In 2013, Susan Shelley was a first-time candidate for a California legislative seat from Orange County. California has one of the most complicated and draconian sets of campaign finance laws in the country, and one of the most aggressive enforcement agencies in the Fair Political Practices Commission.
FPPC Chair Jodi Remke wrote last year that California’s 1974 Political Reform Act “is overly complex, cumbersome and sometimes contradictory.” She noted that elected officials claim any errors they made were a result of the law’s complexity, and potential candidates in smaller races are deterred from running when faced with the intricate rules.
Shelley, by the FPPC’s own account, “substantially complied with the Act’s campaign reporting requirements,” made a “good-faith effort,” and “consulted Commission staff throughout.” Further, they found “no evidence of deliberate concealment or intent to deceive the public.”
Nevertheless, she acted as her own Treasurer, and made what the FPPC must believe was a grievous error: although she submitted her electronic campaign finance filings on-time, she failed to mail in paper copies of the same filings on time.
How difficult are the California campaign finance laws to comply with? The FPPC attorney who filed the 55-count FPPC complaint against Shelley made a simple mathematical error and double-counted funds transferred between the two committees Shelley was required to establish.
The potential penalties? $55,000. No word on whether the complaining attorney also faces a penalty for an incorrect filing.