Did SLO city attorney misinterpret state transparency laws?

February 24, 2019

Christine Dietrick


During Tuesday’s council meeting, San Luis Obispo City Attorney Christine Dietrick voiced her support of council members’ decisions not to disclose a fundraiser hosted by one of the applicants for a marijuana retail shop permit. [Cal Coast Times]

On Oct. 28, Helios Dayspring and his marijuana brand Natural Healing Center hosted a fundraiser for eight politicians including Heidi Harmon, Carlyn Christianson and Erica Stewart. Even though the cost of the fundraiser was over $1,500, none of the candidates disclosed the event on their financial disclosure forms.

After residents of the city voiced concerns about the lack of transparency, including the failure to disclose the fundraiser, Dietrick dismissed their concerns as unfounded saying she researched the issue and determined that neither Harmon, Christianson or Stewart were required to report the fundraiser as a non-monetary donation.

“Contributions as defined under the Political Reform Act don’t include the cost of campaign fundraiser events that are under $500,” Dietrick said. “So, I believe the particular fundraiser event was for eight separate candidates. Typically the way the FPPC handles that is to apportion the total cost among the beneficiaries.”

Dietrick said she concluded if the cost of the food was $1,500, and there were no other significant costs associated with the fundraiser, the cost divided by eight candidates fell below the $500 limit.

“And so under the city’s regulation, because we incorporate the contribution definition by the FPPC regs, not a combination as defined, and therefore not reportable was the conclusion we reached on that issue,” Dietrick said.

Generally, candidates must disclose all non-monetary donations, with a few exceptions. If a person hosts a fundraiser at their home, and the total cost is under $500, the candidates do not need to report the cost of the event.

However, according to the FPPC, all fundraisers with a cost over $500 require disclosure on Form 460, regardless of the number of candidates.

“For the home/office fundraiser contribution exception to apply, the total cost of the event must be $500 or less no matter how many candidates or committees benefit from the event,” according to a tip on the FPPC website.

A Cal Coast reporter sent a link to the FPPC website and the page where information about the fundraiser exemption is listed to Dietrick. She responded noting that reading the above tip did not clarify the issue for her.

“The tip in the link still seems somewhat unclear,” Dietrick responded. “We’ll also follow up with the FPPC on Monday to get clarification on whether any amendments need to be made to filings.”

In 1974, California passed the Political Reform Act to try to curb corruption by eliminating secret or anonymous contributions. It requires candidates to disclose both monetary and non-monetary campaign donations on Form 460.

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Whatever her total hourly rate is at the City (salary and benefits) she should have to reimburse the City of San Luis Obispo taxpayers. She is the City Attorney, on the City payroll, represents the City of San Luis Obispo, NOT the sitting Mayor or Council members or candidates and certainly NOT the Democratic Party. Shame on this continued type of corruption at City Hall by this incompetent City Attorney.

Not only is it strange that the City Attorney can’t or won’t understand FPPC regulations, but it’s equally strange that she’s advising political figures who were recent candidates on Campaign Finance regulations when they should be getting legal advice from their personal legal advisors. Her confusion with what are clearly stated provisions by the FPPC is disconcerting. Here is the exact language as derived from the FPPC website:

“Home/Office Fundraisers: If a person, other than a lobbyist (or aa cohabitant of a lobbyist) or lobbying firm, holds a fundraiser or other campaign event in his or her home, the costs incurred by the occupant of the home or office need not be reported as long as the total cost of the event is $500 or less. However, if someone else donates food, beverages, or anything of value to the event, the fair market value of those donated goods is a nonmonetary contribution. In addition, the donated goods must be counted to determine whether the total cost of the event is $500 or less.”

In other words, for the home/office fundraiser contribution to apply, the total cost of the event must be $500 or less no matter how many candidates or committees benefit from the event. If the food cost alone of the Dayspring event for Harmon, Christianson, and Stewart and others cost $1,500 as the City Attorney said, then all candidates who benefitted from the event must disclose it on their Campaign Finance forms per the FPPC regulations.

Now with the FPPC going after the local government use of taxpayer funding to finance tax increase measures, what will the City Attorney say about the Council’s recent retention of a firm to indoctrinate local voters to support a sales tax increase?

The typical lawyer response…..I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Government is great work if you can get it! They are the ers and we are the ees. From employee privacy rules to how and when meetings are conducted they have us snowed under a bs blizzard while they are building their pensions and salaries and lining their pockets while us mooks look on in envy. 100 years ago we would have all been down at city hall with pitchforks and firebrands and now we are blistering our digits on the keypad registering our disapproval. It ain’t gonna get better.