Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, a successful fundraiser for her own campaign in the 17th District and for the Democratic Party, has used her campaign funds for international travel and hotels without disclosing their legitimate political rationale.
Galgiani's campaign finance paperwork shows that she spent campaign funds in 2009 and 2010 without explaining what the governmental or political purposes such spending was for, as is required by state law.
For instance, she spent more than $10,000 of her campaign funds for a 10 day trip in 2009 to Israel. The trip was organized by Da'at Travel Services, a tour guide company.
Galgiani's campaign manager, Mona Pasquil, said the trip was a legislative visit to learn about solar power, agriculture and desalinization. She didn't know who the other legislators were on the trip.
An additional $10,000 was used to pay for a retreat at the swanky St. Regis Monarch Beach Hotel at Dana Point in the same year. While filings don't say what the retreat was for, Pasquil said it was a retreat for Italian and French specialists in high-speed rail. She didn't know whether Galgiani stayed in the hotel.
In one other case, nearly $5,000 in campaign funds was used to pay for a tour to Africa in 2010 provided by Africa Express Travel & Tours. Pasquil said the trip, which was cancelled, was a legislative trip and the money spent was for a deposit.
In all three cases, Pasquil couldn't explain why the descriptions of these expenditures were left out of Galgiani's paperwork.
State campaign finance disclosure rules says that candidates cannot use campaign funds for personal use. Candidates must explain how travel, meals or hotel stays are political, legislative or governmental in nature.
Galgiani, who is running in her last election for the state Assembly because of term limits, gave no such explanation for these two trips or the hotel in her paperwork.
Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a nonpartisan political research center, said politicians can use campaign money for trips if they are meeting government officials and doing the state's business. "But if she's going on safaris, she can't use campaign money for that," he said. In many cases, the money collected by politicians is used for things other than campaigning, he said. "What they are doing is they are using campaign funds for enhancing their lifestyle," he said of many politicians. "They just have so much money. They don't know what to do with it."
The assemblywoman has never been short of funds, no matter what she spends them on. And this year was not different.
If money is any indication of this election's outcome, Galgiani has more than enough to win. Galgiani's more than $830,000 war chest towers over Republican opponent Jack Mobley's $28,000.
In what is a less than competitive race, Galgiani's funding illustrates more than just her ability to raise money and get voter backing for her re-election. It also shows the kind of backers she has and what might be their particular interests. In Galgiani's case, a large chunk of her funding has come from corporate donors based outside her district.
The majority of her contributions were from entities outside the district. That money came in many forms, including political action committees, associations and corporate and union donors.
Much of her money was given by a wide variety of business industries: health care, energy, pharmaceuticals, transportation, telecommunications, agriculture, banking, manufacturing and insurance, were just a few.
Still, more than $56,000 came from within her district. She got more than $117,000 from major corporations and more than $50,000 from unions. The biggest single chunk of cash in her coffers -- about $250,000 -- was carried over from her previous election.
A few of her biggest single contributors included AT&T, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., BNSF Railway, Anheuser-Busch, Philip Morris, Plumbers Union Local 442, and several political action committees representing firefighters, law enforcement and the health care industry, among others.
According to the Fair Political Practices Commission, the state's campaign spending watchdog, every election each candidate can receive unlimited funds from political parties, $3,900 from businesses and $7,800 from small contributor committees.
Despite the large amount of money coming to Galgiani from big business and others, her campaign manager says the assemblywoman is not influenced by donors.
Pasquil said no matter who Galgiani gets money from, she's answerable to her constituents in the end. "She listens to her constituents," she said.
Pasquil said Galgiani is getting fewer small contributions this year because her constituents are hurting economically. "You're not going to see people giving as much statewide," she said. She did not think the high number of donors who are big companies will influence Galgiani.
Galgiani could not be reached for comment.
Despite his opponent's lead in fundraising, Mobley said this election will not be as easy to predict as past elections since there's a lot of anger out there among voters and much of it is being directed at incumbents. Galgiani's monetary lead might not translate into a win.
"I think that a lot of these organizations are betting on the incumbent. She's the incumbent," he said. Unions, big business and other groups want access to the people they think will be in power, he added.
"I'm not going to say Cathleen is going to be influenced by this," he said. But if you get money from someone you will probably pick up the phone when they call, he said.
Some observers say that unspent money -- Galgiani still has about $200,000 of unspent funds -- whoever it comes from, will be used for her political future.
Stern, of the Center for Governmental Studies, said it's typical for legislators in their last term to stockpile funds for their political future. "She's just going to be accumulating because she can," he said. "You want to stockpile it."
Pasquil said Galgiani isn't thinking of her political future. "I would not say that she is looking two years down the road," she said.
Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or email@example.com.