A state-run election monitoring group has launched an investigation into the campaign of current Long Beach Councilwoman Suzie Price to determine whether the candidate misused her position in city government to promote her campaign. At the mayor.
This investigation will determine whether Price violated election regulations by promoting a link to his mayoral campaign website on city-run websites, at city events, and in his official District 3 newsletter – allegations that Price’s campaigns flatly denied in an Aug. 26 statement, arguing it was a political tactic to keep the councilwoman out of the mayor’s seat.
The Fair Political Practices Commission, an independent regulatory body charged with investigating voter corruption under the Political Reform Act, formally opened its investigation into Price’s campaign on August 25 – after receiving a complaint from citizen alleging Price, on more occasions, used city resources to promote his mayoral campaign — in a potential violation of California election law.
Long Beach resident Naida Tushnet — a self-proclaimed supporter of Price’s competitor, current Vice Mayor Rex Richardson — filed a complaint with the FPPC. That complaint is the basis of the agency’s investigation, according to an Aug. 25 letter from FPPC Director of Enforcement Angela Brereton.
“Please note that at this time we have not made any decision on the validity of the allegations you have made,” Brereton’s letter states, “or on the guilt, if any, of the person you identify in your complaint”.
Awards campaign spokesman Orrin Evans attributed the complaint – and the campaign’s alleged violations – to mundane political ploys ahead of the November 8 general election.
“The silly political season is in full swing and the mayoral lobbyists are doing everything they can to keep Suzie Price out of the mayor’s office,” he said in part.
In that vein, Kerr argued that Richardson’s campaign faced its own criticism from the FPPC. Although a complaint filed against Richardson earlier this year prompted the agency to open an investigation into the allegations presented, the FPPC later declined to name the vice mayor or his campaign in the investigation, citing a lack of evidence. of wrongdoing.
The FPPC, however, named Price in the investigation into the allegations against his campaign.
Before Tushnet reported her concerns to the FPPC, she presented them to the Long Beach City Attorney‘s Office on July 27. Since there is an election pending for the position of City Attorney, this office has sent the complaint to an outside attorney for review to avoid any potential risk. conflicts of interest.
“We had an outside attorney review complaints about conflicts during the election that might impact our office,” City Attorney Charles Parkin said in an Aug. 26 interview. “We sent her (Tushnet’s complaint) to a third-party law firm to Watch.”
That company, Best Best & Krieger, submitted its analysis of Tushnet’s complaint to the city attorney’s office on August 5.
The law firm’s assessment found that two of Tushnet’s allegations — backed by social media posts, Suzie Price’s council district newsletters and a now-dead link to her own website — deserve probably violations of the campaign law.
Much of the concern centers on Price’s use of the now-disabled website, suzieaprice.com, on his official social media accounts, at city-sponsored events, and in his weekly District 3 City Bulletins. .
The suzieaprice.com link automatically redirected users to Price’s campaign website — suzieprice4mayor.com.
“State law prohibits the use of public resources, including the use of a city-operated website, for campaign activity,” wrote attorney Ruben Duran, who led the third-party review, in the note of August 5.
The “suzieaprice.com” link has appeared in Price City Council communications for months – including on her official Long Beach government page and its official Instagram and Facebook pages.
While the use of Price’s campaign link on the city’s website may indicate a more serious misuse of Long Beach’s resources, the memo states that Price’s social media accounts are self-directed, meaning the Council members likely did not commit campaign violations in these cases.
“However, since these accounts relate to (Price’s) activities as a District 3 council member, there should be a clear distinction between the public official account, the campaign account and the council member’s personal account. council,” the memo reads, “to ensure that City-enforcement accounts are not used for campaign-related purposes in violation of state law.
Price also displayed his campaign link on a pop-up tent at a city-sponsored Long Beach Municipal Band concert on July 28.
Although the link itself does not contain any phrases that argue outright for Price’s campaign, the memo states, the fact that the link automatically redirects users to the suziprice4mayor.com website – and was displayed during a town event – is probably a country law. breach.
“The Council member is primarily engaging in the express advocacy of his candidacy through the promotion of his campaign website,” the memo states, “which clearly identifies his candidacy for elective office during the event.”
And, the memo continues, Price could have more trouble on that front if a city staffer spends time or costs assembling the pop-up tent — assuming the mayoral candidate doesn’t. did not pay itself.
The link also appeared in official Price City Council bulletins over a seven-month period.
A hyperlinked phrase in the newsletters urged readers to “visit our website.” But instead of linking to Price City Council‘s homepage, it again linked to its campaign website.
“This communication would likely not be considered informative, but impermissible campaign activity,” the memo states, “and an unauthorized use of city resources.”
The outside attorney advised Price to remove his campaign link from all city-related communications — noting that the council member’s apparent violations could warrant civil and criminal penalties.
“The city may consider referring this matter to the district attorney for further investigation,” the memo reads, to enforce proper campaign conduct.
Tushnet’s July 27 complaint was not the first time Price’s campaign practices have drawn criticism.
The FPPC received another complaint about Price’s campaign link issue on April 21, according to documents provided by the agency, which also alleged that the candidate used the city’s website to promote her own campaign.
This complaint, however, was dismissed by the FPPC – and the agency refused to open an investigation. It’s unclear who filed that initial complaint, or why the agency declined to investigate.
Long Beach, according to Parkin, refused to take disciplinary action against Price. Instead, city officials informed the councilwoman and her campaign manager of the allegations.
“We were looking for compliance,” Parkin said. “There was compliance as soon as they were made aware of the link that took people to the campaign website. They terminated this link and eliminated all these problems.
The “suziaprice.com” link is now disabled – and has been removed from Price’s official social media accounts and city-run websites.
The Price campaign, for its part, strongly disagrees with the citizen complaint and the findings of the external review.
“Suzie privately created and paid for a website that provided updates and information to voters for nearly eight years,” Kerr said in her statement. “This website was automatically routed to a campaign site when she joined the mayoral race and has now been removed to ensure no unintended references appear there.”
The statement added: “Suzie is focused on reducing homelessness, improving public safety and increasing access to abortion. We look forward to the follow-up story when this distraction is closed.
The campaign spokesperson also noted the aforementioned complaint about Richardson’s campaign.
The complaint, filed July 5, prompted the FPPC to open a case to further investigate a citizen’s concern that the Richardson campaign failed to disclose its financial supporters in public advertisements.
But, citing insufficient evidence that Richardson — or his campaign — committed campaign violations, the agency declined to name either party as a respondent in the case.
“The Law Enforcement Division will instead initiate an investigation to obtain information about the payer(s)/distributor(s) of the signs referenced in the complaint to determine whether the campaign disclosure and advertising disclaimer requirements were met. triggered by campaign activity,” the FPCC chief said. the enforcement officer wrote in a July 19 letter.
As for the timing of the results of the FPPC investigation in both cases, anyone can guess.
“Each investigation takes as long as it takes, there is no clock,” FPPC spokesperson Jay Wierenga said in an email, noting that the average case investigation time is of about 114 days.
The vast majority of FPPC cases, Wierenga added, revolve around technical violations and are often resolved quickly. Other, more serious cases can take up to two years to be fully investigated.
“It all depends,” he said.