Longtime East Bay politician allegedly spent campaign funds on Hawaii remodel


Longtime East Bay politician allegedly spent campaign funds on Hawaii remodel




SACRAMENTO — A longtime Contra Costa County politician who resigned suddenly last week as county clerk-recorder has agreed to pay a $150,000 fine after California’s campaign ethics watchdog found that he spent political contributions on personal trips and remodeling a vacation home in Hawaii.
The Fair Political Practices Commission said Friday that its enforcement staff reached a settlement with Joe Canciamilla on 30 counts of campaign finance violations , including personal use of $130,529 in campaign funds from 2011 to 2015 and falsifying state filings to cover up the spending. Each count carries a maximum $5,000 penalty.
Canciamilla took “full responsibility for this situation, is humbled and embarrassed, and hopes the FPPC fines won’t severely overshadow his 46 years of public service to the residents of Contra Costa County,” his attorney said in a statement.
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“Mr. Canciamilla has cooperated with the FPPC, has paid back all disputed amounts, and all fines listed in the proposed stipulation have been paid in full,” said the attorney, Andy Rockas.
The commission is scheduled to vote Nov. 21 on whether to formally approve the settlement, which called for Canciamilla to pay half of the fine personally and half from campaign funds.
The commission also referred the matter to the county district attorney’s office, which is conducting a review and could bring criminal charges.
Canciamilla, 64, was the youngest public official in state history when he was elected to the Pittsburg school board at age 17. He later served on the Pittsburg City Council and Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors before winning the first of three terms in the state Assembly as a Democrat in 2000.
Canciamilla opened a campaign account for a county judge seat in 2011 but ultimately did not run. He was appointed clerk-recorder in 2013 and won election to the office twice.
Starting in 2011, Canciamilla repeatedly mixed campaign contributions with his personal funds, an investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission’s enforcement staff concluded.
In 2011, Canciamilla transferred $70,000 from his judicial race committee to a personal checking account, which he then tapped to open a money market account for that committee. That money was later transferred back to the checking account and used for personal purposes, the enforcement division said.
Canciamilla spent more than $36,000 from his clerk-recorder campaign committee in 2014 for a vacation to Asia, the probe found. The following year, he allegedly spent another $5,900 on airfare to London and Washington, D.C., for himself and his wife, a trip that was later canceled.
Three additional disbursements for personal purposes totaled more than $19,000 from 2011 to 2014. Canciamilla spent an undisclosed sum on credit card charges related to the remodel of a home that he owned in Hawaii, the enforcement staff c said.
Canciamilla allegedly excluded these payments from required campaign filings and regularly overstated his cash on hand to conceal the improper spending. The alleged violations were discovered through an audit of the filings by the Franchise Tax Board, by which time Canciamilla had partially reimbursed his clerk-recorder committee about $43,000.
Canciamilla won re-election as clerk-recorder in 2018 but abruptly resigned last week. He told the East Bay Times he had “decided that now was a good time to leave” because the office was in good shape and “sometimes life just happens.”
His attorney said Friday that Canciamilla resigned “so as to not bring undue hardship to the office while this matter is being resolved.”
County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff said rumors swirled when Canciamilla submitted his resignation with only three days’ notice, but the alleged campaign finance violations surprised her.
“I’m really sad. Joe has been a really good public servant and he served with honor and distinction, and it’s really sad that his career ends in this way,” she said. “It reinforces the negative perception by some in the public that many elected officials can’t be trusted.”
The Board of Supervisors launched a search for a replacement.
It’s the second time in the past three years that a Contra Costa County official has left office early because of allegations of improper campaign spending. In June 2017, then-District Attorney Mark Peterson resigned as part of a plea deal with the state attorney general’s office over his use of $66,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses. He had been charged with 13 felonies and pleaded no contest to perjury.
San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Phil Matier contributed to this report.
Alexei Koseff is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: alexei.koseff@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @akoseff
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