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FPPC Clears Planning Commissioner of Violating Campaign Finance Laws

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By Jorge Casuso

July 14, 2020 -- California's top political watchdog has cleared Santa Monica Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon of allegations he violated State campaign laws in his 2012 bid for City Council.

The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) "found insufficient evidence to establish that the candidate was aware" that a slow-growth group coordinated expenditures with his campaign committee, according to a letter sent to McKinnon last month.

The $37,466 in "non-monetary" contributions were made by Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth (SMRG), an independent committee formed less than three months before the election to oppose the Fairmont Miramar Hotel's proposed redevelopment.

The FPPC's focus was on "whether communications regarding campaign strategy" between McKinnon's campaign and a representative from SMRG "amounted to coordination."

In an "advisory letter" dated June 29, the FPPC said it was "closing this matter without further action."

McKinnon greeted the decision ending the four-year-old case.

“Years and years of pursuing a case with no merit and finally the FPPC has had to admit they were wrong,” McKinnon said.

”From the outset I said that I never did anything wrong. This result vindicates me.”

The letter sent to McKinnon last month was an "advisory letter," which is generally sent "when there’s not enough or sufficient evidence to prove a violation," said Jay Wierenga, the spokesperson for the FPPC.

However, an advisory letter indicates "there were problems, " Wierenga said, "but stops short of a violation finding."

"This is to advise them to seek better advice, know the law," he said.

The letter falls between a "warning letter" sent when there "is a finding of a violation" and a warning is given and "a case dismissed, which is simply that, no violations were found, (and) it’s done," he said.

In January 2019, FPPC staff found "probable cause" that McKinnon and his campaign committee failed to timely report seven contributions in the form of mailers, robo calls, walkers, phone banks, email blasts and slate mailers made in the week leading up to the November 2012 election.

McKinnon, who finished seventh in the 2012 race for three Council seats, fought the finding, saying he would prove there was no wrongdoing ("Santa Monica Planning Commissioner Likely Violated California Campaign Laws, Watchdog Agency Finds," January 24, 2019).

“The allegations were false from the start,” McKinnon said in an email to The Lookout. “Right and wrong matter in public life.

"I use a high standard for public life and campaigns for public office. Obviously, my ethics, record and actions can stand up to the most detailed and intense investigation and find nothing adverse," he wrote.

McKinnon, whose second Planning Commission term expired on June 30 but who is still a member, called the investigation "a complete waste of time and money."

“The FPPC can damage reputations because of the extraordinary time to resolve a case.” he said. “This FPPC investigation was a complete waste of time and money.

"The FPPC needs to examine its processes so that this unfair situation doesn’t happen again.”

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