The California Fair Political Practices Commission has decided to not investigate a complaint that was filed against Palo Alto City Councilman Greg Tanaka for accepting campaign contributions from developers well before he formed a reelection committee in July.
Galena West, chief of the Enforcement Division for the state commission, which oversees campaign-expenditure laws, informed Tanaka in a letter Monday that the agency has opted not to move ahead with the anonymous complaint.
The complaint asserted that Tanaka violated state law by receiving $25,000 in contributions from local developers between New Year's Eve and Jan. 14 of this year, despite the fact that he didn't file his candidate election statement, known as Form 501, until July 11. State rules require candidates to file a Form 501 "before soliciting or receiving any contributions or making expenditures from personal funds," according to the Commission's Campaign Disclosure Manual.
The manual states that the form "must be filed for each election, even if the candidate is running for reelection to the same office."
The complaint alleged that Tanaka was illegally accepting contributions to his reelection campaign and that his failure to comply with state law, along with his failure to disclose three campaign contributions in 2016, demonstrate "persistent attempts to shield the sources and amounts of his campaign contributions from public scrutiny by voters in his current elections."
State rules do, however, allow candidates to spend the campaign money even after they are elected. Tanaka had maintained that he was doing just that.
The funding he had received earlier this year, Tanaka told this news organization, was used to pay for ongoing expenses that he is incurring as a council member, including his weekly office hours, which he broadcasts on Facebook. His major contributors include local developers Roxy Rapp, who gave $10,000, Charles "Chop" Keenan, Brad Ehikian and John McNellis, each of whom gave $5,000. He has also received a $2,500 contribution on Sept. 2 from the California Real Estate Political Action Committee.
West wrote to Tanaka's attorney that the Commission's determination not to investigate his campaign was based on his explanation that "most of the expenditures identified in the complaint are related to Mr. Tanaka's office holder duties as a Councilmember of Palo Alto."
"The expenditures were related to constituent outreach challenges in response to the pandemic," West wrote.
The FPPC also found that one of the expenditures to Google for $67.64 for canvassing costs was mislabeled. But because the expense was under $100 and, as such, did not require itemization on the campaign statement, the agency will not pursue this matter further, West wrote.
Tanaka is one of 10 candidates vying for four open seats on the council this year. The list also includes his council colleague Lydia Kou, who is also seeking reelection, and eight challengers: former mayor and council member Pat Burt, attorney Rebecca Eisenberg, Planning and Transportation Commissioner Ed Lauing, former Human Relations Commission member Steven Lee, systems engineer Raven Malone, Gunn High School teacher Greer Stone, Planning and Transportation Commission Chair Cari Templeton and Ajit Varma, product management director at WhatsApp.
View the Fair Political Practices Commission's letter here.