Alma Hernández, the Executive Director for Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the largest labor union in California resigned after she and her husband, Jose Moscoso, were charged by California Attorney General Rob Bonta on numerous embezzlement and tax fraud charges, the Globe reported Wednesday.
Hernández is alleged to have written two checks worth $11,700 to Moscoso for services not provided from the account of the Working Families for Solorio for Senate 2014 PAC, whom Hernández was serving as treasurer at the time.
From 2014 to 2018, Moscoso and Hernández also allegedly filed multiple joint income tax returns in which they underreported earnings by $1,427,874, owing the state $143,483 in unpaid income tax.
According to Attorney Timothy Snowball with the Freedom Foundation, Hernandez’s spending likely went on for a long time, and was not necessarily a secret.
So why charge her now? Who did Hernández cross?
And why aren’t the rules enforced uniformly? A political friend and I discussed former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez’s lavish spending when he was running the Assembly. Nuñez, a Democrat from Los Angeles and also a former union organizer, traveled and dined “much more comfortably with campaign funds than he could on the taxpayers’ dime,” the Los Angeles Times reported in 2007. “How is Fabian Nuñez not in jail for his Louis Vuitton purchases if they are charging this labor leader?” my friend asked.
How was Nuñez’s spending not seen as criminal, but the SEIU leader’s is?
“As leader of the California Assembly, Speaker Fabian Nuñez has traveled the world in luxury, paying with campaign funds for visits to some of the finest hotels and restaurants and for purchases at high-end retailers such as Louis Vuitton in Paris,” the Times reported in 2007.
These are the specifics according to the Times:
Listed in mandatory filings with the state, Nuñez’s spending included “$47,412 on United, Lufthansa and Air France airlines this year; $8,745 at the exclusive Hotel Arts in Barcelona, Spain; $5,149 for a ‘meeting’ at Cave L’Avant Garde, a wine seller in the Bordeaux region of France; a total of $2,562 for two “office expenses” at Vuitton, two years apart; and $1,795 for a “meeting” at Le Grand Colbert, a venerable Parisian restaurant.”
Nuñez also spent $2,934 at Colosseum Travel in Rome, and paid $505 to the European airline Spanair.
Other expenses are closer to home: a $1,715 meeting at Asia de Cuba restaurant in West Hollywood; a $317 purchase at upscale Pavilion Salon Shoes in Sacramento; a $2,428 meeting at 58 Degrees and Holding, a Sacramento wine bar and bistro; and $800 spent at Dollar Rent a Car in Kihei, Hawaii.
Asked in an interview about his foreign travel in general, Nuñez said: “For me, it’s a question of: Is my perspective on issues broad enough? Do I have enough context when I make decisions? This is a big state to run. You’ve got to know what you’re doing.”
“These trips,” he said, “at least the ones I’ve taken — I feel very confident and comfortable that they’re not only justified but necessary for the decisions I need to make on a daily basis.”
Some of Nuñez’s travel in his more than three years as speaker has involved studying high-speed rail and preschool programs in France, studying renewable energy in Germany and Denmark, and visiting South America with other lawmakers and lobbyists to study global warming solutions.
Some activity, however, including the 2006 Barcelona visit and a $3,199 stay at Hotel Parco in Rome this year, does not appear tied to any policy-related trips announced by Nunez’s office.
In the interview, Nuñez said he wouldn’t need to use his $5.3-million ‘Friends of Fabian Nunez’ campaign account to offset travel costs if he were independently wealthy.
But Nuñez lived as if he was independently wealthy on campaign contributions, the Times reported:
He received a total of $1.9 million in 2005 and 2006 from unions, corporations and others with a perennial stake in legislative business. They include $17,300 from AT&T; and Verizon, phone companies that pushed Nunez legislation allowing them to compete against cable television companies, and $2,500 from a group of pharmaceutical companies affected by a Nunez bill to create a prescription drug discount program.
Comparing the numbers, especially from 2007 and 2021, Speaker Fabian Nuñez’s spending of campaign funds was clearly a violation of the Fair Political Practices Commission rules. The FPPC requires candidates and campaign committees to file campaign statements by specified deadlines disclosing contributions received and expenditures made. And the FPPC audits these filings. Sometimes.
The FPPC is composed of five members appointed by the Governor, the State Controller, Secretary of State and the Attorney General. In California, all of these Constitutional offices are controlled by Democrats.
The LA Times editorial board weighed in when Nuñez objected to their reporting:
Nuñez spent lavishly as speaker, treating himself to fancy dinners ($1,795 for one particularly lovely night out in Paris) and European vacations. He shopped at Louis Vuitton ($2,562 in “office expenses”) and gorged at a French winery ($5,149 for a “meeting”). Nuñez did all this on the dime of his contributors; they did not, he naturally insists, “get anything in return.”
Still, publication of these facts bugs Nuñez, and last week he appeared to have had enough. Why did he think critics were so fascinated by these details? His reply: “Because of the fact I am Mexican, they think I have to sleep under a cactus and eat from taco stands.”
“What’s wrong with going to Office Max or Staples for ‘office expenses?'” a blogger at Latino Politics Blog asked in 2008. “For the life of me, I still cannot imagine what kind of office supplies he needed at Louis Vuitton.”
The editorial board replied to Nuñez:
It’s not quite clear who “they” are, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s white people who work at newspapers, specifically this one. Let us then make clear that we don’t begrudge Nunez luxuries, and we’d hate to see him stuck under a cactus. By all means, Mr. Speaker Emeritus, eat well, see the world, bring home baubles and trinkets for yourself and your loved ones. Just do it with your own money.
Nuñez went on to Mercury Public Affairs, “Using his influence as a national political figure” to benefit clients’ public policy interests.
As for Alma Hernández, if convicted for her alleged spending, fines and prison time are likely.
Meanwhile, “Fabian Nuñez, Barbara Boxer and Antonio Villaraigosa led the mass resignations from one of the state’s most powerful lobbying firms, Mercury Public Affairs,” MSN just reported. They plan to set up a new public affairs and consulting firm.
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