In 2011 and 2012, Stanislaus County's Republican Party
quietly became a player in state political finance, taking $1.7 million from big
spenders and funneling most of it to superheated campaigns throughout
The metamorphosis was so hushed that some members of the county's central committee, the very group used by state party leaders to distribute the money, were unaware.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission, a state agency enforcing campaign ethics, confirmed to The Bee that the Stanislaus group's role in pooling and distributing cash is under investigation.
News of the probe has caused an uproar in the committee, particularly among members seated in January. Some say they got involved to help their party and were disturbed to find out about the money flow. (How it works.)
"To say there is a division is an understatement," said Mylinda Mason, a central committee member for more than 15 years. "It's unfortunate. It's alarming."
Jim DeMartini, the central committee's chairman and a member of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors, said the money channeling is perfectly legal and transparent. He is unhappy with "a few malcontents" on the committee whom he blames for creating a ruckus.
"In 20 years, I've never seen committee members acting like this," he said. "I don't know what their objective is, but they're certainly not team players."
This isn't the committee's first brush with the FPPC.
Money transfers in 2008 caught the eye of the agency, which plans to bring to trial in November a case against Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, and Bill Berryhill. The FPPC says the former used central committees in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties to launder more than $40,000 for his brother, helping him win a close Assembly race.
The Stanislaus committee also got into trouble in 2009 for helping a San Diego politician launder money to his own campaign. Assemblyman Joel Anderson was fined $20,000 and the Fresno County Republican Central Committee was fined $29,000 for its role, but the Stanislaus committee got off with a warning letter.
About a year after the FPPC started investigating the Berryhills in 2010, party leaders created the California Republican Leadership Fund with central committees in three counties: San Luis Obispo, Tulare and Stanislaus. The fund is both the vehicle for funneling big money and the target of the current investigation.
Restrictions approved by California voters in 2000 limit donors from giving more than $4,100 directly to a candidate, per election. But donors can give as much as they want to entities such as the California Republican Leadership Fund, which began holding pricey fund-raisers such as a conference at The Grand Del Mar Luxury Hotel & Resort Spa and a Sonoma wine tour with spa treatments and golf rounds.
The fund then transfers money to central committees, and state party leaders control how the committees give it to candidates.
The system allows unlimited giving potential to powerful corporations and billionaires with stakes in policy-making. Last year, for example, businessman Charles Munger donated almost $43 million. A Bee review of filings found that $477,545 wound up with the Stanislaus central committee.
Rolling in dough
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