Former San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx and a local political consultant face accusations of skirting the city’s campaign finance laws, exceeding donation limits by $600 in Marx’s unsuccessful re-election campaign.
On Wednesday, Kevin P. Rice, libertarian-leaning political activist, and frequent critic of Marx and the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party, filed a complaint to the City Clerk’s Office, alleging Marx and party Vice Chairman Cory Black colluded to pad Marx’s campaign coffers.
Rice, a San Luis Obispo resident, alleges that the two are liable for a civil penalty of $1,800, or three times the amount of the allegedly illegal contributions.
In the complaint — drafted to resemble a legal document — Rice contends that Marx violated the city’s $300 contribution limit twice in the recent race even though she voted in favor of the city’s election laws five times since 2009.
Marx could just as easily have won re-election by 46 votes as a direct result of the $600 in unlawful contributions she accepted and spent on her campaign.
Kevin P. Rice’s complaint
Marx lost the mayoral race to opponent Heidi Harmon, also a Democrat, by 46 votes.
“Marx could just as easily have won re-election by 46 votes as a direct result of the $600 in unlawful contributions she accepted and spent on her campaign,” Rice wrote.
Campaign statements show that Marx accepted three separate $300 contributions on Oct. 3, one each from Black; from political consulting firm Public Policy Solutions Inc, where Black serves as CEO; and from a committee called San Luis Obispo County for Better Government, for which Black listed himself as assistant treasurer in a financial disclosure.
Rice argues that the two donations from the consulting firm and the committee should be aggregated with Black’s personal contribution, given his roles in both the company and the committee.
Assistant City Attorney Jon Ansolabehere said Wednesday the City Attorney’s Office has received the complaint and will begin a 10-day review to determine if any action is warranted.
Ansolabehere said the section of the city’s municipal code that Rice cites in the complaint does provide an avenue for a private individual to file a lawsuit in court if the city attorney decides not to file a civil action within 10 days of receiving a citizen complaint.
“As indicated in Mr. Rice’s complaint, past practice has included the issuance of admonishments and the payment of fines in lieu of a lawsuit when an election campaign violation has been determined to occur,” Ansolabehere wrote in an email.
Should the city reject Rice’s complaint and he wins a court injunction, he could be entitled to receive 50 percent of any money recovered, plus attorney’s fees, Rice said in a news release Wednesday.
It is my understanding that my campaign did comply with the intricacies of the election laws.
Former San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx
On Wednesday evening, Marx told The Tribune she had not yet had the opportunity to analyze Rice’s allegations in detail.
“It is my understanding that my campaign did comply with the intricacies of the election laws,” Marx said.
Black, president of the firm that typically provides services and campaign management for Democratic candidates and officials, said Wednesday he was not aware of any discrepancies in how he supported Marx’s campaign and doesn’t believe his roles in the company and the committee required their donations to be aggregated with his personal contribution.
We would never knowingly do anything in violation of the law and if something was done that was incorrect we’ll do everything we can to remedy it.
Political consultant Cory Black
“In my understanding of the city ordinance, we are in full compliance and we did nothing to violate any of the rules,” Black said Wednesday. “We would never knowingly do anything in violation of the law, and if something was done that was incorrect we’ll do everything we can to remedy it.”
Rice, a Los Angeles County firefighter and one-time San Luis Obispo City Council candidate, caused waves in the recent mayoral election in October when he donated $300 to Harmon’s campaign through his politically active nonprofit Integrity SLO. Marx criticized Harmon for accepting a donation from an outspoken critic of the Democratic Party. Harmon returned the check.
Rice notes in his complaint that on the same day Marx allegedly violated the campaign law, she was quoted in The Tribune as saying she was “very assiduous” about communicating with her campaign treasurer about contributions.
Integrity SLO actively campaigned for Harmon — including funding a $500 radio ad — without her blessing.
“Mudslinging is part of politics,” Rice told The Tribune in October.