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[whitespace] Cash Cow

New info on Tim Smith's spending sprees

By Greg Cahill

RECENTLY OBTAINED state documents reveal new details about numerous "questionable" campaign contributions in connection to a 1998 probe of Sonoma County Supervisor Tim Smith. The documents paint the picture of a career politician who frequently has sought campaign contributions and charged expenses to his campaign committee, even during non-election years and sometimes while performing official duties for which the county or other jurisdictions provide reimbursement.

"He is always campaigning," the report noted, "as evidenced by the fact that he ran unopposed in 1992."

This year, Smith, the three-term incumbent in the 3rd Supervisorial District race, has set a new record for campaign fundraising in his effort to fend off challenger Noreen Evans, a Santa Rosa city councilwoman. As of Dec. 31, Smith had amassed a $65,655 war chest and spent only about a third of it; Evans had raised $66,615 and spent four fifths of the money.

According to the 1998 report filed by the Fair Political Practices Commission, Smith once claimed a $37.63 purchase at Victoria's Secret as a campaign expense, and billed the campaign committee for a raincoat that he said was needed for inclement weather while "walking the streets" during a campaign.

During a 13-week period between March and June of 1993, Smith visited a Safeway market 13 times (including three times in four days) and claimed $584.94 in groceries as campaign expenses for fundraising events during a non-election year.

"There is a fine line [between personal and political matters], and he considers political events to include times he has entertained persons whose support he covets or whose names were [solicited] for placement on a fundraising list for future reference," the report noted.

Some of Smith's other questionable past expenses included food, wine, and spirits used at a 1993 Crescent City camping trip held as a "thank you" for contributors, campaign workers, and supporters. "These were unadvertised events and anywhere from 20 to 50 people would stop by for barbecues and such during the two weeks he would be there," the report stated. "He would bring his children on the trips, but attendees were mostly people other than family members."

Among the charges on the past campaign expense receipts he provided the FPPC were $984 for a plane trip to New Orleans to attend a Federal Emergency Management Agency meeting (he charged the campaign committee through a credit card and then paid a FEMA reimbursement to the committee, reporting it as a contribution); $354.73 for a computer desk; $50.29 for a meal at Julio's Rooftop Pizzeria in Washington, D.C. (which even Smith conceded might be "stretching it" in terms of a legitimate expense); and $23.45 for cigarettes and photo processing.

Smith admitted to being "quite blasé" in the past about the way he recording his expenses. He told investigators that he often didn't keep track of smaller events--which he called "coffees"--because he "is always fundraising."

The report noted that he has used campaign funds for memberships to the NAACP, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Sonoma County Alliance, Social Advocates for Youth, and the Heart Association. He also has charged to his campaign committee activities related to appearances at local events, as when KRCB-TV has solicited him to be "auctioned off" and to buy someone lunch.

"He views his participation in such events as being political . . . ," the report noted.

TWO YEARS AGO, the FPPC fined Smith $18,000 for failing to fully disclose how he spent campaign funds between 1993 and 1996. The new information details numerous other expenses deemed questionable by state investigators, but not included in the original 12 counts.

Smith has denied misusing any of the $13,300 in previously disputed campaign funds, saying he spent the money on "legal purposes." He has argued that the fine--the largest ever levied against a Sonoma County politician--was the result of sloppy record keeping. But Daryl East, chief of enforcement for the FPPC, has said that the commission had reason to suspect that Smith used campaign funds for personal use.

At the time, Smith told investigators that he had no explanation for failing to keep accurate records other than that he was "lazy" and believed that credit-card statements were sufficient for complying with stringent state record-keeping requirements.

The law requires that the FPPC bear the burden of proof in such cases. The lack of sufficient records prevented investigators from filing additional charges in connection to all the questionable expenses uncovered during the probe.

"The FPPC maintained that I did not keep accurate enough records under their regulations," Smith commented this week. "All funds used by my campaign are for campaigning and fundraising purposes. We paid the fine, and we learned from our mistakes, and it won't happen again. That's the end of it."

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From the January 20-26, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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