The California Fair Political Practices Commission has received an anonymous complaint against Menlo Park City Council candidate Cecilia Taylor, FPPC spokesperson Jay Wierenga confirmed Oct. 10.
The complaint alleges that Taylor violated the California Political Reform Act by not reporting on her Form 700 that the nonprofit she founded, Belle Haven Action, received a $75,000 donation from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; the state requires candidates and elected and appointed officials to fill out a Form 700 to disclose sources of potential ethical conflicts.
The form requires only that the person filing describe the source of his or her income -- not necessarily where that income source derives its funds. In this case, Taylor reported that she received her income from UnaMesa Association for her work as founder and executive director of Belle Haven Action.
Taylor also indicated on the same form that she plans to step down from the position when a successor is found.
Belle Haven Action is a project of the broader nonprofit UnaMesa. The Belle Haven nonprofit does advocacy in the neighborhood and in the past has supported a campaign to rename Market Place Park after World War II hero Karl Clark, started a breakfast program for children who are bused to other school districts through the Tinsley program, and promoted safe routes to school for local children, among other projects.
Whether the omission of the Chan Zuckerberg donation from Taylor's form represents a conflict of interest is another question.
Menlo Park's City Attorney Bill McClure has already written a legal opinion stating that Belle Haven Action receiving a grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative does not constitute a conflict of interest. "There is no direct impact on a source of income since Chan Zuckerberg would not be an applicant or affected by decisions, so the effects would not be foreseeable or material," he wrote in a statement to the City Council. "That being said, we would request an opinion from the FPPC to confirm this conclusion if she is elected."
A $75,000 grant would appear to represent a comparatively substantial amount of funding for the UnaMesa Association, considering its overall budget. According to federal documents the nonprofit filed in 2015, its single-year revenues totaled about $233,062. It's not clear what portion of Belle Haven Action's total funding the grant represented that year.
Wierenga explained that the FPPC receives a number of urgent campaign related complaints from around the state before elections, and indicated it's hard to say if the complaint will receive a response before Election Day. The commission typically evaluates each complaint to see if it has merit, he said. If it does, the FPPC launches an investigation.
Taylor was not immediately available for comment.