Janet Nguyen

Supervisor Janet Nguyen’s handling of CalOptima has drawn scrutiny from the county grand jury. (Photo by: Nick Gerda/Voice of OC)

Posted: Friday, October 17, 2014 1:41 pm | Updated: 11:23 pm, Fri Oct 17, 2014.
By THY VO and NICK GERDA

The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating nearly a dozen people for political money laundering in connection to campaign contributions to county Supervisor and state Senate candidate Janet Nguyen.

The FPPC has issued 11 subpoenas to donors who made contributions to the political committee Friends of Supervisor Janet Nguyen between 2011 and 2012, as part of an investigation involving political contributions made in the name of persons other than the true contributor, according to court records.

James Crawford, a defense attorney hired to represent all 11 donors, including Tony Lam, a former Westminster city councilman who became the first Vietnamese-American elected to public office, appeared before Judge David Hoffer Friday morning seeking a motion to quash the subpoenas for email, text message, phone and bank records between the donors and the political committee.

Nguyen, who was elected first district supervisor in 2008, is now locked in a tight race for the 34th State Senate seat, a race that leaves the fate of the state legislature in balance.

It’s a race that has not only attracted attention but big bucks.

Nguyen has received more than $2.5 million to her Senate campaign while her opponent, democrat Jose Solorio, has received more than $2.3 million.

And at least $1.5 million in independent expenditures has been spent in favor of Solorio and $950,000 in favor of Nguyen.

Crawford called the FPPC investigation an election season political tactic, citing Governor Jerry Brown’s support for Solorio.

“These are just hardworking Vietnamese people who made small contributions. These are unfounded accusations of political money laundering with no particularized allegations of wrongdoing against any individual,” Crawford said after the hearing.

With much of the details of the investigation sealed, Hoffer called on FPPC officials to bring forth more evidence before the next hearing, scheduled for Dec. 5.

“[Campaign contributions] are a First Amendment expression of values,” Crawford said. “It’s a fishing expedition. They have a right to privacy…and the government shouldn’t have unfettered access.”

Nguyen’s office did not return calls Friday morning for comment.

FPPC officials said the investigation into Nguyen’s committee began in 2013 but did not give further details, citing a policy not to comment on ongoing investigations.

Nguyen was fined $5,000 by the FPPC in 2007 for violations of TINCUP, a local ordinance limiting individual contributions, and the state Political Reform Act.

In 2013, after Voice of OC reported that Nguyen may have violated other state campaign finance laws for a vote on the Board of CalOptima, the county’s managed health care plan, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas issued a rare letter clearing Nguyen of any criminal conflict of interest violations in connection to her position.

The supervisor has drawn scrutiny for the number of unemployed people giving large contributions to her campaign. Between 2009 and 2012, the committee took contributions from nearly 60 unemployed donors.

Nguyen has defended the large numbers of unemployed people contributing to her campaign in the past by saying that her own grassroots background and the nature of her heavily immigrant district has required her to rely on smaller contributions, rather than deep-pocketed donors, for fundraising.

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