California’s campaign watchdog agency, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), is proposing to expand its powers so it can act when district attorneys fail to act. Members of the FPPC believe that local prosecutors have failed to file charges in dozens of cases where officials have allegedly used public funds for political purposes. The FPPC believes it currently lacks the authority to prosecute misuse of public funds because that power is reserved for city and county prosecutors and the state attorney general. FPPC Chairwoman Alice T. Germond stated the following regarding this topic,
We want the opportunity to take action when public money is misused. Californians expect our tax dollars to be used appropriately and when that is not the case, I want to be able send a strong message on behalf of our citizens. And I want to set a clear precedent that such behavior is unacceptable.
In February, the FPPC released a study that claims that since 2015, the agency has received 34 allegations of public agencies misusing taxpayer funds for campaign purposes, which included mass mailings. As it currently stands, the FPPC can only approve limited administrative fines for failing to disclose campaign spending, not the misuse of funds itself. The agency would like to have the power to impose administrative or civil penalties in cases of illegal use of public funds. According to Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, he has been complaining about the misuse of taxpayer funds for political purposes for several decades. If the FPPC’s powers are expanded it would require a two-thirds vote in the legislature, which will be difficult. We will have to wait and see if the FPPC’s powers are increased or if district attorneys will decide to act on cases involving the use of public funds for political purposes.