Priya Mathur, the vice president of the governing board of CalPERS, has once again become an embarrassment to the nation's largest public employee pension system.
Mathur, a BART financial analyst, was elected by government workers across the state to serve on the 13-member CalPERS board overseeing the $290 billion retirement fund. She has an MBA from UC Berkeley. So she should be able to handle money matters.
Unfortunately, she has repeatedly failed to file basic financial statements required of candidates for public office. Consequently, the Fair Political Practices Commission on Thursday will fine her for the fourth time in eight years for violating the state's campaign and ethics laws.
For CalPERS, it couldn't come at a worse time. Last month, the pension system's former CEO pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit corruption and fraud and admitted in federal court that he accepted $200,000 in cash plus other bribes. The payoffs allegedly came from a former board member, now facing corruption charges, who acted as an intermediary steering CalPERS business to investment firms.
Against that backdrop, one would think current members of the California Public Employees' Retirement System would be extra careful to follow the letter of the law. Not Mathur.
While her transgressions are tiny in comparison to bribery and corruption, they weaken the board's attempt to demonstrate that everyone will now play by the rules.
When Mathur first ran for the CalPERS board in 2002, she failed to complete required forms disclosing campaign contributors and conflict-of-interest statements listing her personal financial holdings. In 2007 and 2008, she again failed to file conflict-of-interest statements. For all that, she was fined $13,000.
The penalty for the 2008 violation, $4,000, was at the time the largest for a delinquent Statement of Economic Interest that the then-director of the FPPC could recall.
It wasn't just the failure to file. It was the failure to cooperate with the commission, at which Mathur thumbed her nose. She ignored two written requests from the FPPC to file the required documents from 2002, complying only after the commission's Enforcement Division contacted her.
As for the 2007 and 2008 omissions, the FPPC had to send repeated warning letters. She refused to return phone calls or emails from the Enforcement Division. When the agency tried to send documents to her San Francisco home by certified mail, she refused to sign for them. And she avoided a process server the commission sent to her home.
As a result, the agency had to use its investigators to serve her with documents at CalPERS meetings in Sacramento. It was only after news stories appeared that she finally sent the FPPC the required documents. She then took months to pay the fines.
When the CalPERS board censured her in 2008, she expressed "profound regret ... for embarrassing this board" and promised "this will not happen again."
But it has. Mathur, who faces a re-election challenge next month, failed to file any of the four semiannual campaign contribution statements for 2012 and 2013. In an email to me last week, she said it was an inadvertent mistake.
"When, in a conversation with the Fair Political Practices Commission, I discovered that the paperwork had not been correctly filed, I immediately filed all the necessary forms and brought my committee filings up to date," she wrote. "I cooperated completely with the FPPC's inquiries."
That's not how the FPPC portrays it. It took "numerous requests from the Enforcement Division" before she filed the forms, which, ironically, showed she hadn't collected contributions during that period.
Candidates must file the forms for each period even if they have not collected contributions. But the lack of contributions is, according to the FPPC staff report, one reason it recommends the commission impose a $1,000 fine rather than the maximum $5,000.
That would be a reasonable warning penalty if this were Mathur's first failure, and if she had been cooperative from the start. But it's an ineffectual slap on the wrist for a repeat offender who acts like the rules don't apply to her.
History shows it probably won't deter her from doing it again.