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Grover Beach mayor hit with FPPC complaint over 2014 election

Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals.
Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

The California Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating allegations that Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals violated the Political Reform Act 52 times during his 2014 mayoral campaign — though the violations are mainly for technical errors, not mishandled funds.

A 155-page complaint from Kevin Rice of San Luis Obispo alleges that Shoals did not follow several state contribution standards during the campaign, including missing deadlines for filing campaign disclosure forms and failing to file required documents or contributions, as well as miscellaneous clerical errors such as not including the correct address or occupation of a donor.

“I would call it negligence,” said Rice, a self-proclaimed political watchdog. “When I see something that is this grossly negligent, I have to file a complaint.”

Shoals said Tuesday that he takes responsibility for the errors and is working with the state FPPC to amend his filings.

“There was certainly no intention to be misleading,” Shoals said. “I’ve always prided myself on running an ethical campaign. Looking over the complaint, it certainly doesn’t materially change how much was received or spent, and I’ve had two very positive meetings with the FPPC and am confident we can address the errors.”

In an email sent to Rice on Tuesday, the FPPC said its enforcement division will investigate the allegations, though it has “not made any determination about the validity of the allegation(s) you have made or about the culpability, if any, of the person(s) you identify in your complaint.”

In 2014, Shoals ran against incumbent Debbie Peterson to return to the mayor’s seat after a two-year hiatus from the council. Shoals ultimately won the election with 54 percent of the vote, beating Peterson by 339 votes.

The campaign finance statements covering the latter portion of the election period were due Feb. 9, 2015, and it was in those that Rice said he became aware of some “gross errors” in Shoals’ paperwork.

One of Rice’s major concerns was that campaign statements listing about half of his total contributions in 2014 — $10,778 out of $20,712 — were filed late, Rice claims. Also, two filings that would have notified the public of contributions larger than $1,000 in the days leading up to the election were not filed within the required 24 hours of the donation. Instead, they appeared in Shoals’ semi-annual finance statement in February 2015.

“Because the election was so close, it’s possible the election results could have been very different if Debbie had known about those donations,” Rice said. “She could have adjusted her strategy.”

In the complaint, Rice also alleged that Shoals did not report about $432 in nonmonetary contributions from the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party during his campaign, based on the party’s expenditure statements during that same period.

Shoals said the missing contributions were for a phone bank the party conducted and an election card they printed, which he was not notified of when filling out his contribution statements.

“There was definitely no effort on my part to conceal those,” Shoals said, noting that he was working on an amended contribution filing that would include the donations.

Rice also listed clerical filing errors, including incorrect occupations of contributors and missing or incorrect street addresses and ZIP codes.

“There’s a whole slew of mundane things, but in the big picture I think it just shows that he was sloppy, and that’s not something I think we should accept in our elected officials,” Rice said.

Rice said he routinely reviews the financial filings of many elected officials and candidates for public office, and he will sometimes alert them if they are committing small errors. In Shoals’ case, however, he said the errors were too numerous and he chose not to notify Shoals prior to filing the complaint.

Shoals, who did the filings himself, said he plans to hire a professional to do the statements in the future if he chooses to run for re-election again this November, which he has previously said he plans to do.

“I was working a full-time job and running a campaign,” he said. “I think it is obvious I just took on too much. We all do the best we can.”

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie

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