SLO city fined its former three-term Mayor Jan Marx $300 for violating a local election law during the course of her failed bid for re-election in 2016.
On Dec. 30, City Attorney Christine Dietrick sided in favor of a citizen complaint filed by Kevin P. Rice alleging that Marx accepted donations from Cory Black, founder of local political consulting firm Public Policy Solutions, that exceeded the maximum dollar amount allowed by SLO ordinance per individual, which is $300.
Rice called out three separate $300 donations to Marx's campaign and argued that all three originated from Black: On Oct. 3, Black as an individual gave $300 to Marx's campaign; on the same day, Public Policy Solutions, for which Black is the CEO and CFO, donated $300; and on Oct. 5, the committee SLO County for Better Government donated $300 to Marx. Black is the assistant treasurer for the committee.
After an investigation, Dietrick ruled that Black did in fact "direct and control" the donation from Public Policy Solutions. Per the Political Reform Act, the donation is combined with his personal donation, and, therefore, Marx and Black exceeded the maximum dollar contribution by $300. Dietrick did not find sufficient evidence to prove the donation from SLO County for Better Government came unilaterally from Black.
Dietrick chose to fine Marx $300 and Black $600 for the violations.
"Ms. Marx and Mr. Black misinterpreted the FPPC [Fair Political Practices Commission] regulations with regard to aggregation of contributions," Dietrick concluded. But added, "The totality of the circumstances suggests that the violations were technical, not intentional."
Marx did not return a request for comment after the ruling, but addressed the complaint in an email on Dec. 28.
"We were told that Mr. Black does not have a controlling interest in these two organizations, and so the donations were not aggregated with his personal donation," Marx said. "Abiding by campaign regulations is very important to me, and I thought we were doing so. If it is decided that the regulations have been misinterpreted, I sincerely regret it and will make every effort to make amends."
Black told New Times on Jan. 4 he sought advice from the FPPC before making the donations and was advised that they were legal because he's not a majority owner of Public Policy Solutions. Black and his wife together own 100 percent of the company.
"The city attorney came to a different conclusion," Black said. "We appreciate the City Attorney's Office acting quickly and professionally to bring this issue to a speedy conclusion."