The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) has confirmed it will follow up on a complaint it received on Jan. 30 raising suspicions that state Senate candidate Annie Oliva has collaborated with an independent expenditure committee supporting her run to represent California's District 13. If she has, it would be in violation of campaign rules set forth in the Political Reform Act.
Oliva has received $423,158 so far in support of her campaign through independent expenditures from one committee: the California Real Estate Independent Expenditure Committee — California Association of Realtors.
There are no limits on how much a third party can spend in support of a candidate as long as that money is not given directly to the candidate's campaign committee, no coordination occurs with the candidate, and the source of the spending is properly disclosed, according to state rules for campaign finance.
Oliva called the complaint baseless, false and politically motivated, and said that the complaint lacks information to support the allegations.
"I am running a campaign demanding change — and challenging the status quo on homelessness, housing and how government works. The establishment is pushing back — and we expected that," she said in an email.
The complaint filed with the FPPC comes from Dan Stegink of Pacifica, who is a founding member of the Peninsula Progressives and a one-time candidate for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. He alleges that photos of Oliva in mailers sent by the independent expenditure committee look suspiciously similar to those in other materials produced by the Oliva campaign, even using the same models, and that none of the photos is publicly available for downloading on her campaign website.
This news organization confirmed that one of the mailer photos is not on her website.
In his complaint, Stegink alleges that the independent committee's mailers are the sole mailers being sent to support Oliva's campaign. Part of his suspicion, he said, comes from the outsized role these mailers appear to be playing in Oliva's campaign.
"She has literally done nothing other than these mailers," he said in an interview. "She skipped an awful lot of debates other people were involved in."
Meanwhile, he noted, the independent expenditure committee, which represents Realtor interests statewide, has put more money into supporting Oliva than it has any other campaign in the state.
What's more, he said, Oliva is in frequent contact at political and social events with two leaders of the San Mateo County Association of Realtors. That group is a member of the California Association of Realtors (CAR) and National Association of Realtors organizations.
As of Feb. 11, Oliva's LinkedIn page listed her as a current director at the San Mateo County Association of Realtors and as president of the organization in 2011.
When asked about it, Oliva said that she left the San Mateo County Association of Realtors board in December 2012 and did not update her LinkedIn page.
"Never have I said I am currently on the board in any of my campaign literature, website or any other place. It was an oversight not to update my LinkedIn profile," she said in an email.
San Mateo County Association of Realtors endorsed Oliva in an announcement on the organization's website on Jan. 28 but did not mention her connection to the organization.
At a Feb. 5 forum of the candidates hosted by this news organization, Oliva was asked about the potential influence of the Realtors' group on her as a legislator, given the financial support of her campaign.
"I had no idea they would be doing this. It's an independent expenditure," she said. "I've been very involved in San Mateo County Association of Realtors and CAR. I'm humbled and very honored they noticed my work. ... I'm grateful for their support.
"That one group is doing whatever they're doing, and I have no clue what's next — if anything is next," she said.
The enforcement division of the FPPC has asked Oliva to respond to the allegations with information and documents by Feb. 17. After that, it will determine whether it will investigate the allegations.
In addition to the Realtors' independent expenditure funds, the California Real Estate Political Action Committee has donated $9,300 to Oliva's campaign committee, the maximum amount permitted through a small contributor committee. Candidates may accept no more than $4,700 from individuals or $9,300 from small contributor committees through their official campaign committees.
Oliva is one of seven candidates for the District 13 seat, which covers the territory from South San Francisco to Sunnyvale and on the coast from north of Pacifica to Ano Nuevo State Park, and includes about 1 million residents. Democrats Josh Becker, Michael Brownrigg, Sally Lieber and Shelly Masur; Republican Alex Glew; and Libertarian John Webster are also competing for the seat in the March 3 primary election.
Read our profiles of each candidate, alongside videotaped interviews with six of the seven contenders, on our Atavist page.