Last month, the Vanguard reported that the Yolo County DA had subpoenaed campaign records of Maria Grijalva, a major donor to the Dean Johansson campaign. On Tuesday, the DA sent out a press release announcing it was filing a criminal complaint alleging violations of state and local laws against Ms. Grijalva, 59, of West Sacramento.
According to the release, the complaint “alleges campaign finance violations related to contributions and expenditures she made in connection with the mayoral race in the City of West Sacramento, which will appear on the November 6th ballot.”
Ms. Grijalva is a current candidate for the Yolo County Board of Education, Trustee Area 1, and had previously run for the West Sacramento City Council in 2016.
Why the Yolo County District attorney is taking an interest in enforcing campaign violations and whether this constitutes a conflict of interest is not addressed in the press release.
In the release, the DA “announced that it has been actively involved in monitoring local elections and campaign-related activities as part of its statutory enforcement obligations under the California Political Reform Act and related local ordinances.
“The laws, which were designed to ensure public trust in the electoral process, improve transparency in campaign related activities and limit certain types of contributions and expenditures, apply to state and local officials, candidates and elections, in varying degrees.”
The DA says it has collaborated with elections officials from local cities and Yolo County to gather facts and investigate allegations of violations of the law including: residency claims, campaign finance violations and improper conflicts of interest by elected officials and candidates for public office.
Chief Deputy DA Jonathan Raven explained in the release, “Our primary goal in this complex area is compliance with the laws. Experience has shown that many of the alleged violations, especially those committed by local candidates for municipal offices, are based on inexperience or inadvertence. For many, a warning and immediate correction usually suffices. However, significant or ongoing violations of the California Political Reform Act or local ordinances can pose real threats to the integrity of elections, and are taken seriously and prosecuted.”
According to the release, the DA’s office is alleging that, in October 2018, Ms. Grijalva, as shown on her filings with the State Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), “contributed funds from her own candidate-controlled school board account to produce a mail piece, with a reported value of over six thousand dollars, supporting Joe DeAnda, a candidate for mayor in the City of West Sacramento.”
There is an ordinance in the City of West Sacramento that prohibits individual contributions of more than $250, which are increased to $500 in certain situations, to any candidate for local office.
The DA’s office alleges, “In addition to the violation of the West Sacramento City Ordinance, the complaint also alleges that state law was violated by the same conduct and for another expenditure on an earlier date. “
A conviction of this law could result in fines, jail time and a prohibition of being a candidate for public office for up to four years.
There was no evidence suggesting that mayoral candidate Joe DeAnda had any involvement with Grijalva, nor that his campaign violated any law.
Maria Grijalva, however, claims that she followed the proper process to do an independent expenditure on behalf of Mr. DeAnda.
“When I registered as a county candidate for Education Trustee, I hired an campaign law attorney to guide me in purchasing a mail piece, this is called an independent expenditure,” she said in a statement.
Ms. Grijalva claims, “This independent expenditure is allowed by federal law # 558 U.S. 310, nicknamed Citizens United. A city’s contribution limits do not apply to the federal law on independent expenditures.”
Maria Grijalva also questioned why the district attorney’s office rather than the FPPC was handling this complaint, and why it was being treated as a criminal issue rather than a simple violation of election law.
She explained, “A district attorney is a criminal attorney, not a campaign law attorney. The professionals at the FPPC are very capable of enforcement. So why criminal prosecution?”
Ms. Grijalva added, “Normally, irregularities with campaign finance are handled and processed by the state agency FPPC, the Fair Political Practices Commission. A complaint can take up to a year or more to process. If a filing error is found, a penalty fine is issued. The matter ends. Life continues. It is not a criminal matter.”
The question she asked is why the DA is taking this matter up at all. As the Vanguard reported last spring, Ms. Grijalva independently raised over $25,000 in the election, attempting to defeat incumbent District Attorney Jeff Reisig.
“Is it because I spent $40 thousand dollars trying to save Latino youth from the infamous Yolo School to Prison Pipeline? Was it because I was trying to reduce our Direct File rates (charging minors as adults)?” she asked.
She stated, “Yolo’s district attorney history of prosecuting political campaigns started against his challenger during the June Primaries. Now only 90 days after a contributor spent money to replace him, and at the peak of the contributor’s own campaign…the DA is attacking his political opponent.”
The Vanguard has raised questions as to whether there is a conflict of interest here.
Ms. Grijalva noted, “The DA’s threat of ‘..fines, jail time and a prohibition of being a candidate for public office for up to four years’ is a direct coercion and is an attempt to impact the November 6 election by attempting to paint me in a delinquent manner. This is a violation of California Campaign Reform laws which prohibit coercion, and under laws which require a DA to recuse themselves from conflict of interest matters. This is an egregious matter.”
She added, “Campaign season is not hunting season.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting