Contra Costa DA fined for breaking campaign-spending law

Commission: Peterson admitted violations, fully cooperated with investigation

Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson was hit with a state fine for illegally spending tens of thousand of dollars from his political campaign account on personal items over a period of more than five years, according to the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.

Peterson, who first took office in 2010 and won re-election in 2014, was fined $45,000 by the commission for violating the California Political Reform Act by spending $66,372 on personal expenses, according to the FPPC.

The money came from Peterson's political campaign coffers and it is a violation of state law to use it for anything other than campaign expenses.

"I am humbled and embarrassed by my mistakes, for which I take full responsibility and I apologize for my regrettable errors," Peterson said in a written statement Monday.

Peterson has admitted to the spending and reached an agreement with the FPPC's Enforcement Division on the fine.

He has paid back all the money he took from the campaign account and has already sent a check for the fine amount to the FPPC.

No other penalties were included in the agreement, which was posted to the FPPC website early Monday afternoon as an agenda item for the commission to consider at its Dec. 15 meeting in Sacramento.

The agreement summarizes Peterson's wrongdoing, noting that from January 2011 to October 2015, he used the campaign committee's debit card to pay for restaurant meals, gas, clothes, movie tickets, hotel rooms and cellphone bills.

His campaign spending statements failed to note the roughly 600 expenditures Peterson made for personal use, according to the FPPC.

Peterson, who served as his own campaign treasurer, also made cash withdraws from the committee's bank account and transferred money directly to his personal bank account.

It wasn't until the state Franchise Tax Board notified Peterson in October 2015 that his campaign account was selected for an audit that he reached out to the FPPC via his lawyer to admit to the spending.

Prior to that, he was already periodically paying back the money to the campaign account. After being notified of the audit, Peterson reimbursed the account for one last payment of $33,250 in December 2015.

"I considered the money a loan, kept track of those expenses at all times, made periodic repayments, and over time, repaid the committee in full," Peterson said.

The five-member commission board will have to approve the agreement before it's finalized. If it's rejected, Peterson could face a full hearing in front of the commission.

"When an official makes personal use of campaign funds, it erodes public confidence in the political process by blurring that line between lawful contributions and payments to public officials," the FPPC said in the agreement. "To his credit, upon learning of the ... audit, Peterson contacted the Enforcement Division, admitted his violations, and fully cooperated with the investigation."

-- Kiley Russell, Bay City News Service

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


40 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Alamo
on Dec 7, 2016 at 5:57 am

I love how when a district attorney steals money, its called "illegal spending." Now if I were to spend someone else's money, it would be called "a felony."

21 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Danville
on Dec 7, 2016 at 7:58 am

This is ridiculous. I handle money for one of the schools and if I "borrowed" from the account, I would be prosecuted. Sounds like he only repaid because of the audit. The one who's suppose to uphold the law, makes his own rules.(treasurer of his own campaign?) Hasn't his name been tied with several issues with that office? He doesn't deserve to hold that position.

11 people like this
Posted by Ms. Bunny
a resident of San Ramon
on Dec 7, 2016 at 9:03 am

"erodes public confidence"

Yes, he certainly has done that. If the FPPC doesn't give him a more fitting punishment that fits the crime, they will also be eroding our confidence in them. He steals $66K but his fine is only $45k? He's obviously a rich man, yet he didn't even want to pay for his own restaurant bills or clothes!!!! When I can't pay for those type of things or anything else, I go without! His fine should at least be 1.5 times the amount he stole. $45k is probably pocket change to him. There's nothing admirable about making amends or reaching out because you know you have been caught. I don't doubt that he would be continuing to steal today, had he not been caught.

Public officials and law enforcement should be held to a higher standard to begin with. Their wrongdoings should carry higher penalties. Just like bus drivers lose more points on their license for a ticket than those with a standard license. This very office should maybe have triple the punishment for any crime because no one should know the law and its consequences more than this guy. How can he find a businessman guilty of stealing when he's doing it himself. He'll probably want to be very lenient, as in "honor among thieves". I agree, he shouldn't be allowed to hold office.

After the "dirty DUIs" and now this, I have to wonder about politics in this county. Is there some type of criminal politician magnet here? Is it because they are all protecting each other? What else is going on that we should know about?

8 people like this
Posted by Dave
a resident of Danville
on Dec 9, 2016 at 1:52 pm

Can Peterson be recalled? Or maybe disbarred?

14 people like this
Posted by Penny Pintzer
a resident of Alamo
on Dec 11, 2016 at 8:05 am

I'm surprised by several things -- does the FPPC have no auditing arm of its own? Where've they been since 2011?

And if he could pay the fund And the fine back all-at-once, why'd he raid the kitty in the first place -- and where's he now getting his 'loans' to do that?

And why is a candidate allowed to be his/her own campaign treasurer?

And why -- oh WHY -- is this man still our county's chief prosecutor of wrongdoing??

13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of San Ramon
on Dec 12, 2016 at 6:31 pm

""I am humbled and embarrassed by my mistakes, for which I take full responsibility and I apologize for my regrettable errors," Peterson said in a written statement Monday."-----What a completely disingenuous set of weasel words. What Peterson did was neither a mistake or an error, but rather the result of a serious character flaw; he simply thought he could get away with it and now he is "embarrassed" because he got caught.

Peterson needs to be recalled; he has absolutely no credibility!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Alameda County Grand Jury calls out supervisors
By | 3 comments | 851 views

Premarital and Couples: Tips for Hearing (Listening) and Being Known
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 738 views