Grover Beach mayor fined for concealing campaign donations
August 30, 2016
By KAREN VELIE
California’s political watchdog levied a fine against Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals during a hearing on Aug. 18, because he failed to file five campaign reports as required by the government code during his successful bid for office two years ago.
The Fair Political Practices Commission said Shoals’ campaign failed to submit five 24-hour reports for contributions to his campaign that exceeded $1,000 each. 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.
The FPPC verified the violations, which were first reported by local government watchdog Kevin Rice, in an audit performed by its enforcement division, according to case documents. The agency, which levied a $1,101 fine, said it found no evidence of any intent to conceal the contributions.
In his complaint, Rice alleges Shoals’ failure to disclose his campaign finances swayed the outcome of the election. Shoals did not properly report more than half of the $20,712 he raised in total contributions during the 2014 campaign.
In Nov. 2014, Shoals defeated incumbent Grover Beach Mayor Debbie Peterson, who is currently a candidate for the Grover Beach City Council. 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.
“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.”
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.
Shoals is currently running for reelection against former mayor and councilman Ronald Arnoldsen.