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Lobbyist for tribes with casinos may face steep fines

February 10, 2011 |  3:14 pm

A Sacramento tribal lobbyist and former legislative aide who failed to file quarterly disclosure statements for three years should have known better, state Fair Political Practices commissioners said Thursday.

Frank J. Molina, who represents Indian tribes with casinos in Southern California, could face $50,000 in fines after commissioners balked at settling the case with a $30,000 penalty.

Some members doubted Molina's assertion that the lapse was an oversight. They said they considered him more sophisticated than that: After all, Molina had worked eight years in the state Legislature before starting his lobbying business, including time as senior advisor to Senate and Assembly leaders and a stint as chief of staff for former Assemblyman Simon Salinas.

Such an experienced hand, "at least should suspect lobbyists have disclosure requirements," Commissioner Elizabeth Garrett said.

Molina has argued that he entered private practice with no lobbying business experience and claimed ignorance about the required disclosures. Commission staff faulted him for negligence and recommended that the case be settled with half the maximum possible fine. But the commission didn't accept his assertions and told the staff to seek the higher amount.

Molina's firm, Strategic Solutions Advisors, is accused of failing to disclose $840,000 in payments for lobbying on behalf of several clients. His clients included the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, which operates a casino in San Bernardino County; the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians, which runs a casino in San Jacinto; and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, which has a casino in Santa Ynez.

Molina could not be reached for comment on whether he will agree to the higher fine or fight it in an administrative appeal.

The commission also pushed for an increase in fines against another former legislative chief of staff, saying he also should have known state disclosure rules. Commission staff recommended a fine of $2,000 against Sean MacNeil, who was chief of staff for former state Sen. Pat Wiggins, for failing to disclose receiving $2,000 in income from Wiggins’ campaign committee. But some commissioners said the fine should be double that, and directed the staff to seek the higher penalty. MacNeil also has a chance to appeal the ruling.

-- Patrick McGreevy