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State watchdog calls for prosecution of BART for 2016 campaign violations

Glazer among prominent critics of agency using public funds in Measure RR race

The Fair Political Practices Commission Thursday called for the state attorney general's office and Bay Area district attorneys to investigate and possibly prosecute BART for violating state laws to support its bond measure in 2016.

The commission Thursday morning at its meeting in Sacramento approved by a 4-0 vote a $7,500 fine for BART after it found the transit agency used public funds for political purposes in the campaign for Measure RR, a $3.5 billion bond measure that ultimately passed in November 2016.

As part of the vote, the commission approved sending letters to the attorney general and district attorneys with jurisdiction over BART to investigate and prosecute the case and any others like it, since the commission only has jurisdiction of issues concerning the state Political Reform Act.

FPPC Commissioner Brian Hatch also proposed an item for next month's meeting to approve sending a letter to the state Legislature to draft a bill to allow the commission to have jurisdiction in these types of cases.

BART had used YouTube videos, social media posts and text messages to promote Measure RR, which needed voter approval to fund repairs and improvements to the train system.

According to the FPPC, the political actions caused BART to qualify as an independent expenditure committee, but the agency failed to timely file independent expenditure reports or campaign statements and failed to include a proper disclosure statement in its electronic media advertisements.

The commission could have fined BART more than $33,000 for the violations, and Tri-Valley State Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), a vocal critic of the transit agency, earlier this week had called for the maximum fine to be levied.

Glazer issued a statement following the commission's actions Thursday, calling the motion urging investigation and prosecution "appropriate and necessary."

He said, "We must make it crystal clear to the more than 1,000 public agencies in California that they must follow the law by staying completely out of election campaigns."

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost wrote in an email, "We have worked cooperatively with the FPPC and have learned from the process."

Trost wrote, "The FPPC found that two of our videos and the use of text messages inadvertently crossed the line into advocacy. We accept their finding. It was accidental in nature and a commissioner and staff even acknowledged that today."

— Bay City News Service

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