Did Grover Beach mayor purposely conceal campaign donations?
May 12, 2016
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals committed 52 violations of state campaign finance laws during his 2014 mayoral campaign, according to a complaint filed with the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). The complaint alleges Shoals’ failure to disclose his campaign finances swayed the outcome of the election.
In Nov. 2014, Shoals defeated incumbent Grover Beach Mayor Debbie Peterson, who is currently a candidate for the District 3 San Luis Obispo County supervisor seat. Shoals received 54 percent of the vote, and Peterson garnered 44 percent. Had 170 voters chosen Peterson instead of Shoals, Peterson would have won the mayoral seat, the complaint says.
On Wednesday, local government watchdog Kevin Rice submitted a complaint to the FPPC that exposes Shoals’ failures to follow campaign finance laws. Shoals did not properly report more than half of the $20,712 he raised in total contributions during the 2014 campaign.
“John P. Shoals has demonstrated an exceptionally noxious pattern and practice of failing to report required information in campaign reports, filing reports days or weeks late or not filing reports at all,” Rice says in the FPPC complaint. “Shoals deprived his opponent (and the public) of knowledge of large late contributions, several mailings, display ads and automated telephone calls. Had Shoals not hidden his campaign finances, his opponent would likely have adjusted strategy and swayed the election result.”
California law requires candidates to file reports within 24 hours when they receive contributions of $1,000 or more within 90 days of an election. Shoals failed to file reports for five such contributions during the 2014 mayoral race and did not report two contributions of more than $1,000 until about three months after the election.
The five contributions totaled $7,229. Four of the five donations were non-monetary contributions from Central Coast Printing in Grover Beach, a shop that printed campaign brochures for Shoals.
Rice’s FPPC complaint also alleges Shoals failed to accurately report when he began raising money and never reported at least one non-monetary contribution.
Additionally, Shoals reported improper street addresses and occupations for several of his donors. In one case, Shoals listed a private mailbox at a UPS store as his donor’s address, a violation of state reporting rules.
Furthermore, Shoals reported receiving a $250 contribution from SLO County Supervisor Adam Hill, but Hill’s financial disclosure states the donation came from the supervisor’s campaign committee.
Shoals, who currently works for PG&E, had previously served on the city council for 10 years, including two terms as the city’s directly elected mayor. Shoals was termed out from running for reelection in 2012, but he reentered the mayoral race in 2014 and won.
“Mayor Shoals has served a number of terms in office and is a public affairs representative for PG&E. He should be aware of and following the law,” Rice wrote in a statement to CalCoastNews.
Rice reviews the financial disclosures of most major candidates and ballot initiatives in the area. Shoals’ reports drew his attention in late 2014 because of omissions and late filings, Rice said.
Later, Rice decided to file a complaint after discovering Shoals had not filed reports that were due within 24 hours and that more than half of Shoals’ contributions were not reported on time or at all.
Following an investigation into the matter, the FPPC may issue a warning or a fine to Shoals.
Shoals did not respond to a request for comment. He is eligible to run for reelection this year.