CA: Ethics Panel Wants Stiffer Penalty for CalPERS' Priya Mathur

Aug. 22--REPORTING FROM SACRAMENTO -- The state's ethics panel is taking a get-tough stance toward a board member of the nation's biggest government pension fund, who has repeatedly failed to file legally required disclosure reports.

In an unusual move, the Fair Political Practices Commission on Thursday declined to levy a proposed $1,000 fine, negotiated by its enforcement staff and pension official Priya Mathur. It is too low, said Jodi Remke, commission chairwoman.

"To me, this almost looks like this was a first-time offender," Remke said.

She suggested a $4,000 penalty for Mathur, who was cited for not submitting four semiannual campaign contribution reports.

Other commissioners agreed with Remke, and the commission sent the agreement back to staff lawyers for renegotiating with Mathur, vice president of the California Public Employees' Retirement System board.

The charge against Mathur is "a serious violation" of California's Fair Political Practices Act, a ballot measure approved by voters in 1974, said Gary Winuk, the commission's chief of enforcement. "It deprives the public of important information about a candidate's financial activities."

Mathur, who is the principal financial analyst for the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, has often been in trouble with the ethics agency for not filing campaign contribution reports and statements of economic interest.

She is an elected CalPERS board member, chosen by employees of public agencies who are part of the pension program. Mathur, 40, is seeking a fourth term in a mail-in election with balloting from Aug. 29 to Sept. 29.

As a board member, she is responsible for overseeing a $300-billion investment portfolio that finances the retirement and health benefits for 1.6 million government workers, retirees and their families.

At issue in the recent enforcement action was the failure to file four semiannual campaign financial statements for 2012 and 2013 in a timely manner.

In a recent email, she described the missed reports as an oversight. "I had inadvertently failed to file the proper forms in 2012 to close my campaign committee," she said.

The proposed fine of $1,000 was announced Aug. 11 after she and FPPC attorneys reached an agreement to settle the charges. In turn, Mathur and her board reelection committee pledged not to contest the punishment.

The latest dispute is Mathur's fourth run-in with the commission in nine years. She's previously paid $13,000 in fines for a series of filing lapses since first being elected to a four-year term on the CalPERS Board of Administration in 2002.

Neither Mathur nor CalPERS responded to requests for comment on the commission's rejection of her penalty agreement.

Mathur's most recent FPPC fines were $3,000 in April 2010 and $4,000 in May 2010 for not filing timely statements of economic interest for 2007 and 2008.

Her board colleagues subsequently punished her by temporarily removing her as chairwoman of the health committee and suspending her traveling privileges.

In 2006, Mathur paid a $6,000 fine for not properly filing financial documents after her initial election.

marc.lifsher@latimes.com

Twitter: @MarcLifsher

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