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Rent control adversaries under scrutiny

FPPC investigating groups on both sides of Measure V

The main adversaries in the fight over the Measure V rent control law -- the Mountain View Tenants Coalition and the California Apartment Association -- are both facing investigations by the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

The election watchdog confirmed it has open investigations into both groups based on their activities in last November's election. The Tenants Coalition is facing a complaint filed by a Mountain View landlord alleging they failed to report in-kind donations. Meanwhile, the apartment association is being investigated by the FPPC based on unspecified "red flags" found in a random selection of groups audited by the state Franchise Tax Board.

Each year, the tax board takes a subset of registered political groups and takes a closer look at their public campaign filings, said FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga. Through this process, the FPPC decided in July to open an investigation into the apartment association.

"Certain groups are randomly chosen by computer. If they find any red flags, then it gets referred to our enforcement division to investigate," he said.

A statewide organization, the California Apartment Association last year raised nearly $1.2 million to oppose proposed rent control measures in six Bay Area cities including Mountain View.

Wierenga declined to give specifics on the nature of the case or any potential violations being investigated. The FPPC could only speak in general terms about open investigations, he said. The California Apartment Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

More specifics are available about the case against the Mountain View Tenants Coalition. That investigation is based on a complaint letter sent to the FPPC in August by Jeff Zell, a San Jose-based landlord who manages more than 190 apartments in Mountain View.

In his letter, Zell alleges that the tenants coalition failed to report non-monetary donations from allied groups. Specifically, he alleges the South Bay Labor Council had helped validate signatures for the petition to put Measure V on the ballot. Meanwhile, the group Faith in Action Bay Area had also provided polling data to the Tenants Coalition, Zell wrote. None of the groups had logged the donations in their campaign disclosures, he said.

In September, the FPPC wrote to Zell to confirm it would investigate the matter. Staff later wrote to Zell saying they found insufficient evidence to pursue an investigation on the South Bay Labor Council.

Asked for comment, tenants coalition attorney Juliet Brodie described the complaints as "trivial."

"This strikes me as politically motivated by someone unhappy with the results of the election, throwing stones following a loss," she said. "When you scratch the surface, you see that these (donations) don't have any value and didn't need to be reported."

The tenants coalition reported just over $38,000 in fundraising from last year's election.

While there's no clear timeline for the investigations to be completed, the majority of those pursued by the FPPC are wrapped up within six months, Wierenga said.

Update: Added new information that FPPC was not pursuing the South Bay Labor Council

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