on the incorporation process.
The meeting is open to the public. Visit incorporateolympicvalley.org to learn more about the incorporation effort.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been clarified from an original version to make clear a statement attributed to FPPC communications director Jay Wierenga. At this time, the FPPC is still investigating Incorporate Olympic Valley about potential violations, but nothing has yet been decided.
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — Emails obtained by the Sierra Sun call into question exactly when the group pushing for the incorporation of Olympic Valley knew it had to comply with state campaign finance rules.
A Sept. 30, 2013, email sent from Michael G. Colantuono (one of Incorporate Olympic Valley’s attorneys) to several members of the group at that time refers to a then-proposed Fair Political Practices Commission regulation on campaign reporting for Local Agency Formation Commission proposals.
“This proposed rule of the Fair Political Practices Commission is not yet adopted,” the Penn Valley, Calif.-based attorney wrote in the email obtained recently by the Sierra Sun. “When it is, it will likely require your group to comply with campaign finance disclosure rules.”
Code regulations, section 18417, which was attached to the email, reads: “A committee primarily formed to support or oppose a LAFCO proposal shall file the monthly campaign statements required under this title from the time a petition application is filed … until a measure is placed on the ballot. If a measure is not placed on the ballot, the committee shall file monthly statements until the committee is terminated under Section 84214.”
According to minutes from a Nov. 14, 2013, FPPC meeting, adoption of regulation 18417 was approved with a 4-0 vote. The regulation went into effect Jan. 1, 2014.
IN FULL COMPLIANCE?
IOV board members have repeatedly stated in interviews with the Sierra Sun they were unaware of the requirement until May 2014, after an FPPC complaint was filed that alleges failure by IOV to file monthly campaign statements for at least five months.
“(At that time) we did not realize that we were political,” board chair for Incorporate OV and secretary for Incorporate OV Foundation Lisa Cardin said in an Oct. 23, 2014, Sun story. “There are no candidates, nothing’s on the ballot. We hadn’t even gone through the LAFCO process, so at (that) point we’re thinking we’re just a grassroots movement.”
Yet, in a Sept. 30, 2013, email to Kristina Berry, executive officer for the Placer County LAFCO, Fred Ilfeld, current chair of the Incorporate OV Foundation, wrote: “We just got a ‘heads up’ from our attorney Michael Colantuono about a proposed rule of the Fair Political Practices Commission (see Doc1 attached). It looks likely that if adopted, this regulation will apply to our group.
“We’d appreciate it if you keep us posted on this matter or any other LAFCO policy along these lines that seem relevant to us.”
When asked this week about the apparent discrepancy, Lance Olson, a Sacramento-based lawyer helping the group with FPPC compliance, reiterated the group did not know the rules.
“The IOV committee is made up of volunteer citizens who were unfamiliar with the intricacies of the FPPC’s complicated campaign reporting rules,” he said. “Once they fully understood the legal requirements, they retained counsel expert in the area of FPPC compliance and filed all required campaign disclosure reports.”
REPORTING OF FUNDS
“Incorporate Olympic Valley PAC,” a political action committee whose funds promote efforts for incorporation, filed its first committee campaign statement on July 31, 2014, which covers Jan. 1-June 30, 2014, according to FPPC forms filed with Placer County Elections. Since, it has filed a campaign statement every month.
Donations of $100 or more to Incorporate Olympic Valley PAC and those who made them in a calendar year are reported to the FPPC, becoming public information, per state law.
Olson said the group is only required to report contributions and expenditures related to political purposes. Expenditures related to LAFCO studies, reports and proceedings, and related legal fees are not required to be disclosed.
The FPPC’s 18417 regulation states the following payments aren’t contributions or expenditures that are reportable since they are not made for political purposes: payments made for cost, including staff time, if applicable, of preparing reports, studies or analyses, including environmental reports, feasibility studies and fiscal analyses; and processing and similar fees paid to LAFCO.
Olson said the “vast majority” of IOV expenditures have been for nonpolitical uses under FPPC rules.
CREATION OF NEW ACCOUNTS
Originally, all donations to the incorporation effort went into one bank account. IOV began creating three accounts after the FPPC claim was filed in order to keep political and nonpolitical funds separate, according to previous reports.
Barbara Rhomberg, a Belmont, Calif.-based attorney who focuses on tax and governance issues for nonprofit and tax-exempt organizations, helped with the setup of Incorporate OV Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, and Incorporate OV, a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization.
“The committee is now in full compliance with the law,” Olson said this week.
The PAC has received $29,649 in monetary contributions this calendar year, according to FPPC forms filed with Placer County Elections.
The FFPC is still investigating Incorporate Olympic Valley after the May claim was filed, FPPC communications director Jay Wierenga said Tuesday.
The claim cited that the group failed to file a statement of organization, file some monthly campaign statements and include disclaimers on campaign advertisements to the commission.
Visit fppc.ca.gov to learn more about California Fair Political Practices.