Agency: Santa Monica hotel facing fine for hiding donations
By KATHLEEN RONAYNE
Aug. 08, 2017
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A Santa Monica hotel is facing a $310,000 fine for improperly concealing donations to local political candidates in 2012 and 2014 during a contentious development battle, the state's campaign finance watchdog said Monday.
It's the second-largest fine in the history of the Fair Political Practices Commission, spokesman Jay Wierenga said.
The Huntley Hotel has acknowledged in a settlement that it violated California's Political Reform Act, which bars donors from obscuring their identities when contributing to campaigns.
The settlement says the hotel reimbursed individuals, including its employees, and local businesses for roughly $97,000 in donations to political candidates and causes over two election cycles so its name did not show up on donation reports.
At the time, the Huntley Hotel was protesting an expansion of the competing Fairmont Miramar Hotel.
The donations went to City Council candidates opposed to the expansion and committees known as Santa Monicans Against Miramar Expansion and Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth.
The settlement says the Huntley Hotel reimbursed numerous hotel employees for donations they made of $325 to the candidates, and it reimbursed an IT firm for $50,000 in donations and a business for $20,000.
"Making a campaign contribution in the name of another is one of the most serious violations," the commission's enforcement division wrote in the settlement. "It deceives the public as to the true source of contributions."
The commission must vote on whether to accept the settlement at its Aug. 17 meeting.
Manju Rama, the hotel's assistant general manager who signed the settlement, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The law firm Richardson Patel is facing a $10,000 fine for masking one of the hotel's contributions through a pilates studio in Encino. The firm has since merged with the law firm Mitchell Silberberg and Knupp.
A call to the firm for attorney Nimish Patel, named in the FPPC settlement, was directed to the firm's marketing manager, who was not immediately available.
Also on the commission's August agenda is an $8,500 fine against Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray of Merced for failing to file independent expenditure and contribution reports on time during his 2014 campaign and accepting a contribution above the legal limit. An email to Gray's spokeswoman was not immediately returned.
In each case, all parties have agreed to the settlements, Wierenga said.