Frazier introduces “Jeff Belle” bill to increase penalties for ballot statement lies
In a move that would take a major step forward in addressing accountability for cases of election fraud perpetrated by candidates, Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D – Discovery Bay) announced on Thursday the introduction of AB 894, which will increase penalties in cases that determine a willful misrepresentation was made on a candidate statement.
“I introduced AB 894 in an effort to make sure voters are not deceived by candidates fabricating their accomplishments and misleading the public,” said Frazier. “We saw this occur in Contra Costa County. It is not fair and I will do everything in my power to make sure the residents I represent are protected from this injustice in the future.”
Frazier is referring to the case of Contra Costa County School Board Member Jeff Belle, who was prosecuted by the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office for lying on his ballot statement during his 2014 campaign, about earning a college degree. The DA settled the case in December, with Belle agreeing to perform community service, in order to avoid facing trial and a maximum penalty of $1,000. (See related article, here).
Currently, the penalty for a candidate lying on his or her nomination papers, which are not public documents and remain within a county’s elections office, are much greater at a maximum of $1,000 and three years in prison. Frazier became aware of that fact last year, didn’t think it made sense and decided to do something about it.
AB 894 will strengthen penalties for candidates who misrepresent facts on a ballot statement, which is public and is sent out to all the voters in a district. Specifically, this bill raises penalties to include forfeiture of office and reimbursement of all costs for the election.
“Misleading the voters about a candidate’s background on ballot statements has been a problem in our county in recent years,” said Joe Canciamilla, Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder-Registrar. “Assemblymember Frazier’s bill is a good start in helping to ensure transparency and accountability to the voters.”
This bill is currently awaiting assignment to policy committee in the California State Assembly.
Frazier represents the 11th Assembly District, which includes the communities of Antioch, Bethel Island, Brentwood, Byron, Discovery Bay, Knightsen,, Oakley and portions of Pittsburg in Contra Costa County, as well as Birds Landing, Collinsville, Fairfield, Isleton, Locke, Rio Vista, Suisun City, Travis AFB, Vacaville and Walnut Grove in Solano County.
Allen Payton contributed to this report.