When the Orange County Board of Supervisors considers Tuesday whether to block a senior living center planned for North Tustin by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, Chairman Todd Spitzer plans to vote even though he has earned tens of thousands as a consultant for an investment firm owned by an outspoken critic of the project.
In addition to his consulting work for James Ron King, who lives near the project and raises money for the group that sued to stop it, Spitzer has earned money as a member of the board of directors for a real estate firm connected to King.
Officials with the state Fair Political Practices Commission have authorized Spitzer to vote Tuesday, after Spitzer asked them to reconsider a previous decision that he shouldn’t.
But a review of the documents he submitted in support shows that while Spitzer told FPPC lawyers about his financial relationship with King he didn’t tell them King is vice chairman of fundraising for the Foothills Communities Association, which sued to stop the homes. The commission considers only the information it is given and does no outside research.
Spitzer said he’s long opposed projects that conflict with the North Tustin Specific Plan, a 1982 document that dictates what can be built in the unincorporated area known as North Tustin, and where. He noted that he’s voted against grocery stores proposed for the corner of Newport Avenue and 17th Street for that reason and said he’s received thousands of petitions from North Tustin residents opposed to the zone change.
“The community is overwhelmingly against this project,” Spitzer wrote in an email.
But supporters of the long-debated and much-litigated plan to build the Springs at Bethsaida – a faith-based center on 7.2 acres with 153 homes for senior citizens, including retired priests – say it’s the other way around: Spitzer is using his power as chairman of the Board of Supervisors to help King overturn a development he’s fought for years.
“It’s dumbfounding,” said Tustin resident Earl Prescott, whose parents donated the land to the Catholic Church in 1956.
Bill Campbell – Spitzer’s predecessor on the Board of Supervisors and a backer of the senior center – said he was stunned to learn Spitzer is paid by King, whom he described as one of the project’s biggest opponents and the financier of much the opposition.
“I must tell you I’m shocked by it,” he said. “I would not vote if I were him.”
Bob Stern, a government ethics expert and former counsel to the FPPC, said he thinks Spitzer should have disclosed to the FPPC King’s fight against the project rather than describing him as a nearby property owner.
But Stern isn’t sure that having that information would have changed the FPPC ruling. He noted that Spitzer initiated the zoning reversal months before he sought advice.
“I always advise people, ‘If the appearance looks bad, don’t do it,’” Stern said. “But sometimes people feel very strongly about something.”
Spitzer said he knows King is involved in the group but he doesn’t know to what extent.
“As to impacting his property, his opinion for purposes of the FPPC opinion is irrelevant. He could believe his property value would be impacted; it would not matter,” Spitzer wrote. “The FPPC examined the documents submitted by the project applicant to conduct its analysis.”
Spitzer also said he’s repeatedly tried to find a compromise with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, which owns the land. That includes a recent offer to support a single-story facility – the current project is two stories – with a church in the middle that could exceed height restrictions, he said. But the church declined.
“To amend the specific plan for private financial gain … is deeply offensive to the community,” Spitzer said in his email. “Take away the project developer’s name and ask: could any other private developer reverse decades of legal precedent?”
Catholic Church officials are objecting to the move, saying it involves “fairness, decency, and a respect for the public process.’
“The Project’s approvals were the culmination of years of outreach, compromise, and numerous acts of good faith on the part of the Diocese,” according to a letter from Susan Hori, a lawyer with the Costa Mesa-based firm Manett, Phelps & Phillips, to supervisors.
When the diocese proposed building a permanent home for elderly priests and other retirees on the site in 2007, it found a strong ally in Campbell.
Campbell and his wife, Mary, are devout Catholics who donate thousands of dollars annually to the church and related charities. She spent at least five years on the Orange Catholic Foundation’s board of directors, and his faith is so widely known that an advertisement for his retirement roast in 2011 described him as “a leader in the Catholic Church.”
In an interview this week, Campbell said he supported the project after an environmental assessment concluded it would have affected the neighborhood much less than single-family homes, a school or a church.
Campbell said he’s proud of his Catholicism but asked himself: “Am I doing this because the Catholic Church wants it, or am I doing it because it’s good for the community?”
He concluded the demand for the project, coupled with the minimal effect on the neighborhood, warranted his support.
“If there’s ever a place that needs a senior living facility, it’s North Tustin,” Campbell said.
Campbell was chairman when the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on March 15, 2011, to rezone the land following hours of testimony from nearly 75 people. But construction never began.
The Foothills Communities Association sued a month later, claiming the project “will directly and adversely affect their health and living environment.” Campbell left office the following January, after term limits prevented him from seeking re-election.
A Superior Court judge sided with project opponents, but the Fourth District Appellate Court ruled in January 2014 that the county acted lawfully. Association lawyers planned new litigation, but the case is on hold as supervisors consider reversing the 2011 change.
Church officials say neither Spitzer nor anyone else notified them that supervisors would reconsider their project’s key approval in January. They saw it on an agenda for the meeting and soon expressed their shock.
The Planning Commission reconsidered the zoning change last month – like the board, commissioners unanimously approved it in 2011 – and again recommended supervisors approve it. Commissioner Jeff McCormick noted the county paid to defend the original zoning change through an appellate court review.
“It would seem like it would be a very hard argument to go back and argue against something you just won,” McCormick said.
When Spitzer introduced the reversal in January, he decried the church’s influence. “Do we have a right to represent the will of our constituents, or do we represent the will of one developer who had a tremendous amount of political clout?” he said. The motion carried, 5-0, setting up Tuesday’s final vote.
King did not respond to phone calls seeking comment. His son, Paul King, responded to emailed questions by saying that company policy prohibited him from answering most of them.
King has paid Spitzer between $10,001 and $100,000 per year as a consultant for King’s securities brokerage firm, Centaurus Financial, since at least 2012, according to annual financial disclosure documents Spitzer is required to file as a supervisor. Spitzer didn’t provide his exact salary figures.
Spitzer describes his work for King as social media consulting and succession planning. A video available online shows Spitzer leading a seminar on social media in Hawaii for Centaurus in January 2012. Spitzer said he developed platforms that explain how brokerage firms can utilize social media.
Spitzer also earned at least $10,000 from King’s company through his law firm in 2012. And since 2013 he has earned between $10,001 and $100,000 annually as a member of the board of directors for Strategic Realty Trust, which buys and sells shopping centers, of which King and Centaurus are major shareholders.
King described Spitzer as an “excellent mediator” in a letter Centaurus sent to shareholders last year announcing Spitzer’s appointment. King also touted Spitzer’s positions as a member of the Board of Supervisors and related government agencies.
“He is considered to be an expert at navigating business matters involving government oversight and regulatory authority, assisting in real estate acquisition, restructuring and sales,” according to the announcement.
Spitzer also has accepted more than $10,000 in campaign donations from Centaurus employees since 2011.
The money flows the other way, too. Spitzer has donated at least $3,750 from his Central Committee account to two of Kings’ charities – the Shamrock Rescue Foundation, a dog rescue, and the Joyful Foundation, which supplies blankets to hospitals.
HOME HURT, OR NOT?
Spitzer’s lawyer, Gary Schons of the San Diego firm Best, Best and Krieger, said nothing in documents of King’s extensive work against the development when he sought the FPPC’s advice. Instead, documents show, Schons focused on arguments also used by project supporters: that the retirement center will not affect the surrounding neighborhood, including King’s home, which is less than a mile from the site.
“We’re to some extent at the mercy of the public official to be honest in the first place and to be forthright in the facts and information they provide,” said FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga. “It’s not the final answer, but it does go a long way toward giving cover to a public official.”
When FPPC officials initially said Spitzer shouldn’t vote because traffic from the project could hurt King’s home, Schons pointed to studies that said otherwise. That prompted the FPPC to reverse course and authorize Spitzer to vote, saying the zone change “will not have a reasonably foreseeable effect on Mr. King’s property.”
But the argument from Spitzer that the project will not affect King’s property contradicts what King has said for years. That includes a June 2010 letter to county officials that describes increased traffic on already heavily traveled roads, including Hewes Avenue, where his home is located.
“This would have an negative impact on the residential homes served by these streets,” King wrote, calling the issue a matter of “common sense.”
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The chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors carried a loaded gun into a restaurant and handcuffed a man who had approached his table to discuss religion and refused to leave him alone.
In an interview this week, Supervisor Todd Spitzer said he felt threatened and feared for the safety of others during the incident, which took place on April 3 – Good Friday – at Wahoo’s in Foothill Ranch.
Spitzer called 911 after he’d been approached by Jeovany Castellano, a youth counselor who turned out to be unarmed, according to a Sheriff’s Department incident report.
Then Spitzer went to his car to get his weapon and a pair of handcuffs. He returned to the restaurant and put the handcuffs on Castellano, detaining the man until sheriff’s deputies arrived about eight minutes later.
Related: Hear the 911 call Spitzer made
“We are having the most outrageous, crazy acts of violence in our country right now,” Spitzer said this week as he recounted the incident. “If I had left, had he knifed somebody or shot people or did something horrific, the first question would have been, ‘Wasn’t Todd Spitzer there?’”
Deputies questioned Castellano and Spitzer but did not arrest either man.
Spitzer volunteered for 10 years as a reserve officer in Los Angeles but was never a full-time police officer. Spitzer, who has a concealed weapons permit, said he never displayed his gun during the incident; it remained in his fanny pack.
Sheriff’s investigators concluded Spitzer’s actions were legal.
“According to Mr. Spitzer, this guy was acting bizarre, and he was worried about his safety,” said Lt. Jeff Hallock. “He did it as a means of holding on to him during a response from law enforcement.”
Castellano told deputies he simply wanted to talk to Spitzer about God, and agreed to be handcuffed “if that’s what it takes for me to preach to you the word of God,” according to the sheriff’s report.
Castellano, who worked at Boys Town, said this week he barely remembers the incident, though he does recall being handcuffed – which he says was a first in his life.
“I don’t know what was going on through his mind, but whatever it was, he has his motives,” Castellano said of Spitzer. “I have not thought about that in a long time.”
Spitzer had attended a religious event that day, hiking through the 12 Stations of the Cross at Black Star Canyon for Good Friday. Afterward, he went to Wahoo’s.
About 2:20 p.m., Spitzer said, he was sitting at a corner table eating a fish combination plate when he noticed Castellano sitting at a table across the restaurant, staring at him.
Castellano approached him to discuss the Bible.
Spitzer said he told Castellano he was a believer but soon asked to be left alone. Castellano, however, didn’t leave. Instead, according to Spitzer, he came even closer to the table, drawing the attention of neighboring diners.
The man continued to ignore his requests to leave, Spitzer said.
A restaurant manager intervened and escorted Castellano back to his table. But Spitzer said the man continued to stare at him and at a dinner knife on his table.
“As soon as he looked at the knife, he completely changed the dynamics of the conversation,” Spitzer said.
Spitzer called 911, identifying himself as a county supervisor. He told the dispatcher that he was eating lunch when “a stranger comes up to me and wouldn’t get out of my face and I asked him to leave me alone.”
“He’s like, harassing me. He needs to be talked to … I’m concerned for my safety,” Spitzer said, according to a recording of the 911 call.
With deputies en route, Spitzer went to his car and retrieved hisgun and handcuffs.
He went back inside the restaurant. “After I returned … Castellano got up and assertively came again toward me,” Spitzer said. “He had been seated in the booth with the manager telling him to leave the premises. It was only then that I asked him to stop and sought his permission to search him because he was scaring patrons who were leaving and I became very concerned for our safety.”
Spitzer said Castellano also gave him permission to put on the handcuffs.
That’s when Spitzer called 911 a second time to report a change in circumstances: “I have this man now under arrest. He’s handcuffed,” according to the recording.
The dispatcher told Spitzer the call already was a priority and that deputies would be there as soon as they could.
Spitzer responded: “Well, let the officers know: I am armed, and I had to place handcuffs on this guy, OK. Just let them know that, OK?”
Hallock said deputies treated the call as a Code 3, which allows them to use lights and sirens, because Spitzer reported feeling threatened and possessed a firearm.
“When there’s a weapon involved, they’re going to make that an emergency response,” Hallock said.
When asked this week if the gun was loaded, Spitzer replied, “Yes. Of course.”
Spitzer said the Good Friday call was “only the second time I’ve been involved off duty in an incident” that involved his firearm. He said he prevented a carjacking in Orange in 1991.
One legal expert on citizen’s arrests questioned Spitzer’s decision to bring a gun into a potential conflict that was not violent.
“Just because you happen to be a local government official and you carry a handgun and a pair of handcuffs, that doesn’t empower you to take into custody anyone you happen to feel is irritating,” said Eric Miller, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who is researching citizen’s arrests as part of his work teaching about criminal procedure.
Castellano, 32, was unarmed during the incident, according to the sheriff‘s report. He has no criminal history in Orange County. He worked as a counselor in Santa Ana at the time of the incident, though a Boys Town supervisor said this week that Castellano is no longer employed by the organization.
Spitzer said his law enforcement background – which he said included training at a police academy – gives him “some kind of weird sixth sense when something’s not right.”
“I’m trained to go into dangerous situations. I was a cop for 10 years.”
Spitzer was a volunteer reserve officer for the Los Angeles Police Department from 1990 to 2000. He said he’s carried a firearm for about 25 years.
Citizen’s arrests are rare but legal. Miller, the Loyola law professor, said the practice originated at a time when professional law enforcement wasn’t prevalent. He compared the Spitzer incident to someone handcuffing a stranger who won’t stop trying to sell something on a street corner.
Miller added that Castellano had a legal right to defend himself from Spitzer if he had declined to be handcuffed.
“The worry is that … things escalate rapidly,” Miller said. “What you really want is a trained professional dealing with that kind of situation.”
Spitzer said every citizen has a right to do what he did.
Sheriff’s spokesman Hallock agreed, though was more circumspect.
“If they believe a crime is being committed, they need to make a decision in terms of how they might get involved and not get involved,” Hallock said.
“Our recommendation is always: If you believe a crime is being committed, call 911. That needs to be a priority. Your decision to intervene? We would caution people, because we don’t want to jeopardize their safety.”
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When Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer and his wife traveled to Maui seven years ago, political donors paid for the nearly $9,000 trip through a fundraising account rarely used in California politics.
It was the first of several trips covered by those campaign donations, and it began years of unprecedented spending from a war chest that’s paid for $340,000 in travel, groceries, restaurant meals, hotels, office and retail store purchases, a security system and donations to politicians, causes and civic groups.
The activity reflects the packed schedule of meetings and fundraisers that have helped Spitzer establish a wide network of supporters at a time when he has acknowledged his sights are set on another job: Orange County district attorney, possibly as soon as 2018.
The spending is unusual but legal, experts say, so long as everything Spitzer bought was connected to his role with the Orange County Republican Party’s governing Central Committee, a political strategy and endorsement group that last held an election in 2012.
Spitzer, who is chairman of the Board of Supervisors and is up for re-election as Third District supervisor next year, declined several requests to discuss the spending in detail, including the purpose of the Hawaii trip.
However, in a Nov. 14 email to the Register, Spitzer defended his use of the Central Committee fund.
“I run Todd Spitzer, the elected official, like a business. This is a 365-day-a-year enterprise for me. The bulk of my life is surrounded by decision makers, community leaders and the citizens themselves. … I use my time and meals in particular to conduct business, discuss policy and seek solutions.
“I must be doing something right: I continue to maintain community support, continue to raise money, and continue to accomplish significant policy initiatives.”
Political scientist Mark Petracca, associate dean of UC Irvine’s School of Social Sciences, said Spitzer’s spending could prompt other committee campaigns.
“If this quote unquote works, my guess is you’ll see an explosion of these kinds of second committees, created precisely as a way of circumventing fundraising laws,” he said.
There’s a financial advantage in the path Spitzer has taken: While donors are restricted in what they can give to a supervisor race, those restrictions don’t apply to the Central Committee account. And anything Spitzer doesn’t spend from his supervisor campaign can legally be transferred to another campaign, such as a bid for district attorney.
Some political observers wonder why contributors would donate so much toward an office that involves minimal campaigning and for which little work is required other than attending a monthly meeting.
Central Committee Vice Chairman Mark Bucher has been an elected member for 20 years and said, “I’ve never raised a dime.”
“You just don’t see people raising a lot of money to try to get on Central Committee,” Bucher said. “They’re grass-roots seats, and people generally elect someone they know. They’re not like a Senate seat or an Assembly seat or even a city council seat.”
Bucher added: “I’m not talking about Orange County; I’m talking about anywhere in the state.”
That point was reinforced in a 2012 report from a state legislative analyst, which said, “It is relatively rare for candidates for county central committees to raise and spend more than a nominal amount of money for their campaigns.”
Critics also question why Orange County companies that have already donated all they legally can to Spitzer’s 2016 supervisor campaign have recently put thousands into his Central Committee account.
“It almost begins to sound like a way of laundering gifts,” Petracca said. “It’s almost impossible to believe that some other interest would care at all about who’s on the Central Committee, since the committee has authority over essentially nothing of direct public policy.”
Of his contributors, Spitzer wrote: “My supporters contribute to me in order for me to be successful. In politics, success is measured by accomplishment. Not in simply holding office.”
County central committees are strategy groups; Democrats and Republicans each have them. Their purpose is to advance political ideas and candidates through candidate endorsements, fundraising and donations.
The committee as a whole can fundraise and donate. So can people seeking election to the committees, which in Orange County have six spots for each of the county’s seven assembly districts. The elections, in which only registered party members can vote, were held during primary elections every two years until 2012, when they switched to every four years.
Spitzer makes $145,000 and gets a $9,180 car allowance annually as supervisor, and he reported more than $100,000 in annual income from his law firm last year, as well as between $10,001 and $100,000 from two other sources.
SPENDING STANDS OUT
He is the only politician in Orange County who’s ever spent more than $12,500 from a Central Committee account in a year, and he’s the only one who’s spent heavily during a nonelection year.
His spending – detailed in documents filed regularly at the Registrar of Voters’ Office – is more than that of all other committee members combined.
For the past two years, it’s also eclipsed his spending out of his supervisor 2016 campaign.
The campaigns are not subject to the $1,900 donation limits that restrict other campaigns, such as the one for Spitzer’s supervisor election, and a state law implemented in 2012 prohibits local jurisdictions from regulating them.
Candidates can legally raise and spend as much as they want.
“Maybe he’s starting a new trend,” said Bob Stern, former president of the Center for Governmental Studies and the original lawyer for the state Fair Political Practices Commission. “It’s a way to build up the party and a way also to build up their name. Somebody who’s ambitious will do that.”
In his email, Spitzer wrote: “My campaign accounts are always questioned around election time. … I certainly expect every campaign trick in the book to be lodged against me now that I am up for reelection in 2016.”
In an earlier email, Spitzer said, “the attorney general issued an opinion that monies between various campaign accounts can transfer because donors support the candidate, not the particular office.”
He also rejected Petracca’s claim that Central Committees do little that interests anyone. He pointed to heavy spending by the Los Angeles Democratic Central Committee on City Council and school board elections. That group, including its advocacy committee, has spent more than $500,000 this year, according to campaign documents, while the Orange County Republican Central Committee has spent about $55,000.
Stern said the only way Spitzer’s 2008 trip could be a legitimate Central Committee expense “is if there was a political or governmental purpose to the trip” that relates to his Central Committee role.
“Did the official meet with someone in Hawaii regarding fundraising or governmental issues?” he said.
Where Spitzer also could get into trouble, Stern said, is if he’s using committee money to pay for events tied solely to his supervisor seat. But if he’s being vague enough that only his name is used, not a position, he’ll probably be fine, Stern said.
“If he can argue it’s for his Central Committee campaign, then it’s going to be a lot harder to go after,” Stern said. “But if it says ‘vote for me for supervisor,’ then there could be a real problem.”
Spitzer emphasized in an email to the Register that he understands supervisor activities are off-limits for committee money and pointed to his use of a mailer in 2012 as an example.
In that case, Spitzer paid about $16,675 from his Central Committee account for a mailer that attacked his opponent for the Board of Supervisors, Deborah Pauly. But Pauly also was among 17 Republicans vying with Spitzer for six seats in the Central Committee’s 68th Assembly district.
The mailer said nothing of the supervisor election but urged voters to reject Pauly’s bid for Central Committee. None of Spitzer’s 16 other Central Committee opponents was mentioned, and he spent no Central Committee money to attack anyone else. He was the top vote-getter in his district that year for Central Committee.
Petracca said the Central Committee campaign against Pauly exemplifies the lack of regulation surrounding the committees.
“There’s no affirmative obligation on a part of a candidate or campaign to run against everybody that’s on the ballot. You do get to pick and choose, and if you can pick and choose in a way that also helps in another election, well, I suppose, all the better,” Petracca said.
But, he added, “the cleverness of this is only possible because there are so many cracks in the system we’ve set up.”
$8,000 AT STORES
The rest of Spitzer’s spending includes about $90,000 in donations to civic groups and $90,000 on political endeavors, including donations to other politicians and political causes.
When Spitzer announced in 2014 that he’d donated $25,000 to kickstart fundraising for the Orange County Crime Victims Memorial, the money came from his Central Committee campaign.
Other money has gone mostly to meetings and fundraisers at restaurants, including more than $2,300 for about 50 purchases at Peet’s Coffee, nearly $3,700 in Costco groceries and $16,000 on travel, including speaking events, conferences and a stay at the Renaissance Indian Wells Resort & Spa in the Palm Desert in 2009.
He’s spent more than $8,000 at retail stores like Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Target, Staples and Frys and more than $12,000 at dozens of restaurants like BJs, Zov’s Bistro, Original Mike’s and Mother’s Market.
He’s spent more than $1,000 at cigar stores, including $370 at Maxamar Ultimate Cigar for a Young Republicans event, and in December 2011, he spent $300 for a meeting at the Coach House concert hall in San Juan Capistrano.
He also once spent more than $300 at two restaurants in one day, Dec. 10, 2009: $156.86 at Kitajima Sushi & Thai and $183.32 at the Office Sports Bar and Grill.
Each transaction has a note in the campaign finance documents indicating its general purpose, which include fundraising events, meetings and appearances, office expenses and information technology costs.
The state Fair Political Practices Commission, created in 1974 to enforce state election and campaign finance laws, requires he track the date of each meal, the number of people the money paid for and the “political, legislative, or governmental purpose of the expenditure.” Spitzer didn’t respond to requests to provide that information to the Register.
$235,000 TO ACCOUNT
When Spitzer opened the Central Committee account in early 2008, he used it in the same manner as the 10 other Orange County politicians who’ve had one: He transferred about $2,000 from his state Assembly campaign – he termed out of the Assembly that year – and spent it on voter guides and Republican-oriented campaign literature for his reelection to the Central Committee.
Four days after the election, he transferred nearly $235,000 into the account from the Assembly campaign. He put another $1 million in a district attorney campaign that’s since been transferred to his supervisor campaign.
In an email, Spitzer said: “I am not like every other officeholder; I was in the Legislature and returned to local office with a large campaign account that could not all be transferred” into the D.A.-turned-supervisor account.
Spitzer left for Maui the day after the $235,000 transfer. Documents show he spent about $8,800 on a six-day trip to Kahului, Hawaii, with his wife, Jamie. That included a stay at Fairmont Kea Lani in Wailea, which bills itself as “Hawaii’s only all-suite and villa luxury oceanfront resort.”
That began ramped-up spending, which totaled $337,234 as of June 30.
Most of the money is from the Assembly campaign and from cash accrued through interest and investments. He’s also raised about $45,000 from about 25 donors, more than half in the past 18 months.
The account was nearly empty when, on April 16, Spitzer hosted a fundraiser during an Anaheim Ducks hockey playoff game that specified donors were to give to his Central Committee campaign.
He’s raised nearly $15,000 since then, mostly from companies that have already donated $1,900 to his supervisor campaign.
That includes $5,000 from RJ Noble, a construction company that has contracts with the county; $5,000 from the Irvine Co.; $2,500 from CJ Segerstrom and Sons, which owns South Coast Plaza; and $1,000 from the Walt Disney Co.
Other donors to both his committee and supervisor campaigns include Christopher Townsend, of the public affairs firm Townsend Associates; Global Tel Link Corp., which contracts with the county to provide phone service in the jails; and recycling company Tierra Verde Industries.
None of the donors would talk to the Register. But a review of campaign finance filings in Orange County shows none has ever donated so much to a Central Committee campaign.
The 10 Orange County politicians who’ve ever raised or spent enough money to open a campaign account have spent mostly their own money or small donations, most less than $500.
Mary Young, a committee member from Aliso Viejo, spent about $12,000 in 2012, mostly on promotional material and postage, consultants and groceries for fundraisers.
Committee member Thomas “TJ” Fuentes in Newport Beach raised about $20,000 in 2011 and 2012, spending about $11,000; then raised about $4,500 in 2013 and 2014 and spent about $7,000.
IRVINE CO. DONATES
The next biggest spender, Lake Forest City Councilman Scott Voigts, reported about $6,400 in expenditures in 2012. More than half the money came from his City Council campaign, but he also raised about $3,000, including $250 from the Irvine Co.
The company, which is Orange County’s largest landowner, doesn’t appear to have donated to a Central Committee campaign before Voigts’s. And it hadn’t donated anything since, until late last year, when the company made two $2,500 donations to Spitzer’s Central Committee campaign.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson said anyone who’s raising money through a Central Committee is only doing so to avoid Orange County’s campaign finance restrictions.
“Is it an ethical approach to what people understand is a fundraising cap? No,” said Nelson, who chaired the Board of Supervisors last year and was elected to the Central Committee in 2012.
Nelson has never raised or spent more than $1,000 on a Central Committee election, nor has any other supervisor.
“There’s no reason to spend any money, let alone a lot of money,” Nelson said. “You’d have to stretch the imagination so far it would hurt.”
William “Bill” Mitchell, a lawyer who is working with Spitzer to establish a commission that will investigate ethics violations by local politicians, said questioning whether donors gave to Spitzer’s Central Committee account only to avoid Orange County’s campaign donation limitations is “a legitimate concern.”
But Mitchell defended one of the donors: himself. Mitchell gave $1,000 to Spitzer’s supervisor campaign in 2013, then another $1,000 to his committee campaign last year.
Mitchell said he wanted to support Spitzer against attacks from other Republicans.
“Todd has a long history, unlike most politicians in the county, of supporting good-government initiatives. And I want to reward those leaders who support good-government initiatives,” Mitchell said.
Staff writer Martin Wisckol contributed to this story.
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In response to a Register story that looked at Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s unusual use of a campaign fund, Spitzer on Monday pointed to public records that he says show he and his wife traveled to Maui in 2008 to attend a conference sponsored by the Pacific Policy Research Foundation.
Spitzer had previously declined several requests to answer detailed questions about the Hawaii trip and its relevance to his Central Committee campaign fund. He did not respond to another request Monday to discuss the connection.
In a text message sent Sunday after the article appeared, however, Spitzer took issue with the description of the Hawaii trip as a “vacation.”
“It was a public policy seminar for current and former legislators and locally elected officials,” he wrote. “By missing that (in public records) you gave an incomplete scenario … and you left (the) impression it was for personal travel.”
The 2008 conference featured discussions about energy in the climate change era, health care reform and jail diversion for mentally ill offenders, according to news reports at the time.
The Pacific Policy Research Foundation, which is based near Sacramento, left afternoons free for golf, tennis, snorkeling, cocktails and other leisure activities, according to news reports.
In the Sunday article, the Register quoted experts who said Spitzer’s increased fundraising and spending out of the Central Committee account is unusual but legal so long as spending is connected to his role with the committee.
Bob Stern, former president of the Center for Governmental Studies and the first general counsel to the Fair Political Practices Commission, said Monday that spending campaign money to travel to Hawaii for a conference is legal.
He said he doesn’t approve of using campaign money to pay for a spouse’s trip, but that’s legal too.
“Everything he did seems legal. It’s just a question of whether it’s appropriate,” Stern said.
Some lawmakers use campaign funds to cover the costs of the Hawaii function. Businesses that give money to the Pacific Policy Research Foundation also pay for dinners, drinks and activities. In Spitzer’s case, he spent about $9,000 from a fundraising account for the Republican Central Committee for Hawaii travel and dining.
The payments are detailed in campaign finance forms that Spitzer, a former member of the state Assembly, has filed as scheduled since he opened the committee in early 2008 with money from his Assembly account.
He was termed out of the Assembly after 2008 and had to donate his money to another campaign, a nonprofit or a political cause.
Spitzer put about $1 million in a campaign for Orange County District Attorney in 2008 that has since become his supervisor campaign, and he placed about $235,000 into his Central Committee account.
Central Committee accounts are rarely used in California politics and aren’t subject to fundraising limits that restrict Spitzer’s Board of Supervisors campaign to $1,900 per donor.
He has spent nearly $340,000 between 2008 and June 30, 2015.
Spitzer also has raised about $45,000 from companies and people that do business in Orange County, most of which have already given all they legally can to his supervisor campaign.
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Supervisor Todd Spitzer renewed his permit to carry a concealed weapon last week, five days after it was revealed that he armed himself and handcuffed a fellow diner inside a Foothill Ranch restaurant in April.
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said Monday her department approved Spitzer’s renewal because he met both requirements for being allowed to carry a weapon: he demonstrated a need to protect himself and has “good moral character.”
Spitzer, the elected chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, applied to have his permit renewed Aug. 30, and the Sheriff’s Department approved the request Wednesday. His permit had expired July 17.
Spitzer did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.
But he said during a recent interview that he has been permitted to carry a gun for 25 years and did not indicate that his permit had ever expired.
Spitzer had a loaded gun inside his car when a man approached him inside Wahoo’s Fish Taco on April 3 and made him uncomfortable by talking about religion. Spitzer’s gun permit was valid at the time.
Spitzer, a volunteer reserve officer for the Los Angeles Police Department from 1990 to 2000, had been eating alone when diner Jeovany Castellano approached his table. It was Good Friday. Spitzer told the man he was a believer but asked to be left alone.
Castellano persisted, and Spitzer said he feared for his safety and the safety of everyone around him when he saw Castellano eye a dinner knife on his table. So Spitzer called 911, then, with deputies on the way, he went to his car to retrieve his gun and handcuffs.
Spitzer brought the gun, still inside a fanny pack, into the restaurant, where he handcuffed the man and detained him until deputies arrived.
Deputies determined Castellano, who was unarmed, had allowed Spitzer to handcuff him and that neither man committed a crime. Castellano told the Register he barely remembers the incident.
Hutchens said Monday that Spitzer’s handcuffing of Castellano, at the time a counselor at Boys Town in Santa Ana, had no bearing on whether to renew Spitzer’s gun permit because he acted lawfully.
“I don’t think he did anything wrong,” Hutchens said. “He perceived a threat. He acted upon that. … It was resolved; nobody got injured, and it was over.”
Spitzer is among about 5,000 people in Orange County who are permitted to carry weapons concealed from view.
His permit renewal was processed under a new requirement imposed by Hutchens this year that permit holders must prove they have a good reason to carry a gun beyond self-defense and the desire for protection.
Spitzer’s application lists two weapons and describes a history of threats against him.
“I have arrested and prosecuted thousands of individuals. I am a recognized public figure and need to protect myself and family against threats,” Spitzer wrote.
The Register requested information from the Sheriff’s Department about the status of Spitzer’s permit on Sept. 4. The department, however, did not release any information until Friday.
On Monday, Lt. Jeff Hallock confirmed for the first time that Spitzer’s permit had lapsed for several weeks.
Hutchens said she doesn’t see permit applications and renewal requests and instead delegates those decisions. She said she wasn’t aware of Spitzer’s application until last week.
“As long as they meet the criteria, it doesn’t matter who they are,” Hutchens said.
Scott Baugh, former chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, said he emailed Spitzer after learning about the Wahoo’s confrontation and said the incident made him question the supervisor’s judgment.
“Todd Spitzer with handcuffs and a gun is far more dangerous to the citizens of Orange County than a counselor looking at a butter knife,” Baugh said.
Hutchens said Spitzer’s permit allowed him to bring a loaded gun into a restaurant because it’s been determined he can do so safely. And she said Spitzer didn’t do anything anyone else couldn’t have done, noting that Castellano had allowed the supervisor to handcuff him.
“He’s a citizen,” Hutchens said. “If he perceives a threat, he can certainly take action on that.”
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By Matt Coker
Wednesday, December 9, 2015 | 4 days ago
|Brea and Newport Beach residents pay the most of these each in Orange County for city employee compensation.|
A survey of 28 cities that account for 84 percent of Orange County’s population shows the average full-time city worker received $135,464 in total compensation in 2014, with 66 percent receiving $100,000 or more, according to a free market think tank project.
Transparent California, a project of the nonpartisan Nevada Policy Research Institute, on Tuesday released previously-unseen 2014 public employee compensation data—complete with names, pay, and benefits—for 395 cities and 44 counties statewide on TransparentCalifornia.com, the state’s largest public sector compensation database.
According to Orange County results in the survey, which does not yet include Orange or Huntington Beach because 2014 figures were not available from those cities:
Transparent California’s research director Robert Fellner, who chimed in last October on Orange County municipal workers’ average annual retirements from the state’s pension system, believes taxpayers have been kept in the dark about the full cost of public employees.
“Government workers receive tens of thousands of dollars worth of benefits that have no comparison in the private sector,” he says in a statement. “This bloat enriches special interests at the expense of both cities and taxpayers.
“Simply publicizing base salaries is inadequate given that city workers enjoy leave policies and benefit packages that dwarf what most taxpayers receive. Reporting full compensation reveals a shocking inequity between city employees and the taxpayers who must bear the cost.”
View the entire dataset at TransparentCalifornia.com.