RICHMOND -- The state's political watchdog commission has been investigating an alleged campaign finance faux pas made by City Councilman Corky Boozé for more than a year, an agency spokesman revealed this week.
Fair Political Practices Commission spokesman Jay Wierenga confirmed Boozé is under investigation stemming from a complaint filed in February 2013 by Kate Sibley, a Richmond resident.
The complaint alleges that Boozé violated two campaign finance laws, one for reimbursing himself $2,500 out of his campaign chest and another for paying $18,000 in 2011 to a woman he had identified in a 2003 court document as his domestic partner of 30 years. The payment to the woman, Laura Baker, is listed on Boozé's campaign documents as for rental of office space at 22 Carlson Blvd., a site that Sibley alleges is also Boozé's personal business address.
"It is believed that Laura Baker, the party to whom rent was paid, may be a 'straw' person with the relationship contrived to make Mr. Boozé judgment proof," according to the complaint.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Boozé said he believes he did nothing wrong. He said he no longer has a personal relationship with Baker and that the rent was paid for his campaign offices, not his business. As for the $2,500 he reimbursed himself, Boozé said that was to pay for out-of-pocket cash expenses that he paid to people at public housing projects to do campaign work.
"The people in the projects would laugh at me if I tried to give them a check," Boozé said. "My supporters are working-class folks."
But such reimbursements appear to violate campaign finance law.
Quoting campaign finance law, Wierenga wrote in an email that " ... candidates must deposit personal funds into the campaign bank account and then make all campaign purchases for their election from that account."
The $18,000 payment to Baker is shown on Boozé's campaign finance report as "office space" for $1,500 per month for 12 months beginning in February 2011, a few months after he won his election in November 2010. In the complaint, it is noted that council members have public office space at City Hall.
Boozé frequently refers to a hot dog stand across the street from City Hall as his office and says he is there nearly every morning. Boozé said the office rental was for an expected 2014 re-election campaign.
He has made no further payments to Baker since 2011, according to his recent campaign reports. In the period from Jan. 1, 2011, to June 15, 2011, Boozé reported $31,263 in expenses and $21,592 in campaign contributions. Chevron Corp. and the Richmond police union were among his biggest donors.
While the investigation has been open for more than a year, there are indications that it has heated up in recent weeks. Two city employees who asked not to be named because the investigation is ongoing said they had been interviewed by FPPC investigators within the month.
Boozé, 70, a colorful and combative former race car driver who won a seat on the council in 2010 after multiple tries, has been dogged by controversy during his time in government. In 2012, he scuffled with a supporter of his political rivals outside a public forum in Point Richmond. He's currently locked in a legal battle with the city over allegedly maintaining an illegal junkyard at the same Carlson Boulevard property that he claims is not his business address.
Boozé's political rivals shrugged off his latest scrape with investigators as business as usual and have expressed hope that voters will oust him from office in November.
"This is old news," Councilman Tom Butt wrote in an email when asked about the FPPC investigation. "It generally takes FPPC about two years to complete an investigation, which means they will probably finish after election day."
Boozé said the complaints were politically motivated and that he did his best to follow the law.
"All I can say is I love my job representing the people of Richmond, and if I did something wrong, I'll take the penalty," Boozé said. "Corky's not trying to do anything crooked."
The FPPC can levy maximum fines of $5,000 for each violation.
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/sfbaynewsrogers.