Santa Rosa has fined two political groups backed by public safety unions $1,000 each for mailers that violated the city's campaign finance laws.
The violations were sparked when Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre saw a mailer criticizing Councilman Gary Wysocky and council candidate Julie Combs for wanting to "continue the infighting."
Vas Dupre said she quickly noticed the mailer didn't properly explain who was funding it, as required by city law.
"I said 'I think we need to know who's behind this,' " Vas Dupre said.
The mailer was paid for by an independent expenditure committee called the Committee for a Civil City Hall, and included the notation that it was "sponsored by business people and public safety employees."
But the mailer didn't list the group's top three contributors, contact person, or other disclosures as required by city law.
According to filings, the committee has received $13,300 to date from three groups: $7,000 from the Santa Rosa Police Officers Association, the union representing the city's 140 police officers; $5,000 from the political action committee of the Sonoma County Alliance, a coalition of local business interests; and $1,300 from the Sonoma Police Management Association, a union representing department brass.
Campaign finance filings indicate the committee spent about $11,000 on the mailer.
Vas Dupre said she was concerned that police officers were involved in "attacking" a sitting City Council member and another candidate who have called for greater financial sacrifices from police to help resolve the city's budget woes and pension debt.
"They tout civility and flout legality," Vas Dupre said. "It really upsets me."
Alan Schellerup, president of the Santa Rosa Police Officers Association, took responsibility for the error.
"All I can say is we made the mistake, we're going to pay the fine and move on," Schellerup said.
He said he spoke to several consultants about the mailer and the job was "rushed." He said the error was "an oversight" for which he took full responsibility.
"There was absolutely no intention on our part to violate the law," Schellerup said.
In the process of investigating Vas Dupre's allegation, the city also took a look at a mailer sent by the political action committees of the firefighters union and the Santa Rosa City Employees Association, the largest city employees union.
Their mailer endorsed Mayor Ernesto Olivares, Erin Carlstrom, Don Taylor and Hans Dippel for City Council, calling them "team players."
The mailer clearly noted it was paid for by the two groups, but it failed to list other required information, including a contact number, registered agent, the amount of the expenditure and a statement making it clear the mailing wasn't authorized by any candidate.
Jack Thomas, president of firefighters union, also said there was never any intent to mislead anyone about who was behind the mailer. He called the violation a "minor infraction" and said union officials simply failed to spot the omission.
"We missed it," Thomas said.
The group spent $7,624 on the mailer, according to campaign filings, but Thomas said the full cost was closer to $12,000 when the Santa Rosa City Employees Association portion was considered.
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or email@example.com. On Twitter @citybeater
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