Bustamante told to return tribal donations
Tuesday, September 23, 2003

California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante (D) must return millions of dollars tribes have donated to his campaign, a judge ruled on Monday.

Wealthy tribes with casinos gave more than $2 million to their long-time supporter. The contributions were above the current limit of $21,200 per donor because they went to a Bustamante committee in place before voters approved a campaign finance referendum.

But in a 12-page decision, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Loren McMaster said "it was not lawful" for Bustamante to accept donations "of any amount" even if they went to the old committee. Analyzing the language of Proposition 34, which was passed in 2000, he issued a preliminary injunction barring the use of the funds.

"If the funds were improperly raised, the only proper disposition of the money is to return it to the contributors," McMaster wrote.

Bustamante came under fire for taking $1.5 million from the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians, $600,000 from the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Indians and $500,000 from the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians. Republican and other political opponents called on him to return the money, plus more than $1 million he accepted from union interests, and state Sen. Ross Johnson, a Republican supporter of rival candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger, filed suit.

Reacting to the criticism, Bustamante transferred the donations to a new committee to oppose Proposition 54, a measure that would restrict the state government's collection of racial and ethnic data. His campaign used the money on television ads that are airing statewide.

Based on McMaster's decision, Bustamante would have to return the money he transferred to the measure committee. But according to a report in today's Los Angeles Times, all of it has been spent.

"We would certainly return any money that we have," Richie Ross, a Bustamante consultant, told the paper. When asked how much was left, Ross replied "None."

Despite the negative decision, McMaster said the Bustamante campaign "no doubt acted in good faith" and that no one "intentionally violated" the law. The judge attributed confusion over Proposition 34 to the Fair Political Practices Commission, a state entity that has gone after two tribes for alleged violations of campaign reporting requirements.

The FPPC did not participate in lawsuit and is considering a complaint that could result in fines imposed against Bustamante. But in an informal brief to the court, public statements and advice letters, FPPC has said that donations in excess of $21,200 can be made to old committees so long as there is no other violation of Proposition 34.

In spite of this "conflicting advice," McMaster determined that the tribal donations were not allowed because they exceeded the debt of Bustamante's old committee. Proposition 34 includes an exemption that allows old committees to accept new money to pay off debts.

FPPC has brought cases against the Santa Rosa Indian Community and Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. A state appeals court is reconciling conflicting rulings in order to determine whether tribes, as sovereign governments, must adhere to FPPC's rules and regulations for campaign donations.

The recall election, scheduled to take place October 7, is in the air because a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said it should be delayed in order to replace outmoded voting equipment that could disenfranchise thousands of urban voters. A full panel of the court is set to rule this morning on the exact date.

Get the Decision:
Johnson v. Bustamante (September 22, 2003)

Relevant Links:
Cruz Bustamante, campaign site -
Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante -
Arnold Schwarzenegger -
Arianna Huffington -
Peter Camejo -
Tom McClintock -
Fair Political Practices Commission -

Related Stories:
Opinion: McClintock throwing race to Bustamante (09/19)
Schwarzenegger: Tribe interfering with election (09/19)
Calif. tribes have spent $5M on recall race (09/18)
Column: Bustamante still handling tribal funds (09/15)
Calif. tribe hosts dinner for Republican candidate (09/15)
WSJ Opinion: Bustamante's 'extreme' tribal agenda (09/12)
WSJ opinion-maker: Democrats bowing to Calif. tribes (09/08)
Bustamante stood with tribes before gaming (09/08)
Bustamante to shift $3.8M in tribal and other funds (09/08)
Editorial: Bustamante should return tribal money (09/05)
Suit filed over Bustamante's tribal contributions (09/05)
Calif. governor's debate turns to tribal donations (09/04)
Calif. court to resolve conflicting tribal rulings (07/24)

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