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Anti-Cannabis Group Violated CA Campaign Finance Laws, Commission Finds

A leading anti-cannabis advocacy group has agreed to pay thousands of dollars in fines for violating California campaign finance laws as organizers unsuccessfully fought Proposition 64, a November ballot measure that legalized adult-use cannabis in the state.

The committee allegedly failed to identify special interests that contributed more than $50,000.

SAM Action Inc., the political arm of anti-legalization organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana, has reportedly signed off on $6,000 in fines recommended by the enforcement staff of California’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). A campaign committee sponsored and funded by the group faces another $3,500 in fines for failing to disclose major donors.

The group told investigators the violations were “inadvertent.”

The proposed penalty comes less than two weeks after SAM Action threatened to identify the financial ties of any congressional representative to support a measure by US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) aimed at protecting state-legal medical marijuana from federal intervention. “The representatives who sign on to this letter will be investigated, and any ties to the pot industry lobby will be exposed,” the group warned.

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According the FPPC, however SAM has struggled to expose even its own financial ties. As the Patrick Greevy of the Los Angeles Times reports, the group, founded by former Obama administration drug policy advisor Kevin Sabet, failed to disclose numerous campaign details to regulators as the group fought Prop 64:

The violations included not changing the campaign committee’s name to include its major donor, Juliet Schauer, a retired art professor and Pennsylvania activist who contributed $1.36 million to the group to cover expenses in California and other states considering marijuana legalization.

The committee also was late in disclosing five Schauer contributions, failed to accurately report the total amount of contributions and failed to file a list of its top 10 contributors, as required by the state Political Reform Act.

The group, which raised roughly a million dollars to fight legalization in California, maintains the violations were “inadvertent,” according to the FPPC report, and were caused by “inexperience with California campaign reporting requirements.”

The state commission will consider approving the recommended fines on April 20.

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FPPC enforcement staff have also proposed $3,500 in fines against a campaign committee dubbed Public and Mental Health Advocates Against 64, a group that was sponsored by and received major funding from SAM Action. In advertisements opposing Prop 64, the campaign committee allegedly failed to identify the names of special interests that contributed more than $50,000.

“Special interests were not identified in the committee name until 15 days before the election,” West wrote in the report, “which was 107 days after the deadline to identify these economic or other special interests.”

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SAM Action’s contributions reached $64,150 in late June, but weren’t properly disclosed until the watchdog commission’s staff complained about two weeks before the election. By that time the committee had already posted billboards and aired internet radio advertising in English and television ads in Spanish.

The commission’s staff said there was no evidence the committee attempted to conceal SAM Action’s involvement.

Prop 64 passed in November with support from 57% of state voters.

 

This story was updated on April 11 with additional reporting from the Associated Press.