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California Dems seek probe of GOP House candidate Maldonado

  • McClatchy Newspapers
  • Published Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, at 5:50 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, at 5:42 a.m.

— The California Democratic Party called Wednesday for a state investigation into whether the Republican former lieutenant governor, enmeshed in a tight race for the U.S. House of Representatives, failed to disclose two 2007 state campaign fund-raising events to regulators in violation of campaign financing law.

The request came six days before voters are to decide Abel Maldonado’s bid to unseat seven-term Democratic Rep. Lois Capps after a fierce contest in the Central Coast’s 24th Congressional District, in which the foes have hammered each other over taxes and personal finances.

The Maldonado campaign called the request to the California Fair Political Practices Commission, the state election finance watchdog, for a probe of Maldonado and his 2008 state Senate re-election campaign a political stunt.

“The complaint filed by the chairman of the California Democratic Party is a purely political and desperate stunt attempting to exploit an issue less than a week away from the election that the campaign addressed weeks ago,” said Kurt Bardella, Maldonado’s communications director. “Lois Capps knows she can’t run on a 14-year record of failure, so instead she’s using her political allies to launch personal attacks against Abel Maldonado in the desperate hope that the Central Coast won’t notice she has no plan to create jobs, grow the economy and lower the national debt.”

A Capps spokesman said that her campaign wouldn’t have anything to say.

The party said that its probe request was prompted by an Oct. 4 report by McClatchy.

The McClatchy review of state election and U.S. Internal Revenue Service documents found that Maldonado’s family firm tried writing off as a business expense on its federal taxes a $3,686.03 catering fee for an apparent fundraiser that Maldonado’s state Senate campaign didn’t list in its financial disclosure reports.

On the same day as the Dec. 5, 2007, party at his father’s home, Maldonado’s campaign collected $35,500 from 27 individuals and companies.

The IRS denied the write-off, saying that the party “could just as easily (have) pertained to his political career rather than any business of the taxpayer.”

If the IRS assessment is accurate, the costs of the party “were an in-kind contribution by the company to Mr. Maldonado’s campaign committee and failure to report that contribution is a violation” of state election financing law, the state Democratic party said in a statement.

In its FPPC filing, the party asserted that IRS documents also showed that Maldonado’s state Senate campaign may have failed to disclose a second 2007 fund-raiser.

According to the documents, the IRS rejected a bid by the family firm, Agro-Jal Farming Enterprises Inc., to write off a $16,473.43 catering fee for a “Harvest Party” thrown for 75 guests at the Santa Maria Country Club in April 2007.

Agro-Jal failed to provide documentation justifying the write-off, the IRS said.

“It was noted during the examination that Abel Maldonado Jr. was a state senator in California during this time period. It is conceivable that the party could have just as easily been a political fundraising party,” the IRS said.

The IRS documents are part of a U.S. Tax Court battle in which Agro-Jal – a Santa Maria commercial produce grower in which Maldonado, his father and brother owned equal shares – has been fighting an IRS assessment of $3.6 million in back taxes from 2006-08. Maldonado and his wife also are disputing an IRS finding that they underpaid their taxes by about $470,000.

The IRS documents didn’t give a day for the April 2007 event. A McClatchy review of Maldonado’s state Senate campaign finance records shows that the campaign collected its highest daily total that month – $23,100 – on April 20 from 11 individuals and companies. The campaign reported no non-monetary contributions during that month.

Maldonado won re-election to the state Senate from the 15th District. He became lieutenant governor in April 2010 but served for only eight months.

The FPPC should examine whether Maldonado and his state Senate campaign violated California election law by failing to list the two events as in-kind contributions by Agro-Jal to Maldonado’s re-election bid, the party said in its filing.

“In sum, we request that the FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission) investigate Abel Maldonado and the Abel Maldonado for Senate campaign,” the party said.

If the FPPC confirmed the allegations, it could fine Maldonado and his state Senate campaign committee up to three times the amounts of in-kind contributions they failed to disclose.

The Capps-Maldonado race is one of the most hotly contested nationwide and among the costliest House contests in California. The pair has spent nearly $4 million combined, with outside groups adding another $1.6 million.

The contest, considered to be close even though the redrawn 24th District still has more Democrats in it, has seen the rivals attacking each other over their personal finances and taxes.

Maldonado most recently rebuked Capps for waiting until 2008 to report in her congressional financial-disclosure forms more than a half-million dollars in pension income between 1998 and 2006. He also has criticized her for failing for five years to list in her federal tax returns more than $40,000 in rent from a room in her Santa Barbara home. She acknowledged the omission, filed amended returns and paid $8,819 in extra taxes.

Capps has seized on Maldonado’s fight against the IRS, and criticized him for reneging on a pledge to release his personal tax returns.

Email: jlanday@mcclatchydc.com

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