San Diego Business Journal

The city of San Diego Ethics Commission on Dec. 19 announced that it has approved a settlement agreement with City Attorney Michael Aguirre involving campaign violations.

A candidate for city attorney in 2004, Aguirre has agreed to pay a fine of $9,000 for failing to disclose $316,306 in sub-vendor payments, and $55,583 in accrued expenses before the November 2004 general election.

Sub-vendor payments are made by a candidate's agent or independent contractor to campaign vendors, according to the commission. Laws requiring the disclosure of sub-vendor payments are intended to prevent campaign committees from withholding information regarding their expenditures when payments are made through an agent.

Accrued expenses are bills that are incurred, but not paid, before the end of a reporting period. Committees are required to disclose unpaid bills to make sure that the public has information regarding the debt carried by candidates during and after an election campaign.

"In this case, the public did not know prior to the election that Mr. Aguirre's committee paid approximately $225,000 to local television stations for advertising, and approximately $75,000 to various vendors for the production and distribution of campaign mailers," said Stacey Fulhorst, the executive director of the Ethics Commission. "In addition, the public was not informed that the Aguirre committee was carrying more than $50,000 in campaign debts."

Although the commission's investigation revealed that Aguirre relied on his campaign treasurer to disclose sub-vendor payments and accrued expenses, she said, candidates are ultimately responsible for the actions of their treasurers.

According to the commission chairwoman, Dorothy Leonard, the commission felt that the amount of the fine was appropriate in light of the extent of the violations.

"Mr. Aguirre did not disclose any sub-vendor payments prior to the election," she said. "The total number and amount of unreported sub-vendor payments were substantial, and consisted of more than 40 percent of his committee's overall expenditures."

Leonard added that, "The failure to report $55,583 in unpaid bills was also a factor in determining the amount of the fine."

The violations of local campaign laws were discovered during the course of a compliance audit after Aguirre's committee was selected for audit at a random drawing.

Through the examination of the committee's records and campaign disclosure statements, the commission's auditor verified that Aguirre's committee filed all campaign statements in a timely manner, and disclosed all contributions and loans received, according to the commission. After discovering its failure to report sub-vendor payments, and accrued expenses, Aguirre's committee voluntarily filed amended campaign statements in July and September 2005.

Ethics Commission fines are paid to the city of San Diego's general fund, and the settlements approved by the commission resolve all factual and legal issues without the necessity of holding an administrative hearing, according to the commission.

Aguirre was not available to comment.

, Pat Broderick