Steve O'Brien never contacted Abram Wilson to ask about his zero dollar entry on his 460 form. I phoned Wilson to ask about O'Brien's claims. "If he would do his homework, he would not make these outlandish statements," Wilson said about O'Brien's blog.
As an Online College Instructor, I always want my students to do their homework and I try to do mine. So when someone at the Candidate's Forum last week asked me how Abram Wilson could have spent zero dollars on his Council campaign, I said I didn't know but I'd find out.
In addition to phoning Wilson to ask, I downloaded the Campaign Disclosure Manual 2 from the Secretary of State's website and phoned their Advice line on Thursday, October 13th. The instructions in the Campaign Disclosure Manual are confusing, and O'Brien and Wilson each got some things right and some things wrong.
O'Brien starts off with an assumption that Wilson incorrectly omitted the filing fee as an expenditure on his 460 form:
"How is that even possible given the $1,000 filing fee every candidate must pay the city in order to run? The deadline for paying that fee has long passed. So either Wilson didn't pay it, which is a totally different problem, or he failed to report it. That makes FPPC filing violation #1."
No, Steve, "A candidate's personal funds used to pay the filing fee and/or the ballot statement fee do not count toward the $1,000 threshold" (Campaign Disclosure Manual 2, 2007, p. #1-1).
O'Brien goes on to make a big deal over the cost of Wilson's campaign signs, which even he says are small and hard to spot.
"Next, what about Wilson's campaign signs? I started spotting them (difficult as that is) on September 28th. Likely they were up earlier. Again, the 460 filing was for financial activity through September 24th."
Wilson told me he charged his campaign signs on a credit card. These came to well under $1000. My DSRSD signs, which are bigger and nicer than what I've seen of Abram's, cost me about $300 on a credit card.
O'Brien's estimate of Wilson exceeding the $1000 limit is wrong, but he got the next part right.
"Is it possible to design, print and post signs around town in less than 4 days? Perhaps, but the FPPC still requires candidates to disclose any pending bills on Schedule F of the 460. Pending invoices for signs included. So that's FPPC filing violation #2."
The Campaign Disclosure Manual 2 (2007) is confusing on this point (emphasis added).
"If the committee has entered into an agreement to make payments over time for a product or service, other than general administrative expenses such as rent and utilities, the unpaid balance MAY BE REPORTABLE on Schedule F as an accrued expense" (p. #6-22).
So I phoned the FPPC Advice line and was told that because the 460 was filed with contributions greater than $1000, the Schedule F with accrued expenses should have been included with the 460. Abram lists one contribution of $1295 on his 460 form, which was transferred from an old Mayor's campaign account to the current account.
I asked the Advice Consultant what happens if the Schedule F was not filed. She said the County would ask for an Amendment or the Candidate's Committee could file an Amendment.
I asked our City Clerk if there's a special form to file an Amendment, and she said it's just a checkbox on the 460 form.
There's no time line on when 460's must be amended for expenditures. "Except for amendments required to provide contributor information (see Chapter 1), there is no deadline for filing amendments to campaign reports" (Campaign Disclosure Manual 2, 2007, p. #5-3).
So even if Wilson didn't file a Schedule F when he should have, this isn't considered an FPPC Violation.
O'Brien then questioned Wilson's fundraising expenses.
"Ok, what about donation solicitations? My sources tell me Wilson mailed out a donation request last month. . . . Mailings cost money- postage, envelopes, copying. None of that cost reported in his statement. That's filing violation #3."
Wilson told me he sent personal requests to a very select list of past contributors at a cost of $200-300 for stamps. So it looks like Abram spent or charged $500-600 on his campaign, but it is more than $0 and should have been reported on his 460 form. I emailed Abram and his Campaign Treasure, Dennis Garrison, that they need to file an Amended 460 form.
O'Brien's blogs are reprinted on the San Ramon Patch. Regional Editor, David Mills, who took over as interim Editor of the San Ramon Patch after Jennifer Wadsworth left for personal reasons, posted a message on the Patch to Steve O'Brien to contact him about his latest blog entry.
I asked Wilson if he would consider suing O'Brien and/or the Patch over this attack. He said he would, but Mills removed O'Brien's October 6th blog entry from the Patch a few days ago.
While I believe in freedom of the press, there's a fine line between liberty and license. O'Brien may have crossed it this time.