Jan Marx accused of breaking SLO campaign finance law
December 21, 2016
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
A campaign finance complaint was filed against former San Luis Obispo mayor Jan Marx over multiple violations of campaign contribution laws she helped put in place. And while allegedly breaking election finance rules, Marx lectured her opponent on accepting contributions from donors Marx deemed questionable.
On Wednesday, activist and government watchdog Kevin Rice filed a complaint against Marx and local Democratic political consultant Cory Black, alleging they knowingly violated the city of San Luis Obispo’s $300 contribution limit. In line with SLO election rules, Rice is asking that both Marx and Black be charged with misdemeanors and be fined a combined total of $1,800.
Black, who is the vice president of the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party, personally donated $300 to Marx’s campaign on Oct. 3. On the same day, Black’s political consulting firm, Public Policy Solutions, also donated $300 to Marx’s campaign. Two days later, the political committee San Luis Obispo County for Better Government likewise gave $300 to Marx, according to Marx’s campaign finance reports.
Black is a principal officer and assistant treasurer of San Luis Obispo County for Better Government. He is the owner and chief executive officer of Public Policy Solutions, a company that works on political campaigns.
California campaign finance code states that contributions made by organizations controlled by a person count as donations from that individual. In the aggregate, Black donated $900 to Marx’s campaign, $600 more than the legal limit, Rice’s complaint states.
Rice alleges Marx and Black knew exactly what they were doing since the political consultant gave the then-incumbent mayor three separate contributions of exactly $300.
Having served multiple terms both as a councilwoman and mayor, Marx ran for office several times. While in office, she voted at least five times in favor city of campaign contribution limits.
Black has served as the treasurer for numerous political campaigns. He also provided consulting services to Marx’s 2012 mayoral campaign.
In last month’s election, now-Mayor Heidi Harmon defeated Marx by 47 votes. Marx led in early mail-in ballots, but Harmon surged as poll votes and late mail-in ballots were tallied.
“Marx could just as easily have won reelection by 46 votes as a direct result of the $600 in unlawful contributions she accepted and spent on her campaign,” Rice stated in the complaint. “Had that occurred, no remedy would be available to reverse an illicit election win.”
During the campaign, Marx attacked Harmon for receiving money from Rice. Marx was also quoted in the Tribune as saying, unlike Harmon, she is very assiduous about her campaign finances.
“Speaking personally, I make sure our treasurer and I are on the same page, so that I can accept or reject contributions that are made,” Marx was quoted in the Tribune article. “I am very assiduous about that issue.”
The quote was published the very same date Marx violated the city campaign finance ordinance, Rice says in his complaint.
San Luis Obispo City Attorney Christine Dietrick currently has 10 days to respond to Rice’s complaint. It is not the first time Dietrick has had to deal with a complaint of this nature.
In 2012, John Ashbaugh’s campaign for the San Luis Obispo City Council accepted a $200 check — the maximum allowable donation at the time — from County Supervisor Adam Hill. Hill also donated $84 worth of wine to Ashbaugh’s campaign.
In response, Dietrick fined Ashbaugh $252, or three times the amount of the excess donation. Rice argues the fine set a precedent, and Dietrick should now fine Marx and Black $1,800.
Rice also says it is clear that Marx and Black should be charged with misdemeanors.
“Any person who violates any provision of this chapter is guilty of a misdemeanor,” according to SLO’s campaign finance ordinance.
However, Ashbaugh did not receive a misdemeanor charge. Ashbaugh, too, voted in favor of campaign contribution limits.
In addition to accusing Marx and Black of violating city campaign finance rules, Rice alleges they committed “campaign money laundering,” a violation of the California Political Reform Act. State election finance regulators explain campaign money laundering as using a different name to hide a person’s donations.
If Dietrick decides not to levy fines, Rice has the right to ask the court to fine Marx and Black, according to the city’s ordinance. If that were to occur, Rice would be eligible to receive half of all monies collected by the court.