San Diego city council candidate Kelvin Barrios, a former aide to city councilwoman Georgette Gomez, vacating her District 9 seat in a bid to replace fellow Democrat Susan Davis in Congress, is being hit with a $4,000 penalty by the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
In a case dating back to a 2016 Chula Vista Elementary School Board race, the candidate in that contest, Michael D. Jackson, for whom Barrios was campaign treasurer, must cough up $2500 as his part of the settlement.
In addition, Jackson, Barrios, and the Jackson committee are being assessed a $2000 penalty for a combined fine of $8500, according to a stipulated agreement with the pair pending approval by the state commission at its November 21 meeting.
Jackson, who placed second to Armando Farias in the battle for the Area 2 board seat despite Davis's endorsement, dipped into his campaign cash to defray personal expenses, the stipulation says.
"By analyzing bank records, the Enforcement Division determined that Jackson used his campaign bank account debit card for his personal benefit," says the FPPC document.
"He spent $1,196 in debit expenditures at local restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, convenience stores, for a subscription audio book service, and cash withdrawals. He wrote himself two checks in late 2016 for $250 and $200.
"In total, Jackson spent $1,646 of the Jackson Committee's campaign funds after the election for personal purposes. This total includes three expenditures totaling $650 that were over $200 apiece, which did not meet the strict standard of being directly related to a political, legislative, or governmental purpose for permissible use of campaign funds."
"Jackson partially reimbursed the account by making payments totaling $595 between March 14, 2017, and December 31, 2017. "
According to the stipulation, "Jackson explained to the Enforcement Division that he had no intention to misappropriate funds, merely that he mistakenly believed he was permitted to use the remaining funds as he had loaned the committee funds.
"He further contends that at least one recurring charge may have been an accidental error when making a payment on a mobile device."
As for Barrios, the commission's enforcement arm said it discovered that after the election, he "wrote himself four checks that totaled approximately $2,083. He produced no invoices or receipts to justify these expenditures. As a consultant, his work concluded with the election, and he had failed to fulfill his treasurer duties by not maintaining records or filing campaign statements.
"These payments were for his personal benefit," per the findings. "He also spent a total of approximately $3,140 on debit or cash withdrawals at local food establishments, USPS for stamps, and the Men's Warehouse for menswear. Barrios admitted to FPPC investigators that these purchases were for his personal benefit."
Adds the document, "In total, Barrios spent approximately $5,224 of funds from the Jackson Committee. Of these funds, $1,050 were expenditures under $200, which did not meet the standard of being reasonably related to a political purpose."
Barrios reimbursed the Jackson Committee account $2,000 on December 14, 2016, the stipulation says. "However, after this reimbursement, Barrios made additional purchases using his Jackson campaign bank account debit card and wrote himself a check for $1,183.58."
It isn't the first time Barrios, a former treasurer of the California Young Democrats Latino Caucus, has been caught by the state's political ethics watchdog dipping into campaign funds, per the stipulation, which cites another commission complaint settled in 2017.
"As part of an investigation in the matter of California Young Democrats Latino Caucus, the Enforcement Division determined that Barrios also spent funds from the Caucus Committee for his own personal benefit."
"Barrios served as the treasurer and as a consultant for the Caucus Committee from February 9, 2016 through February 12, 2018. The Caucus Committee identified, and Barrios agreed, that several expenditures were not authorized uses of committee funds and were for Barrios' personal benefit."
"Barrios wrote nine checks to himself totaling $1,775 from January 22, 2016 through June 20, 2017," the stipulation says.
"He also used the Caucus Committee's debit card to make expenditures or cash withdrawals totaling approximately $798 at local food establishments and to make other miscellaneous expenditures, including paying for parking and a water service. These expenditures totaled approximately $2,573.
"Barrios made approximately 32 purchases totaling $1,623 that were under $200, which did not meet the standard of being reasonably related to a political purpose.
"Barrios made two expenditures totaling $950 that were over $200, which did not meet the strict standard of being directly related to a political, legislative, or governmental purpose.
"Barrios made a partial reimbursement totaling $1,500 to the Caucus Committee during the second half of 2017. "
The FPPC document notes that "Barrios asserts that his use of funds was to compensate himself for services to the two committees and that he believed he was using funds that were owed to him."
But, "Barrios could provide no invoices or communications to support his assertion. The lack of record-keeping further obfuscates Barrios's use of committee funds." A penalty of $1369 was levied for the Young Democrats violations, records show.
Concludes the stipulation, "the public harm associated with a personal use violation is high. The [Political Reform] Act requires campaign contributions to be held in trust for expenses associated with seeking or holding office.
"This is an important restriction, which helps to distinguish campaign contributions from gifts. When a public official makes personal use of campaign funds, it is a serious violation of the Act that erodes public confidence in the political process by creating the appearance that lawful campaign contributions are personal gifts to the public official."