The California Fair Political Practices Commission has sent Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone an official warning letter for violating the California Political Reform Act by sending out a mass mailing at public expense during his 2018 re-election campaign.
Stone, according to the FPPC investigators, distributed an unsolicited annual report to more than 200 individuals. The FPPC said Stone had asked individuals in a previous communication if they would prefer to no longer receive the report or to receive a digital copy, and if they did not reply, were sent the report, a practice that is not allowed for public officials..
Stone told San Jose Inside that he agreed with the FPPC finding in response to a 2018 complaint. The FPPC’s Sept. 7 warning letter to Stone closed an investigation of two anonymous complaints and one sworn complaint filed by Mullissa Willette. at the time an investigator in the Assessor's Office, who also is the president of one of the largest county labor unions, SEIU 521. Willette also is a CalPERS board member, and now works as an “estate administrator” in the county executive’s office.
Stone said his office began mailing out an annual report about 25 years ago, and had followed the same procedure for developing a mailing list for more than 20 years until the complaints filed with the FPPC were brought to his attention.
“We checked the regulations, and have been in compliance the last two years,” Stone said. “The FPPC is doing their job.”
“The act provides that no newsletter or other mass mailing shall be sent at public expense,” the FPPC said in its enforcement letter.
The act defines a mass mailing as
- A tangible (non-electronic) item
- An item that features an elected officer affiliated with the agency that produces or sends the mailing or includes the name, office, photograph, or other reference to an elected officer affiliated with the agency that produces or sends the mailing and is prepared or sent in cooperation, consultation, coordination, or concert with the elected officer
- An item whose distribution cost must exceed $50 and are paid with public funds
- One in which more than 200 substantially similar items are sent in a single calendar month.
The FPPC Enforcement Division determined that the Assessor’s Office annual report featured Stone in several places. Stone’s office told FPPC investigators that it routinely sent a letter each year to past recipients of the annual report, asking if they would prefer to no longer receive the report or to receive a digital copy. If they did nothing in response to the letter, individuals would continue to receive a mailed copy of the annual report.
Recipients of the report included local elected officials, chief executives, financial officers, members of the local media, community groups, as well as those who individually request copies of the report, the FPPC reported.
“In accordance with the Enforcement Division’s policy directives formally adopted by the Commission on Jan. 26, 2023, which requires the Enforcement Division to take all appropriate actions within their discretion to decrease the Division’s annual carryover caseload, the Enforcement Division is closing this case with this warning letter,” the FPPC wrote. “Discretion was used based upon mitigating or aggravating circumstances and the totality of the circumstances.”
In July 2022, the FPPC found that Stone failed to timely file pre-election campaign statements in connection with the June 7, 2022 election and issued a warning letter when he subsequently filed the required campaign statements before the election.
Stone has served as county assessor since he was first elected in 1994.