- Associated Press - Monday, February 6, 2017

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - A California Republican fundraising committee is paying a $30,000 fine for obscuring more than $9 million in campaign contributions it funneled to nearly six dozen legislative candidates, the state’s campaign finance watchdog said Monday.

The California Republican Leadership Fund paid the maximum $5,000 penalty for each of six violations of causing others to violate state election law, the Fair Political Practices Commission announced.

State GOP leaders created the fund to raise money for county central committees. Those local committees then made numerous contributions to Republican candidates for the state Legislature in the 2012 and 2014 elections.

But the commission’s enforcement division said the fund was controlled by the top four Republicans in the Legislature - the two Republican leaders and the two GOP caucus leaders in the Assembly and Senate.

The money was improperly reported as coming from the local committees instead of from the statewide fund, the commission’s staff said.

There was no attempt to conceal the donors, the commission said, but the fund’s operators were negligent in not properly reporting who controlled the money. The fund admitted the error, changed its practices and already paid the penalty, according to a stipulation that will be considered at the commission’s Feb. 16 hearing.

The fund’s attorney, Brian Hildreth, said GOP leaders decided to settle even though they felt like they had a strong case.

“There was no harm to the public or the voters in this case,” he said. “The FPPC essentially took issue with how the funds were approved for disbursement. This case had nothing to do with limits or reporting or depriving any voter with information to make a full and informed decision about the candidates running for office.”

The contributions included:

- Alameda County, $64,000 to two candidates.

- Riverside County, $267,200 to 10 candidates.

- Sacramento County, $443,453 to five candidates.

- San Luis Obispo County, $5,521,546 to 34 candidates.

- Stanislaus County, $824,906 to six candidates.

- Tulare County, $2,076,998 to 13 candidates.

The candidates thought the money was coming from their county central committee, the commission said.

State law says campaign contributions must be made in the name of the actual contributor. If it is passed through another party, the identity of the contributor still must be disclosed.

Contributors to the leadership fund include frequent Republican donors including insurance and energy companies, American Indian tribes and wealthy Republican physicist Charles Munger Jr.

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