30 September 2014
Attn: DA Tony Rackauckas
Re: Michelle Steel Violation of Orange County Campaign Reform
Ordinance Section 1-6-11 – Accepting Contributions in Excess of the Limit
Dear Mr. Rackauckas:
This is a Formal Complaint against Michelle Steel, a candidate for Orange County Supervisor, who has accepted contributions for legal expenses that exceed the current contribution limit of $1,900, in violation of Section 1-6-11 of the Orange County Campaign Reform Ordinance. Mrs. Steel’s opponent is Assemblyman Allan Mansoor.
Mrs. Steel’s ballot designation as a “Taxpayer Advocate” was challenged by Chad Morgan (Chief of Staff to Assemblyman Allan Mansoor). The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff and ordered Mrs. Steel to pay the plaintiff’s legal fees. Mrs. Steel subsequently established a separate committee entitled “Michelle Steel Legal Defense Fund” (ID 1367560) to accept contributions which were then used to pay $l8,000 in legal fees to Chad Morgan and another $l7,000 in legal fees to her attorneys (Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk LLP). A total of $35,000 was contributed to this fund by the following entities:
State Regulation 18530.45 was adopted in October 2008 by the Fair Political Practices Commission and allows a local candidate or local elected official to establish a separate “Legal Defense Fund” separate from their campaign committee. Section (b)(2) of this regulation says: “A local government agency may impose different requirements, including a contribution limit, on a legal defense account and legal defense committee maintained by a candidate or officer in its jurisdiction . . .”.
The Orange County Campaign Reform Ordinance (TINCUP) does not include language that would establishes a separate Legal Defense Committee to be established, but does allow funds to be collected to pay for legal expenses related to holding County office or running for County Office. Section 1-6-11 which addresses this issue says that “funds collected for legal expenses shall be considered campaign contributions and shall be subject to the limitations of this division”. This section became effective on January 1, 2003 and was enacted by the Board of Supervisors. It is obvious that the intent of the County’s ordinance was to limit contributions that are used to pay for legal expenses. (Note: This section was adopted five years prior to State Regulation 18530.45. The question remains “Does the FPPC have the right to overrule a local ordinance?)
I believe candidate Michelle Steel is in violation of Section 1-6-11 of the Orange County Campaign Reform Ordinance (known as TINCUP) because she accepted contributions far in excess of the $l900 contribution limit. I have requested Mrs. Steel to refund those contributions made to her Legal Defense Fund that exceeded the contribution limit of $l900 per contributor (including those that should be aggregated because they are related companies). Mrs. Steel has refused to refund these even though the local ordinance clearly intended for a limit to be placed on funds accepted to pay for legal expenses. If she were to make the requested refunds, I believe she would then be in compliance with Section 1-6-11 of the Orange County Campaign Reform Ordinance.
Shirley L. Grindle
1409 E. Century Drive
Orange, Ca. 92866