State agency investigates 2016 council candidates - Champion Newspapers: News

State agency investigates 2016 council candidates

Duo calls it a 'fishing expedition'

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Posted: Saturday, August 11, 2018 8:00 am

The Federal Political Practices Commission (FPPC) is investigating the 2016 campaign practices of then-Chino Hills city council candidates Rossana Mitchell-Arietta and Jim Gallagher after receiving two complaints in the last 18 months.

Ms. Mitchell-Arietta is a candidate for this fall’s District 4 Chino Hills City Council seat.

One complaint was filed anonymously in October 2016 and the other was filed in April by Chris Mann, a San Bernardino County politico who serves on the Yucaipa Valley Water District Board and formerly worked for County Supervisor Josie Gonzalez.

A third complaint, called a “non-filer referral,” was submitted in March 2017 by Chino Hills City Clerk Cheryl Balz against Ms. Mitchell-Arietta for not submitting a campaign termination form by the deadline after warning her via two certified letters. 

The FPPC regulates and enforces campaign finance reporting and conflict of interest issues for candidates and campaign committees in California.

Mr. Gallagher and Ms. Mitchell-Arietta, who ran as a team in the 2016 election and lost their bid for Chino Hills city council, said the complaints are politically motivated.

The anonymous complaint and Mr. Mann’s complaint, which are similar, allege that the duo used personal or business funds for their slate mailers. The complaints stated that the checks were not written from the candidates’ committees because no loans were made prior to the purchases.

The two complaints also allege that the pair did not accurately disclose the cost breakdown for several mailers sent out by West Coast Media.

Mr. Gallagher said when he first opened his campaign bank account, he was told by Ms. Mitchell-Arietta they needed to order slate mailers right away and that he should write a personal check and report it on the 460 form.

“It was an honest mistake I made as a first-time candidate and the FPPC accepted my explanation,” he said.

Mr. Gallagher said he responded to all FPPC requests for documentation and submitted cancelled checks and complete bank account statements.

He said he is working closely with FPPC investigator Marshall Miller who he described as a “great guy, very thorough, and actually trying to help me.”

Mr. Gallagher said after the anonymous complaint filed in October 2016 went nowhere, a party operative who doesn’t live in the area filed the same complaint in April.

“Do you see what’s going on?” he said. “Chris Mann is supposed to be in charge of water rates and infrastructure in Yucaipa, so why is he fiddling around and worrying about what’s going on in Chino Hills?”

“I think he’s pretty fishy—he’s somebody’s friend,” Mr. Gallagher said.

Mr. Mann did not respond to a request for a comment.

Questioning motives

Ms. Mitchell-Arietta said she has the right to write checks from her own business and that she reported a huge loan to herself on her campaign paperwork.

“Somebody is trying to get me for spending my own money,” she said.

She claimed she didn’t see the city clerk’s letters because she was in the process of moving her law office to another location in the city although she does remember speaking with Ms. Balz on the phone. 

Ms. Mitchell-Arietta said she eventually submitted the requested form and the associated fines to the city clerk’s office.

She said she was surprised the city clerk filed a complaint with the FPPC and believes it was orchestrated by a higher-up or a city councilperson.

Ms. Balz said Thursday that as the filing officer, she is required to report any apparent violation of the Political Reform Act which includes when a filer fails to file all or part of a statement after reasonable notice has been provided.

Two written notices must be made before referring a case, Ms. Balz said.

The other complaints also allege that a fundraiser held at The Habit restaurant where 20 percent of the proceeds were to be given to the candidates “hides the source of the monies received.”

Ms. Mitchell-Arietta said the fundraiser was a flop and raised only $50.

Mr. Gallagher views the complaints as a “fishing expedition.” 

“I don’t want to be viewed as corrupt by my community,” he said. “I was hoping we’d get the whole thing resolved so that I’d be able to publicly defend my good name.”

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