Ethics commission recommends fine for Mayor Schaaf's campaign violation

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Cultural Affairs Manager Roberto Bedoya will release the city's first cultural plan in 30 years on Monday. 

OAKLAND (BCN) The Oakland Public Ethics Commission recommended at its meeting Monday night that Mayor Libby Schaaf be fined $1,000 for violating contribution limits during her campaign to be re-elected in 2018.

The $1,000 fine recommended by commission members is $400 more than the $600 fine that had been recommended by the commission's staff.

An investigation by the commission's staff found that Schaaf's campaign accepted a total of $2,400 in donations in 2017 from 11 West Partners LLC, the owner of several large properties in the city, which is 
three times more than the $800 limit by single persons or entities.

The properties owned by 11 West Partners include the artist studio complex American Steel in West Oakland and a retail complex in downtown Oakland that includes the former Smart and Final store, which closed last year.

At the time of the contributions, 11 West Partners was also negotiating to purchase a city-owned parking lot near the Smart and Final store. The company was previously fined $5,600 for violating a ban on contributions by city contractors.

The baseline penalty for the findings against Schaaf is $1,000 plus as much as three times the illegal contribution, which would be $7,200, for a potential total penalty of $8,200.

But the ethics commission's staff recommended that Schaaf only pay a reduced penalty of $600 and return the $2,400 in illegal contributions for a total fine of $3,000. 

Staff members cited several mitigating factors, such as that the contributions came from different entities all owned by the same company so it was not immediately clear that accepting them constituted a violation.

The commission's staff wrote that, "The seriousness of the harm caused by this violation was minimal" because the illegal contribution represented less than 1 percent of the $262,193.66 that Schaaf had raised for her campaign by the end of 2017.

Staff members also said Schaaf's campaign cooperated with the investigation and offered to return the donations immediately when contacted about the issue.

Commission members who voted to increase the fine for Schaaf to $1,000, plus have her refund the $2,400 in contributions for a total penalty of $3,400, said her campaign should have done more due diligence because her 2014 campaign also violated ethics rules.

In 2014, four entities owned by the same person made contributions that were $2,100 over the legal limit.

Emily Matthews, the spokeswoman for Schaaf's 2018 campaign, said, "Though campaign donors are generally responsible for complying with Oakland's campaign finance rules, we recognize that stronger safeguard measures should be implemented to ensure that we never unknowingly process any contributions that may violate these rules."

The commission's enforcement team will now negotiate with Schaaf's campaign ahead of a future commission meeting when commissioners gives final approval to a fine.