California’s Fair Political Practices Commission fined San Luis Obispo businessmen James and Thomas Copeland and banker David Booker $80,000 at its Oct. 14 meeting for violating the state Political Reform Act.
The Copelands and Booker are accused of staging a secret and illegal campaign in 2006 to block rancher Ernie Dalidio’s development plans. The five-member FPPC board unanimously approved the fines on the recommendation of an agency staff report released Oct. 4. That report revealed the Copelands as the previously anonymous financiers of a mysterious limited liability corporation that had financed the vast majority of the “No on J,” campaign intended to block Dalidio’s commercial development of his 131-acre property.
The FPPC said the Copeland brothers — who themselves own some of the largest commercial developments in San Luis Obispo — contributed more than $333,000 in an attempt to block the Dalidio Ranch development, which was on the county ballot as Measure J. The measure passed with 64.6 percent of the vote, though the project has yet to be built.
According to the FPPC report, the Copelands violated state law because the corporation the brothers formed to channel the money hid the names of its members and failed to disclose the real purpose of the funds. Booker, a director of San Luis Obispo-based American Perspective Bank, worked on the campaign and comitted six campaign finance violations, the FPPC found.
“It’s been such a long road,” Dalidio attorney James McKiernan told the Business Times the day after the FPPC’s staff report was released. “We’re very surprised but also pleased it came to this.”
The commission’s ruling is “precedent-setting,” he said. “We’re very pleased that a state agency has ruled like this on this type of issue. Typically the FPPC issues knuckle-rapping, wrist-slapping penalties, so it’s pleasing to see them issue such a significant penalty,” he said.