By Dave Waddell
The state Fair Political Practices Commission has opened an investigation into a political action committee that targeted former Chico mayor Scott Gruendl in the 2014 City Council race.
The PAC, called Butte County Awareness and Accountability, and its treasurer, Thomas Kozik, are under investigation as a result of an in-depth story about their activities published two months ago by ChicoSol, said Dylan Levine of the FPPC’s Enforcement Division. The FPPC said it would not comment on any specifics of its investigation while the probe is under way.
ChicoSol’s story detailed apparent violations by the PAC of laws governing political activities in California.
In the November 2014 election, Butte County Awareness and Accountability’s campaign-disclosure reports say that 78 percent of its spending went for two mailers attacking Gruendl. State law requires that if a PAC spends 70 percent or more of its funds in a city race, its reports on fundraising and spending activities should be filed with that city. However, instead of filing with the Chico city clerk’s office, Kozik sent the PAC’s disclosures to the Butte County elections office in Oroville.
In forming Butte County Awareness and Accountability in September 2014, Kozik also claimed that the PAC was a “general purpose committee.” However, in spending the bulk of its funds going after Gruendl, the PAC seems to have acted like a different type of committee, one “primarily formed to support or oppose specific candidates or measures in a single election.”
Reached by phone, Kozik said he had no comment on the FPPC investigation.
Jay Wierenga, the FPPC’s communications director in Sacramento, has said that while he can’t comment on the Kozik case, the law “puts the responsibility of a correct, truthful and proper filing on the treasurer” of a PAC.
“A committee can’t purposely or knowingly file in the wrong jurisdiction or as a wrong committee,” he added.
Penalties range up to a $5,000 fine for each violation of the state Political Reform Act.
Wierenga said this week that two-thirds of investigations opened by the FPPC’s Enforcement Division are completed within six months and 90 percent are resolved within a year.
Kozik, who has described himself as semi-retired from the computer industry, was a leader of the Tea Party in Chico as recently as 2014 but is no longer connected to the right-wing group, he has said. Kozik was appointed by the City Council to the Chico Municipal Airport Commission in January 2015.
Of the $11,162 that Kozik’s PAC reported spending in 2014, $2,000 was a donation to Citizens for a Safer Butte County, which backed Measure A regulating medical marijuana growing. Most of the rest of its spending, nearly $8,700, went for two mailers lambasting Gruendl.
Butte County Awareness and Accountability also reported spending $700 for signs in 2015. It is not clear from its filings what those signs were for.
ChicoSol News Director Dave Waddell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org