California Assemblymember Dawn Addis was fined for accepting a campaign contribution from a lobbyist, the California Fair Political Practices Commission announced Thursday.
When Addis, a Morro Bay resident, ran for State Assembly in 2019, her campaign accepted a $250 donation from lobbyist Steve Black, according to the Commission’s order to pay the fine.
The Political Reform Act bans lobbyists from donating to candidates running for office, and candidates from accepting such donations.
Both Addis and Black said they were unaware of the ban, and Addis returned the donation 35 days after receiving it, the order said.
At a meeting Thursday, the commissioners voted 3-1 to fine Addis $1,000 for accepting the donation, and Black $1,500 for making the donation and failing to report it. The fines are paid to the state’s General Fund.
At the meeting, Senior Commission Counsel Christopher Burton said $1,000 is the lowest fine for this type of violation. The commissioners selected a lower fine because they believed that Black and Addis didn’t intend to break the law, according to the order.
“There’s nothing here to show that this was some intentional scheme, or conspiracy,” Commissioner Richard Miadich said at the meeting. “This is somebody who should’ve paid closer attention.”
Vice Chair Catharine Baker cast the lone dissenting vote, arguing that the fine was too high.
In 2022, Addis was elected to the District 30 seat in the State Assembly, which represents most of San Luis Obispo County, and parts of Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.
Addis’ campaign spokesperson Derek Humphrey told The Tribune on Wednesday that the donation was “a mistake.”
“We’re glad the issue has been resolved,” he wrote in a text message to The Tribune.
Lobbyist donated to Addis campaign in 2019
In 2019, Addis was running to represent District 35 in the California State Assembly while serving on the Morro Bay City Council.
She ultimately lost the 2020 election, but won the 2022 election for the newly redrawn District 30 seat representing part of San Luis Obispo County.
While running for election in 2019, Addis met with Black in Morro Bay and asked him to support her campaign.
Black is a Denver, Colorado-based attorney who owned the lobbying firm Steve Black Strategies, Inc., according to commission documents. At the time, Black was registered to lobby the California State Assembly on behalf of Castle Wind LLC.
Castle Wind bid for a lease to build wind turbines off the coast of Morro Bay in 2022, but was unsuccessful. Instead, the companies Central California Offshore Wind LLC, Invenergy California Offshore LLC and Equinor Wind US LLC won leases in the Morro Bay wind energy area.
Black is no longer registered as a lobbyist in California, the commission said.
On about Dec. 20, 2019, Black donated $250 of personal funds to Addis’ campaign, the commission said.
Black told The Tribune in 2020 that the donation was an “inadvertent mistake,” as he was more familiar with federal campaign finance laws.
According to the commission, however, Black finished an ethics orientation course that mentioned the ban eight months before he made the donation.
Black also failed to disclose the donation on his Jan. 23, 2020, Form 615, a quarterly statement for lobbyists to report their activity.
On Jan. 24, 2020, the commission told Addis’ campaign that a complaint had been filed about the donation as it violated state policy.
She immediately refunded the donation to Black.
Addis told the commission that she did not know about the ban or that Black lobbied the California State Legislature. She thought Black “was a government affairs professional who was active at the federal level,” the report said.
On Jan. 27, 2020, Black sent a letter to the commission clarifying that he did not intend to violate state rules.
“Neither I nor the candidate who solicited the contribution was aware of the ban,” Black wrote in the letter. “I am a resident of Colorado and typically have supported candidates for federal office or state office in Colorado, where I am not registered as a lobbyist.”
FPPC: Donation from lobbyist to SLO County legislator ‘a mistake’
Though Addis was ultimately fined, the Commission said it appeared like the donation was “the result of a mistake” and not an intentional attempt to break the law.
“Addis was a candidate for elected state office, but she did not yet hold the position — so there was less opportunity and reason for her to know about the ban that applies to these types of contributions,” the order said.
Addis additionally had no history of violating the Political Reform Act, the order noted.
Because Black only made one small donation “when they could’ve maxed out at thousands of dollars,” Miadich said he thought Black and Addis didn’t intend to violate the policy.
“This was somebody who hadn’t previously been a lobbyist in California, they came here for the first time, they registered, they probably didn’t pay very close attention (to the training),” Miadich said of Black.
“This looks like negligence and a mistake,” she said.
Baker voted against the fine, however, arguing that it was too high. The size and circumstances of the donation show that Black and Addis didn’t intend to violate the law, she said. She called the fine “disproportionate” to public harm caused by the donation.
Additionally, the incident will haunt Addis’ political career, Baker said.
“This candidate’s going to be paying for this for a long time beyond this,” Baker said. “This will always be used against her.”