The San Luis Obispo Downtown Association and a private company called Responsible County Development LLC are targeted in complaints over the most expensive local campaign in SLO county history, filed with the state Fair Political Practices Commission by landowner Ernie Dalidio on July 27.
His complaints ask the FPPC to investigate whether the two groups violated California's Political Reform Act during his past campaigns, including last year's Measure J effort, which called for voter approval of a shopping center, offices, housing, and other uses for the 131-acre Dalidio Ranch on Madonna Road in San Luis Obispo.
The Political Reform Act, passed by California voters in 1974, requires that "receipts and expenditures in election campaigns should be fully and truthfully disclosed in order that voters may be fully informed and improper practices may be inhibited."
Campaign finance reports filed with the SLO County Clerk show that Responsible County Development LLC is listed as the major contributor to the No on J campaign, providing a $220,944 loan for the campaign. The records don't detail who is part of the limited liability company other than listing SLO banker David Booker as the "responsible officer" and the company's business activity as "investments."
According to Pam Weaver of the SLO County Clerk's office, campaign funding disclosures for LLCs fall into a "gray area." She added, "It's the FPPC's call, not ours. There's nothing in FPPC regulations that says an LLC can't file as a contributor."
The campaign disclosure law specifies that "no person shall make a contribution on behalf of another, without disclosing his or her full name and street address." "Person" also includes a limited liability company, according to the law.
A high-profile case involving an LLC contribution was settled in 2004, when Caroline Getty was fined $135,000 for making two $500,000 campaign contributions to the Nature Conservancy Action Fund without disclosing that she was the source of the contribution, FPPC records show.
Dalidio said in a press release distributed by his attorney, James McKiernan, that he believes Responsible County Development LLC kept the public in the dark about who was really funding the opposition to Measure J.
"I filed the complaint with the FPPC because I agree with the state that every citizen has the right to know who is paying for political campaigns," he wrote.
Booker of Responsible County Development could not be reached for comment.
In a separate complaint, Dalidio charged that the SLO Downtown Association "used public funds to influence voters" during campaigns on Dalidio's proposed development.
Deborah Cash of the Downtown Association issued a statement that said the business group "at no time expended public funds or advocated a position with regard to Measure J" the county effort. The statement said that while the association had issued a position statement on the 2004 SLO City ballot measures, "it was, at the time, unaware that such action might not be permissible" and ceased all activities "once aware that as a city advisory body these activities were possibly improper."
If the FPPC agrees to investigate either complaint, the issue could take "months, even years" for a decision, according to the agency's website.