Marx and Democratic consultant fined for campaign violations
December 31, 2016
By KAREN VELIE
The San Luis Obispo City attorney announced Friday that the city has levied fines against both former mayor Jan Marx and County Democratic Party Vice-Chair Cory Black for violating city campaign finance laws. Marx is required to pay the city $300 and Black must pay a $600 penalty.
Last week, activist and government watchdog Kevin Rice filed a complaint against Marx and Black, alleging they knowingly violated the city’s $300 contribution limit. Rice asked the city attorney to levy fines and submit requests with the district attorney to have both Marx and Black charged with misdemeanors.
However, Christine Dietrich, the city attorney, determined both Black and Marx had misinterpreted regulations and that neither party had intentionally violated the law. So while the city levied fines, city officials are not planning to seek criminal actions against Marx or Black.
“For reasons similar to those outlined above, I find no basis to support the filing of criminal charges against either Ms. Marx or Mr. Black,” Dietrick says in her response to Rice.
On Oct. 3, Black donated $300 to Marx’s campaign. 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, of which Black is a principal officer, likewise gave $300 to Marx.
California’s 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.
As part of her investigation, Dietrick interviewed Marx, Marx’s campaign treasurer, Black and the treasurer for SLO County for Better Government, according to Dietrick.
Dietrick determined that both Marx, who had voted five times on the city’s campaign ordinance, and Black, who works as a Democratic campaign consultant, were both aware of the city’s $300 limit.
Marx, however, questioned the legality of the $900 in donations.
Concerned if the donations were in violation of city regulations, Marx asked the city clerk to look into the regulations. The city clerk told Marx to contact the FPPC. Marx then asked Black to clarify if by taking the $900 in donations, she was violating the law.
Black noted his expertise in campaign finance laws and then told Marx that the donations complied with campaign laws.
“I am familiar with the rules. This is what I do for a living,” Black said in an Oct. 15 email to Marx. “If you would like to return any or all of the contributions, I will be happy to take them back. They are all legal.”
Marx responded by adding the funds to her campaign war chest.
On Friday, Rice sent out a press release announcing the city’s finding that Black and Marx had violated the law. Rice also noted that there have been several politically connected politicians who have been fined for violating campaign laws.
“SLO County Democratic party leadership has been fraught with campaign finance violations against Jan Marx, Cory Black, Adam Hill, John Shoals, Caren Ray, and John Ashbaugh,” Rice said in his press release. “IntegritySLO has supported honest Democrats, including Debbie Peterson, Mike Byrd, and Heidi Harmon.”