‘Win Bonus’ Buries Fong in Debt

Last month San Jose Inside reported that state Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-San Jose) has owed a Sacramento lobbyist $100,000 since 2008. Apparently the debt to Richie Ross—also a campaign consultant—has been a point of contention for Fong, who’s now running for a seat on the San Jose City Council.

Erica Walters—a partner for San Francisco-based consultancy firm Terris, Barnes & Walters, which is running Fong's council campaign—wrote in an email that Fong’s debt is the result of a “win bonus” following Ross' coordination of the 2008 Assembly race. “The amount outstanding is in dispute, but they are working it out,” she added.

Fong and Ross have both ignored interview requests. But over a five-year period Fong voted in favor of all 35 bills that Ross lobbied on before going to the Assembly floor. Walters insisted that Fong “votes based on the views of his district and his conscience every time.”

Ross has a track record of tacking on lump-sum bills at the end of successful campaigns while charging losers far more modest fees. In 2008, Ross and his son, Joaquin, worked at least seven Assembly campaigns, with two winners owing large sums—Fong and Marty Block. The latter is now a state senator.

Block’s last campaign filing for 2008 noted a $115,000 unpaid bill to Richard Ross for “political advice & strategy.” With only $36,445 on hand, Block spent the first six months of 2009 raising money to pay off the debt—mostly from Ross’ lobbyist clients. The Democratic State Central Committee of CA also threw him $50,000.

For whatever reason, Fong chose not to raise funds to pay down his own debt. By keeping the tab open-ended, however, ethical questions have been raised about whether this constitutes a lobbyist having undue influence over an elected official, as well as whether the expenditure should be reclassified as an in-kind contribution of $100K. The Assembly's Committee on Elections and Redistricting is unlikely to take up the issue, as Fong serves as committee chair. But the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) may consider steps.

“We take the contribution limits seriously and we will take a close look at any attempts to get around it, including if people are purposely carrying debt that they have no intention of paying,” said Gary Winuk, the FPPC’s chief enforcement officer.

The FPPC, or more likely the City Clerk's office, might also want to look at Fong’s fence-straddling. Last year he bought a home in San Jose so he could be within District 1 boundaries to run for a council seat. But campaign disclosure forms filed a day apart in January show that he listed Sunnyvale as his place of residence for an Assembly officeholder account, while San Jose was home for his council campaign.

Josh Koehn is a former managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley.

4 Comments

  1. Josh,

    Just a suggestion, if you are going to throw dirt on one candidate then please do a review of all on the city council running for either a current seat or a mayor want to be. They have all followed in Chuck’s way. That is cheating, stealing city money then repaying when caught, not following the rules, committed sign stealing or just flat out lying to us. I would love to see that article.

    You know all to well this is how things are done in SJ. Like it or not, and I do not but please dig up all the dirt!

    Thank you in advance!

  2. The FPPC should make “win bonuses” illegal. Consultants should provide a price list for their services when they are contracted, and then account for their hours and services at billing time. The bills should be public.

    This practice seems a lot like what spies do to compromise people. That’s why people with a lot of debt make poor security risks. If someone runs up a bill equivalent to one year’s salary, how are they supposed to raise the money? A lobbyist that creates that situation, would certainly be in a good position take advantage of it. I sure it happens.

  3. UNKNOWN FACT: Assemblyman Paul Fong has claimed to be a U.S Military Veteran. Numerous times he’s stood up at events when veterans are being honored and asked to stand up for recognition. Little do they know that Mr. Fong only went to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego and never completed basic training. He was discharged under “other than honorable” due to his lack of physical shape. Interestingly enough; we used to be a football player. Therefore, he never became a U.S Marine or much less, serve his country.

    Being a U.S Military Veteran actually means that a man or woman went through a “rite of passage” (boot camp) and was officially inducted (processed) into a Military Branch of Service where they then served and deployed wherever American interests needed protection.

    It is clear that Assemblyman Paul Fong has no honor and lacks any true or real commitment to the very foundations he has ‘sworn’ to protect and defend as a politician, yet lacks any real knowledge or true understanding of what it takes for such principles and foundations to be preserved and maintained.

    • More details, please. Such as when he did it, what kind of honors he has got. This will be an interesting story.

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