Increases maximum fine from $1,000 to $20,500
SACRAMENTO – The Senate Public Safety Committee has unanimously approved a bill by Assemblymember Jim Frazier, D-Discovery Bay, which would impose stiffer financial penalties on candidates who lie on ballot statements when seeking political office. AB 894 would impose a fine of up to $5,000 if a candidate includes knowingly false information on statements they submit for inclusion on election ballots. If an offender is convicted of associated criminal wrongdoing, a formula that multiplies the base fine could result in as much as $20,500 in total financial penalties for those who intentionally lie to voters.
“The penalty for shamelessly lying to voters should be very painful,” Frazier said. “And right now, it’s not painful enough. Often, the only information a voter may have about candidates is what is contained in ballot statements, especially in races for local offices that might not get a lot of press coverage. AB 894 creates a strong deterrent to dishonest candidates who falsify their qualifications in an attempt to mislead voters.”
Frazier authored AB 894 after Jeff Belle, a candidate in East County who was elected to the Contra Costa County Board of Education in 2014, was found to have blatantly lied about his qualifications, background and criminal record in the candidate statement he submitted for inclusion on the ballot. The current maximum fine for intentionally misleading voters on ballot statements is $1,000. However, instead of a punishment, the Contra Costa District Attorney’s office allowed Belle to receive just an entry into a diversion program for offenders, which required he admitted he didn’t have a degree and perform 20 hours of community service. (See related article).
AB 894 has received unanimous bipartisan support in every committee and floor vote. It has been approved by the Assembly Elections Committee, the full Assembly and the Senate Elections and Public Safety committees without a single “no” vote. The bill’s final vote will be on the Senate Floor after the Legislature returns from recess. If the full Senate approves AB 894, it will go to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.