Birthday party or campaign event? For Dominic Foppoli, the personal and political mixed
On May 27, 2019, a collection of Sonoma County elected officials and civic leaders descended on Christopher Creek Winery outside of Healdsburg to celebrate and support then-Windsor Councilman Dominic Foppoli.
It was five days after his 37th birthday and the guests surrounding Foppoli included two county supervisors, three fellow incumbents of the Windsor Town Council, two council members from Healdsburg, several top administrators in local government and business people.
A photograph of the assembled crowd shows them gathered near the winery’s pool, Foppoli, kneeling in front next to a seated Supervisor James Gore.
Wine was served and also liquor from Sonoma Brothers Distilling Company, which was brought in to pour cocktails and spirits, paid for through Foppoli's campaign account, records show.
Foppoli’s campaign finance statement logged the $584.55 payment to the distillery for “meetings and appearances.”
Now, two years later, that payment is one of 10 campaign expenditures singled out for scrutiny in an anonymous complaint made last month to the state’s campaign finance watchdog about political spending by Foppoli. The author of the complaint said the liquor bill for the event was an unusual expenditure in a “non election year” and questioned the size of the payment.
The complaint also flagged payments for travel, checks made out to a then-girlfriend for charitable purposes and to an executive of Christopher Creek Winery for work on Foppoli’s campaign.
The now-disgraced former Windsor mayor is the subject of a pair of criminal investigations after nine women in recent weeks publicly alleged Foppoli sexually assaulted, abused or harassed them.
A formal case with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission, where the complaint is under review, would only add to the cloud over Foppoli. He is the son of a wealthy local wine family who is now a pariah in his hometown, with many of those who endorsed him or socialized with him severing public ties.
But state investigators are likely to find that the party was a political, not a personal expense, said Bob Stern, a leading California campaign finance expert. Those who knew Foppoli during his rise in Sonoma County politics said he often blurred the line between the two.
“I’ve always used my birthday as an excuse to hold fundraisers or campaign kickoffs,” Foppoli said in a Friday email to The Press Democrat, which reported the complaint on Thursday. In 2019, he billed the party as a kickoff for his first at-large mayoral campaign.
The San Francisco Chronicle, in its story Thursday on the campaign finance complaint, quoted a manager for the Sonoma Brothers Distilling describing the gathering as nothing more than a birthday party and not a political event.
It was both, said Foppoli.
There was a fundraising table for his campaign, according to attendees. Some guests wore name tags with their office.
In one of two photographs he provided of the event, verified by The Press Democrat with other attendees, Foppoli posed in front of a campaign sign alongside Gore and three of his fellow Windsor incumbents: Deb Fudge, Bruce Okrepkie and Esther Lemus, all of whom would go on to endorse him in 2020.
Lemus is today one of Foppoli’s accusers, alleging Foppoli drugged and sexually assaulted her in 2020. The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office is investigating those claims as part of one of two law enforcement investigations into the ex-mayor. The other investigation is in Florida, opened by the Palm Beach Police Department after former reality television star Farrah Abraham filed an April 2 police report accusing Foppoli of sexual battery. Foppoli announced his resignation May 21 as her allegations became public. He has maintained that he is innocent of all the reported accusations.
The second photograph showed the gathered, poolside crowd. Many of those current and former officeholders, like nearly every elected official in Sonoma County, had called on Foppoli to resign.
Attendees interviewed Friday said the party was a political event. Gore recalled giving a brief speech about Foppoli, who he said he’d endorsed after learning of Foppoli’s growing network of support and after working with him on policy issues.
Okrepkie recalled bringing a check for the candidate’s campaign. Foppoli reported a wave of donations from people photographed at the party. They showed up on his campaign statements as received on June 11, 2019.