tseipel@mercurynews.com

SAN JOSE -- Inspired by former Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr.'s failure to file campaign finance reports on time -- a pattern that went unaddressed for years and ultimately contributed to his downfall -- the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday solidified measures to keep that from happening again.

The decision tightens the time frame by which candidates and county measure committees who ignore campaign finance deadlines must be reported to local and state authorities.

The board's 4-0 vote mandates that within five days of a missed campaign finance reporting deadline the Registrar of Voters office issues a warning to the candidate. The new rules apply to those running for county supervisor, district attorney, sheriff and assessor as well as any county measure committee.

That warning -- no longer by letter, but by phone, fax and email -- will alert the candidate or committee leaders that if they still have not responded by the 10th day after the filing deadline, their names or committees will be forwarded to the DA and the state's Fair Political Practices Commission for investigation.

Before Tuesday's vote, the registrar's office had sent letters to delinquent filers warning them that noncompliance would result in their being reported by the registrar's office to the DA or FPPC. But for the past 11 years, that office had stopped referring the names of any candidate or committee who continued to ignore the letters, to the appropriate authorities.

Interim Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey has said that decision was made because of "lack of responsiveness" to such reports from the DA and FPPC.

After Tuesday's meeting, Bushey said amending the county ordinance, which will have a second reading at the board's Aug. 13 meeting, "ensures candidates and committees file timely reports in connection with their campaigns.''

The amendment also includes a new form that will be given to all county elected officials, candidates and county measure committees as a reminder.

During Tuesday's board meeting, Sharon Sweeney, vice chairwoman of the Citizens Advisory Commission on Elections, asked the board to "encourage'' the registrar's office to invite the FPPC to educate the registrar's staff about the new rule as a way of preventing mistakes that had been made in the past.

Bushey later said she would be open to that training, adding that the staff has attended FPPC training classes.

The state Political Reform Act contains a number of criminal, civil and monetary inducements to comply with its campaign finance disclosure filing requirements.

The original move to amend the registrar's existing practice was proposed by Board of Supervisors President Ken Yeager in late January, months after Shirakawa's campaign troubles already were being investigated by both agencies.

"In the heat of an election campaign, the information contained in campaign finance disclosure filings is timely. We need a process that better respects that time sensitivity," Yeager said after Tuesday's meeting.

By March 1, the DA and FPPC determined that Shirakawa, 51, had filed perjured campaign finance reports, accepted illegal cash donations and also used his county credit card for his personal entertainment. Shirakawa resigned, blaming his problems on a gambling addiction.

Shirakawa, who has pleaded guilty to 12 criminal charges related to misuse of campaign and taxpayer funds, also was fined $50,000 by the FPPC for violating the state's Political Reform Act.

He faces an additional charge related to impersonating a political opponent, a crime prosecutors say is evidenced by Shirakawa's DNA pulled from a postage stamp on an illegal campaign hit piece.

Contact Tracy Seipel at 408-275-0140.