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Melody Gutierrez
Published Friday, November 22, 2013

Sacramento — The state’s political watchdog agency ramped up its enforcement efforts this year, issuing a record $1 million fine while filing 250 cases against lobbyists, lawmakers and the politically inclined. Behind the scenes, the Fair Political Practices Commission has been waging another fight – to force those they fine to pay up.

Those collection efforts will be buoyed by a new law come January and, for the first time, FPPC Chief Enforcement Officer Gary Winuk said the commission is planning to use wage garnishments. Winuk said the agency already has a paycheck in mind – one belonging to a former Sacramento lobbyist whose recent appointment by Gov. Jerry Brown to a state commission caught the attention of the commission.

The Chronicle obtained the list of 94 people and political committees with outstanding fines through a records request from the commission. The list was not previously available online until The Chronicle published it Friday.

“After the fine is announced, you never hear about it again,” said Phillip Ung, a policy advocate with California Common Cause, a group that promotes government transparency. “Whenever an enforcement agency goes after someone, it’s a good thing. But, it’s not a deterrent if people don’t pay their fine.”

Almost $3 million in fines

The Fair Political Practices Commission is trying to collect almost $3 million in past fines issued by the agency dating back to 1995, when a then-record $800,000 fine was levied against an antigun control political action committee for campaign finance violations.

The defunct Californians Against Corruption and its two former treasurers – Carl Russell Howard and Stephen Cicero – now owe the state’s general fund $1.9 million for the fine and interest. Others on the commission’s collections list include Margaret Pryor, a former BART director ordered in 1999 to pay $114,000 for misuse of funds; David Cole, a former Pinole councilman who was fined $111,000 in 2011 for ethics violations; and former Hercules City Manager Nelson Oliva, who was fined $70,000 this month for conflicts of interest and undeclared gifts.

Efforts to reach Pryor, Cole and Oliva were unsuccessful.

Increasing enforcement and collections doesn’t sit well with those who already find the Fair Political Practices Commission’s practices overbearing.

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