Capitol Alert
The latest on California politics and government
February 7, 2014

Entertaining politicians at home has long been an accepted part of doing business for Sacramento lobbyists.

So Thursday’s news that the state’s political watchdog agency is cracking down on a prominent lobbyist for throwing fundraisers at his home hit the Capitol with both outrage and confusion. Among the politicians who will receive warning letters after participating in the events are Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a source told The Sacramento Bee.

California law puts strict limits on lobbyists, forbidding them from making any campaign contributions to state officials, and limiting gifts – including meals – to no more than $10 in a month.

But it allows lobbyists to host low-key political fundraisers in their homes, connecting their clients with key lawmakers as they donate to a the legislator’s campaign. So while lobbyists may not give a penny to a political campaign, they can offer up their homes for a low-cost campaign fundraiser and invite interest-group clients to mingle and donate.

sloat.jpegThe key, though, is that the total cost of the event must stay under $500 – and that’s how lobbyist Kevin Sloat ran into trouble. Fundraisers at Sloat’s house routinely involved catered menus, expensive cigars, flowers, fine wines and top-shelf liquor, according to a lawsuit filed against him in December by a former employee under investigation for embezzlement.

Few lawmakers who heard from the state Fair Political Practices Commission that they attended questionable fundraisers at Sloat’s home were willing to speak publicly, but several said privately they were irritated that they had been swept up in the scandal.

In interviews, some appeared unfamiliar with the constraints of California law.

Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said he’s been to several lobbyists’ homes for political fundraisers, and always understood the events to comply with campaign-finance laws as long as the candidate’s campaign pays for whatever is served.

“You go to a lobbyist’s home, that doesn’t mean they are doing (contributing) anything,” Hill said. “I don’t drink or smoke cigars.”

“Usually you are paying for the food, (the home) is just the venue for the location. You are paying for everything – your campaign is paying in one form or another. The venue to me is immaterial.”

The FPPC disagrees. Sloat and his firm, Sloat Higgins Jensen & Associates, have reached a settlement with the state’s political watchdog agency, acknowledging that the elaborate events he threw for the politicians he lobbies amounted to prohibited campaign contributions. He agreed to pay a six-figure fine for the violations, two sources said. His representatives did not return calls from The Bee.

The FPPC is expected to announce the amount of the fine on Monday, along with a list of roughly 40 current and former politicians who benefited from Sloat’s hospitality and will get a letter warning that they received a prohibited nonmonetary contribution.

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