In the past year, campaign consultant Christian Schneider has thrown a number of requests for investigations into his political enemies to the Fair Political Practices Commission, the state watchdog agency tasked with making sure politicians don’t behave like politicians when it comes to campaign finance. There was one in which he accused Monterey County District Attorney Jeannine Pacioni of facilitating a number of campaign irregularities that included soliciting donations from DA employees and refusing to take election complaints during the 2018 primaries. (The FPPC passed on that one, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to warrant it.) There was another in which Schneider asked the FPPC to investigate failed state Assembly candidate Neil Kitchens, who now faces felony voter fraud charges.
And now there’s this: Because Schneider pushed it, the FPPC is investigating allegations that various business associations and related political action committees facilitated money laundering of campaign contributions to Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital board candidate Ricky Cabrera and county supervisors John Phillips and Chris Lopez, by coordinating activities of the candidates with the PACs.
The FPPC complaint alleges the Monterey County Business PAC sent a letter to its members advising how campaign contributions to individual causes and candidates could be hidden by funneling money through the association’s PAC and various other PACs, including the Salinas Valley Leadership Group.
“Funds donated to the Monterey County Business PAC are duly reported as contributions to the PAC; thus, contributions made by the PAC to candidates are reported as received from the PAC (not any individual donor),” the letter to members states. “This may be a preferable way to make political contributions in contested elections when it may be undesirable to have an individual name or company associated with a donation to a candidate’s campaign.”
Only problem with that statement (other than someone thought it was a good idea to put it in writing) is that it’s illegal to obscure the source of donations to candidates.
In addition to the aforementioned candidates, the FPPC is also investigating the activities of the Monterey County Hospitality Association, Monterey Bay Action Committee, Monterey County Business PAC and Salinas Valley Leadership Group.
Word of the investigation broke in a story posted Nov. 18 by Royal Calkins on the online news site Voices of Monterey Bay.
The timing of news is especially noteworthy because on Nov. 19, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors voted to dump SCRAMP, the current and long-time manager of the county’s Laguna Seca racetrack, and give a deal to a company recently formed by John Narigi, a treasurer and board member of the Monterey County Business PAC and a former president of the Monterey County Hospitality Association, to run management at the track.
Narigi, who for years managed the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, still sits on the MCHA finance committee, according to the organization’s website. The county contract has A&D Narigi Consulting, LLC, earning a percentage of track income, as well as a $275,000 monthly management fee.
In short, an elected board with two members under investigation voted to give a contract to someone with close and deep ties to PACs also under investigation.
Before the supervisors voted 5-0 to award the contract to Narigi’s company, Supervisor Luis Alejo took an opportunity to snipe that news of the FPPC investigation was a “smear tactic.” While he was right that anyone can make a complaint to the FPPC, that doesn’t mean the FPPC will open an investigation. In this case, they did, and they did it long before Narigi formed his company or sought the Laguna Seca contract.
SCRAMP supporters turned out in force to speak, but maybe they shouldn’t have bothered. Narigi formed his company a full week before the county’s request for proposals for new Laguna Seca management was made public. This was a done deal.
FPPC officials won’t comment on ongoing investigations, nor do they offer a time frame for completing the investigation.