Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux was elected in June of 2014, but questions about his campaign finance statements still linger. Marsh Carter, a Tulare County Sheriff lieutenant, filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) in August of this year. Carter’s complaint is the latest in a series of complaints about Boudreaux’ financial statements filed during his campaign and throughout his career.
Carter states, “I believe Mr. Boudreaux has purposely provided misleading information regarding numerous donations. Mr. Boudreaux has also failed numerous times to comply with California government codes and Fair Political Practice Commission regulations.”
Carter’s FPPC complaint is made up of three parts. The first concerns Boudreaux’ campaign statements, or form 460, from January 1 to May 17, 2014. The second concerns Boudreaux’ attempt to correct his mistakes on the amended campaign statements filed in July of this year. The third concerns Boudreaux’ Statement of Economic Interest or form 700.
Carter states in his complaint that Boudreaux’ quarterly 2014 statements from January through May had more than 200 mistakes. These mistakes included not disclosing addresses, employers and occupations of donors. The FPPC reviewed Carter’s complaint and as a result sent Boudreaux a warning letter.
In the warning letter it states, “The FPPC has completed its investigation of the facts in this case. Specifically, the FPPC found that in several instances you failed to report the address for a contributor, or failed to include the occupation and employer information for a contributor… However since you immediately amended your campaign statements when contacted by the Commission staff we are closing our file on this matter.”
The FPPC gives the candidate an opportunity to correct their mistakes before an advisory letter, warning letter, or fine is levied. After the FPPC communicated with Boudreaux about the mistakes, Boudreaux filed amended statements.
But when Carter reviewed the amended statements he discovered that they were virtually identical to Boudreaux’ original financial campaign statements. Carter inquired with the FPPC Enforcement Division as to how they came to their conclusion. In a conversation with Gary Winuk of the Enforcement Division, Winuk agreed that the forms had all of the same mistakes. Winuk said that the FPPC must not have even looked at the amended campaign statements before issuing their warning letter and closing the case.
After recognizing their oversight, the FPPC then referred Boudreaux’ case to one of their lawyers. In an email exchange between Carter and Political Reform Consultant for the FPPC, Jeanette Turvill, she wrote, “I spoke w/the attorney on this matter today. It was agreed that since we closed this matter with a warning letter that we could not then go back to some other resolution. However, the attorney for Mike Boudreaux was contacted and they were asked to provide employer/info for any occupation that was something other than rancher, farmer, dairyman, etc. It is my understanding that it was a short list and that the amendment was filed with Tulare County very recently.”
The communication between FPPC’s lawyer and Boudreaux’ lawyer resulted in Boudreaux filing a third set of amended statements in July, 2015. Carter reviewed these amended statements and discovered that once more they had many of the same mistakes. In addition, the corrections were a year-and-a-half late. Correctly amended statements are due within 70 days of being filed. If the corrected forms are not filed within 70 days, all donations where mistakes were made, are required to be returned to the donor.
Carter states that, “The amendment for the reporting period for January through March 2014 continues to have an excess of 70 incomplete or incorrect entries for addresses, occupations, and employers. With respect to the amendment for the reporting period of March through May 2014, again, there are over 40 incomplete, incorrect entries for addressers, occupation and employers.”
Boudreaux’ response to Carter’s FPPC complaint is, “every effort was made to have the information as accurate as possible. We were neither misleading nor was there an attempt to conceal any contributor. There is no plausible reason to conceal anyone who donated to my campaign. Even prior to my making of these amendments, it was patently obvious who my donors were. No voter would have been misled by the information contained in my pre-corrected reports.”
In response to the missing rental income–form 700–Boudreaux said it was a simple case of marking the wrong box.
Boudreaux said that his current focus is running the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department to the best of his ability. “I run a professional organization,” he said, “and I am doing everything I can to make our communities as safe as possible. I am briefed on homicides, gang violence, narcotic activity, and crimes against children and a variety of issues facing our county. I will continue to focus my attention on the needs of this county. I am focused on the good citizens of this county and I am proud to serve our communities.”
The origins of the finance campaign complaints actually go back to 2012 when former Tulare County Sheriff Bill Wittman launched his sixth campaign for Tulare County Sheriff. Wittman ended up getting fined $466, not only for not disclosing proper addresses and employers, but because he failed to disclose $6,625 in donations. Wittman pulled out of the race in 2013 for health reasons.
Wayne Bixler is one of the several campaign links between Boudreaux and Wittman. Bixler served as treasurer on both campaigns and made many of the same mistakes. Whereas Wittman got fined, Boudreaux only received a warning for the missing information. Boudreaux did not try to conceal the identity of his donors and he was never accused of not reporting donations.
Those working on the Dave Whaley campaign for Tulare County Sheriff had anticipated a lively race between Whaley and the entrenched Sheriff Wittman. One of Whaley’s main reasons for running was Wittman’s refusal to deal with alleged embezzling happening at the Deputy Sheriff’s Association (DSA). He confronted Wittman on the embezzling allegations which Wittman claimed were unfounded. Not long after the accusations surfaced, Wittman went on medical leave and dropped out of the race. He appointed the then Undersheriff Boudreaux as acting Tulare County Sheriff and Boudreaux stepped into the race for Tulare County Sheriff.
The embezzlement case was ultimately sent to District Attorney Tim Ward’s office, which determined that “there was no evidence to support the conclusion that there was any intent to permanently deprive the DSA of the funds used in the disputed charges.” Funds had definitely been diverted from the DSA for personal use but it was determined that the diversion didn’t reach the level of embezzlement. Most of the funds used for personal reasons were paid back to the DSA.
Those working on Whaley’s campaign said that the DSA membership was angry and that funds were definitely embezzled. It is believed that the only reason the deputies and sergeants paid the money back was because they got caught. On the other hand, Boudreaux ended up getting endorsed by the 80% of the DSA membership.
What happens now?
Jay Wierenga, communications director for the FPPC, said that from 1,300 to 1,500 cases were settled last year with the vast majority receiving fines. He said that just last month there were 73 fines. “How cooperative the candidate, how serious the violation, and if there are previous violations, will determine if there will be a fine.” Not all cases where there is missing information is a fine recommended. “If the candidate is not reporting properly they would probably receive an advisory or warning letter. The main goal of the reporting is to disclose the donor,” said Wierenga.
According to Boudreaux’ lawyer, Brian Hildreth, who advises his clients on political and election law, “The goal and purpose is not to fill out the forms to the letter, but it is to give the voter a meaningful opportunity to know who is financially supporting the candidate. In the case of Sheriff Boudreaux, his forms were filled out in such a way that there is no doubt about who is supporting the candidate.”
On examination of Boudreaux’ forms the mistakes seem obiouvs. But it is also true what Hildreth says about the clear identity of all of Boudreaux’ donors. The question remains why? A quick google search can find many of the missing addresses.
As far as the 700 form, or statement of Economic Interest, mistakes were also made and admitted to by Boudreaux. Boudreaux said that his one legitimate mistake on the 700 form was a case of simply “checking the wrong box.” On examination of the forms, in regard to a home he rents out in Visalia, he checked the wrong box six consecutive times during the span of five years. As a result rental income was not reported.
As for his other rental properties, Boudreaux explained that he did not list them because they were no longer in his possession when his campaign started. But, the investment rental property was in his possession in 2011 and 2012. As an undersheriff he filled out form 700 once a year as a public employee, and the rental income and tenant information were missing in those years.
On a cursory analysis of Boudreaux’ donors, eight employees of the sheriff’s department who donated $100 or more got promoted soon after Boudreaux was sworn in on January 2, 2015. Another donor who gave a $100 was hired a few months later by Boudreaux.
Undersheriff Robin Skiles gave an unoffical estimate of 10-12 law enforcement personnel having been promoted since Boudreaux took office.
Boudreaux found the observation offensive. He said that all Tulare County Sheriff Department employees who are considered for promotion need to go through an extensive testing process and need to score in the top 90%.
“These are all high quality people and we promote based on merit and fairness,” he said.
Complaints about Boudreaux’ campaign went farther than the California Forms 460 and 700. In 2014, his campaign held a gun raffle as a fundraiser. Whether or not a political campaign can legally put on a raffle has never been definitively settled and is considered a gray area. But complaints by several people in the sheriff’s department said that employees were selling raffle tickets during work and sheriff department employees were putting up campaign signs and other campaign errands while on duty.
Boudreaux denies that anyone in law enforcement did campaign work for him while on the clock, and if it did happen he did not support it. On hearing these complaints, Boudreaux put out a memo during his campaign, “While any political race at the local, state or national level can at times evoke emotion and passion, it is our individual and agency responsibility to refrain from political activities while at work. Should you feel there is a violation of the policies listed within the attached document please contact your immediate supervisor.”
The end result was that acting Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux beat former Tulare County Sheriff Deputy Dave Whaley by a landslide, 73% to 27%. Carter was one of a handful of sheriff department employees who worked on Whaley’s campaign. Carter felt at the time that Whaley had more experience and was better able to administer the department’s budget. He also felt that Whaley was more reliable and would come through with his promises.
Boudreaux’ plans for the future is to defend his elected position in 2018, and he has already held a couple of fundraising events. His last fundraiser, which is a yearly event, was a golf tournament in Porterville at the end of October.
“We filled 36 teams and had to turn away 20” said Tulare County Sheriff Department Captain Tom Sigley.
“My fundraisers are successful because my supporters trust me as their sheriff. I work endless hours, attend town hall meetings and numerous events throughout each week and weekends. I am thankful for the funds that have been raised by those that trust and support me,” said Boudreaux.
As for who will do the reporting on the fundraiser – Boudreaux has hired Direct File, a political and accounting disclosure firm out of Fresno and will let them deal with it.