State Commission Wastes No Time Kicking Off Migden Investigation
By JOE ESKENAZI
The state's Fair Political Practices Commission has a reputation for moving about as quickly as a three-toed sloth with two broken digits.
Imagine the surprise in Assemblyman Mark Leno's camp, then, when they received a letter (pdf) from the FPPC on Monday, July 30 stating that the complaint they filed (pdf) against Sen. Carole Migden on Friday, July 27 was already under investigation.
For those of you counting at home, that's not quite two business days. Goodbye sloth, hello cheetah.
In his complaint Leno claims (pdf) Migden — whom he hopes to unseat from the state senate — improperly transferred $1 million from her Assembly re-election committee to her state senate war chest; failed to itemize $400,000 in credit card expenses over the past several years and illegally transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Board of Equalization committee fund that should have been shut down years ago to boot.
Leno calmly told us he was "pleasantly surprised" by the rapid response, but others on his staff were a bit more outspoken. Rufus Jeffris, a political consultant and Leno spokesman, said he'd never seen such a quickly accepted FPPC filing in 15 years of working in politics.
Jeffris' employer, John Whitehurst (of the highly connected City consulting firm Barnes, Mosher Whitehurst Lauter & Partners), has said he'd never before seen a letter from the FPPC acknowledging an investigation was under way in more than 20 years in the state's political trenches.
All of which begs the question: Did someone light a fire under the FPPC's bottom?
Not exactly, according to Roman Porter, the FPPC's Sacramento-based communications director. Since the Leno campaign's filing was a "formal complaint" — complete with oaths sworn under penalty of perjury — Porter notes that the FPPC was under a statutory obligation to respond within 14 days.
But this wasn't 14 days. It wasn't even two.
"Well," deadpanned Porter, "I guess we beat the statutory limitations."
Porter wouldn't comment further on the FPPC's quick uptake of the case, nor would Leno's camp. But, connecting a few personnel dots, one can conjure up some fairly interesting speculations.
Former State Senator Ross Johnson has headed the FPPC since his appointment in February by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Johnson, an Irvine Republican, is not exactly a household name in these parts, but it's fairly safe to say that shady campaign fund-raising issues have the same effect on him that pale whales had on Captain Ahab.
He personally sued Cruz Bustamante in 2003, forcing the recall gubernatorial candidate to rescind millions in donations from Indian tribes.
So it's easily conceivable that allegations like the ones Leno has made against Migden catch Johnson's eye. Also, Bustamante and Migden are both clients of political consultant Ritchie Ross (who told Snitch Matt Smith last week that allegations from Leno or anyone else that he had broken the law will result in Ross adding your house to his possessions).
Queries of Migden's office regarding the FPPC filing were referred to Ross, who did not return our calls. After giving Smith real estate advice last week, he told the Chronicle that Leno's complaints were "absolutely legitimate" — not that he's admitting wrongdoing, but he will confess that Migden's books are an absolute disaster.
If the FPPC rules in Leno's favor, Migden could be fined up to $5,000 for every violation and sued for up to three times the value of unreported contributions or expenditures. The Attorney General or a District Attorney could also make a legal case based on the commission's findings.
As for how long the investigation will take, Porter was tight-lipped.
"Every complaint is unique. That depends on how many individuals we have to interview. And it depends on whether the person named in the complaint" — that'd be Carole Migden — "Chooses to cooperate."