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Times investigation spurs complaints seeking federal probe of Kevin McCarthy PAC spending at luxury resort

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Times investigation spurs complaints seeking federal probe of Kevin McCarthy PAC spending at luxury resort

Federal election officials have been asked to investigate whether former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy personally benefited in violation of the law from the nearly quarter of a million dollars his campaign committees spent at a luxury Rancho Palos Verdes resort while he served in congressional leadership.

Complaints filed with the Federal Elections Commission by two workers at the Terranea Resort cite the findings of a Times investigation published in December that showed that two McCarthy committees spent about $240,000 at the seaside hotel and spa during a 2½-year period ending in 2018. The committees reported to the FEC that the expenses were for lodging and catering, and a McCarthy campaign spokesman told The Times they were for “our annual event,” which he also described as a “PAC retreat.”

The five-page complaints, which mirror each other, note that McCarthy did not provide to the FEC or The Times a more detailed explanation of the Terranea outlays, including the number of such retreats.

“Thus, this only adds to the question about the actual use of these funds,” the complaints say, adding that the payments “may have been made, not for legitimate PAC or campaign activities, but to personally enrich” McCarthy. The complaints also name McCarthy’s committees and their treasurer, Jill Thomson.

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The McCarthy spokesman, Drew Florio, did not respond to Times requests to interview the former congressman and Thomson or otherwise obtain a comment from them about the complaints. An FEC spokesperson said the agency does not comment on requests for investigations or whether a probe has been launched.

The complaints were filed by Terranea employees Antonio Rodriguez and David Gomez Martinez through a law firm that represents Unite Here Local 11, a labor union that is locked in a battle to organize workers at the resort. Rodriguez and Gomez Martinez are supporters of the unionization campaign.

The two employees state in the complaints that they worked at the resort “in various roles in the banquet and catering departments during the period in which these payments were made and do not have any knowledge or recollection of an event or events hosted by or held on behalf of Congressman McCarthy or his committees at the resort.” The complaints were notarized and signed under penalty of perjury.

They point out that the owners of Terranea, including Robert J. Lowe, founder of the company that developed the resort, have been major financial contributors to McCarthy’s committees. The complaints allege that the donations show that the relationship between McCarthy and the hotel owners is “extremely cozy.”

“The FEC needs to investigate where all this political money is going,” Rodriguez said in an email to The Times. Gomez Martinez declined to comment.

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Lowe did not respond to an interview requests made through his corporate office.

The Times investigation found that most of the money McCarthy spent at Terranea came from a thinly regulated leadership PAC he controlled, the Majority Committee PAC. The newspaper also reported that, according to FEC records, the Bakersfield Republican’s leadership PAC shelled out more than $1 million on hotels, private air travel and eateries from 2012 through last June.

That’s more than double the combined total spent by the leadership PACs of the seven other lawmakers who’ve held the top House and Senate positions for their parties during all or part of that period, according to a Times analysis of FEC filings. A historic rebellion led by far-right Republicans ousted McCarthy as speaker in October, and he resigned from Congress in December.

Leadership PACs like McCarthy’s are subject to fewer spending controls than other campaign accounts. The legal guardrails on the PACs are so flimsy that the FEC determined last year that there is no bar on tapping committee money for personal expenses. As a result, lawmakers can use the PACs as slush funds to underwrite sumptuous lifestyles, good government advocates say.

But federal law does prohibit Congress members from spending funds from other campaign accounts on personal uses. About $116,000 of McCarthy’s expenses at Terranea came from one of his campaign committees. Most of that amount — $68,000 — was reported to the FEC as catering and lodging costs.

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Altogether, the two McCarthy committees made 20 payments to Terranea from 2015 to 2018, while he served as House majority leader. Most were listed under the expense category of “lodging,” and 11 were in even-numbered amounts, such as $7,500 and $10,000. The reports did not explain why those amounts were in round dollars.

McCarthy’s spending at Terranea particularly stands out among the current and former congressional leaders because so much of the money has been reported as going toward lodging. And there’s no indication in McCarthy’s FEC filings why the Terranea expenses were heavy during the 2 ½-year period and then stopped, although one McCarthy campaign committee reported about $470 in meal expenses there in 2022.

The FEC does not require politicians to disclose on the finance reports many details of spending beyond the recipient, date, amount and general category of the expense. McCarthy’s records do not say who stayed or dined at Terranea courtesy of the committees, and there are no breakdowns for how much the PAC spent per night for a room, and nothing about what type of rooms, or how many, were rented. The records offer few clues as to whether the spending was in connection with specific fundraising events or any other campaign activities.

Florio, the McCarthy spokesman, said in a statement to The Times in October that the “expenses were for lodging, catering, event room rentals associated with the PAC retreat.”

He did not respond to follow-up questions, including those about the number of people who attended any events and the specific costs assigned to each one.

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Violations of the law barring personal use of money from campaign accounts that are not leadership PACs have led to criminal convictions of former members of Congress, among them Duncan Hunter, a San Diego County Republican. Former Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) was expelled from Congress in December after House investigators determined that he spent tens of thousands of campaign dollars on rent, a sexually explicit website, Botox and luxury goods.

But the regulations for leadership PACs have been ill-defined since the FEC authorized the committees in the late 1970s. Critics contend that the prohibition on personal use of campaign money — outlined under the federal Election Campaign Act — also applies to the leadership committees, but they have been unable to persuade a majority of the FEC to take that position.

In its decision last winter, the FEC ruled 4 to 2 that nothing in the law bars politicians from using leadership PAC money for personal expenses. The decision resulted from a complaint that a leadership PAC for former House member Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) had paid his wife $33,000 in rent for a property that he owns with her.

Advocates for tougher enforcement of campaign finance laws have long accused the FEC of looking the other way when presented with complaints of alleged violations. Among them is Saurav Ghosh, director of federal campaign finance reform for the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit organization whose mission includes advocating for transparency in election spending.

“The FEC doesn’t enforce the law in most cases,” Ghosh said.

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Through the agency’s press office, The Times asked the six commissioners who preside over the FEC to respond to that criticism and received no reply.

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Satanic Temple co-founder challenges Florida Gov DeSantis to debate on religious freedoms

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Satanic Temple co-founder challenges Florida Gov DeSantis to debate on religious freedoms

The Satanic Temple’s (TST) co-founder challenged Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to a debate on religious freedom after the governor singled out satanists by saying they were not allowed to participate in a new chaplain program signed into law last week.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that allows school districts to adopt volunteer school chaplain services.

Under the bill, each school in the state has the option to adopt a policy allowing volunteer school chaplains to provide support services and programs for students. The bill also requires principals of schools with volunteer school chaplains to inform all parents of the services being provided, while also requiring written parental consent before students participate or receive the services.

On Thursday, DeSantis stressed the program was “totally voluntary for a parent or a student to participate.”

FLORIDA BILLS WOULD ALLOW SATANIC PRIESTS TO SERVE AS VOLUNTEER CHAPLAINS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said The Satanic Temple is not a religion. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

He also made clear that members of TST would not be able to serve as public school chaplains.

“Some have said that if you do a school chaplain program, that, somehow, you’re going to have satanists running around in all our schools. We’re not playing those games in Florida,” DeSantis assured the people in the crowd. “That is not a religion. That is not qualified to be able to participate in this. So, we’re going to be using common sense when it comes to this. You don’t have to worry about it.”

As the bill moved through the state legislative process, TST threatened to sue the state if any of its members were banned from serving as chaplains in the program.

SATANIC TEMPLE LEADER CHALLENGES ‘PATHETIC LITTLE COWARD’ DESANTIS TO DEBATE OVER GROUP’S TAX-EXEMPT STATUS

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After School Satan Lucien Temple

Lucien Greaves, is spokesman for The Satanic Temple, photographed outside a Salem courthouse. (Josh Reynolds for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

TST co-founder, Lucien Greaves told Fox News Digital the governor has made multiple comments about the organization without any knowledge of who they are or what they believe.

“This should be of significant concern to anybody, regardless of their own religious views,” Greaves said. “Worse, in signing HB 931 into law, the governor simply announced, from the podium at a press conference, that Satanists were to be considered unqualified for the school chaplaincy program while citing no legal theory to support his view.”

The co-founder of TST said the legislation indicates DeSantis is unaware of how the law works and unaware that the bill he signed into law “does in fact allow Satanic chaplains in schools,” revealing the governor is unaware of the limits of his authority.

DESANTIS PLEDGES SUPPORT FOR DEVIL STATUE DECAPITATOR, SAYS GOVT SHOULD NOT RECOGNIZE SATANISM AS ‘RELIGION’

Baphomet/Satanic Temple

The Baphomet statue is seen in the conversion room at the Satanic Temple in Salem, Massachusetts, on Oct. 8, 2019. (JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

After making the comments, Greaves posted on X that the IRS recognizes TST as a tax-exempt church.

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“If FL’s Republican administration deliberately excludes the group from the state’s new school chaplain program, that would constitute the kind of discrimination that would likely fail in court,” he posted.

The executive director of operations at TST, Rachel Chambliss, also sent an invitation to DeSantis to participate in a public debate with Greaves, regarding their status as a federally recognized religious organization.

“In light of Governor DeSantis’ recent remarks concerning our involvement in Florida’s new School Chaplain program, we find ourselves in respectful disagreement,” Chambliss wrote. “We believe that a public debate would provide an excellent platform to thoroughly discuss the principles of religious freedom in America.”

DeSantis’ office did not respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment on the matter.

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Still, Greaves called the governor’s actions “erroneous.”

“If I am correct, and DeSantis is merely engaging in empty grandstanding with a complete disregard for the intelligence of the people of Florida, he will surely ignore this challenge,” Greaves added.

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Newsom calls out Republican abortion policies in new ad running in Alabama

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Newsom calls out Republican abortion policies in new ad running in Alabama

In Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new political advertisement, two anxious young women in an SUV drive toward the Alabama state line.

The passenger says she thinks they’re going to make it, before a siren blares and the flashing lights of a police car appear in the rearview mirror.

“Miss,” a police officer who approaches the window says to the panicked driver, “I’m gonna need you to step out of the vehicle and take a pregnancy test.”

The fictional video is the latest in a series of visceral advertisements the California governor has aired in other states to call out a conservative campaign to walk back reproductive rights since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to abortion two years ago.

Newsom’s “Campaign for Democracy” will air the ad on broadcast networks and digital channels in Montgomery, Ala., for two weeks beginning on Monday, according to Lindsey Cobia, a senior advisor to Newsom. The governor is seeking to draw attention to attempts by Republican leaders to make it more difficult for residents of states with abortion bans to travel to other states for reproductive care.

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“Not enough attention has been placed on the fact that we’re not just criminalizing women’s access to reproductive care in certain states, now we’re criminalizing their travel,” Newsom said from a Sacramento Planned Parenthood clinic in an interview with MSNBC’s Jen Psaki that aired Sunday, calling escalating Republican backed anti-abortion policies “sickening.”

The governor also is working with state lawmakers on a bill that would temporarily allow Arizona providers to provide abortion care to Arizona patients in California.

Newsom called abortion rights the “moral issue” of our time and called former President Donald Trump “a liar” — warning that if the Republican is elected in November, he will approve a national abortion ban despite recently saying he would leave it up to states as he navigates how the issue could affect him at the polls.

“They’re not just talking about rights regression in states, they’re talking about the nationalization of rights being regressed… everybody watching knows that if Donald Trump becomes president of the United States again, he will sign a national abortion ban, period, full stop,” Newsom said on MSNBC. “He’s the one that’s responsible for the conditions that persist today.”

Newsom’s office is coordinating the legislation with Arizona’s Gov. Katie Hobbs and Atty. Gen. Kris Mayes, Democrats who denounced a recent Arizona Supreme Court ruling that upheld an 1864 abortion ban. The ban, which has yet to take effect, allows only abortions that are medically necessary to save the life of a pregnant patient.

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“Arizona Atty. Gen. Kris Mayes identified a need to expedite the ability for Arizona abortion providers to continue to provide care to Arizonans as a way to support patients in their state seeking abortion care in California,” Brandon Richards, a spokesperson for Newsom, said in a statement. “We are responding to this call and will have more details to share in the coming days.”

California voters approved an amendment to the state constitution in 2022 that protects access to abortion up until the point that a doctor believes the fetus can survive on its own. Doctors are allowed to perform abortions at any stage if a pregnancy poses a risk to the health of the pregnant person.

Since Roe vs. Wade was overturned, Newsom and state lawmakers have increased funding for people from out of state who seek abortions, and have cast the state as a safe haven for abortion services. The proposed legislation to make it easier for Arizona doctors to see patients in California is in response to an anticipated influx of patients from that state in light of the abortion ban.

Democrats are seizing on the issue of abortion, which could offer a political advantage in a crucial election year.

President Biden is campaigning for reelection in part on restoring the protections in Roe vs. Wade, and is blaming Trump for a wave of antiabortion policies.

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Trump has taken credit for nominating conservative justices who helped overturn abortion rights in 2022.

Democrats nationally used Alabama as a lightning rod for the dangers of a Trump presidency earlier this spring after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled in a lawsuit that embryos may be considered children — a move that temporarily halted in vitro fertilization services in the state. Republican leaders quickly reversed course and passed a bill to protect IVF, a process that usually involves the destruction of some embryos.

Alabama bans abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with no exception for pregnancies arising from rape. State Atty. Gen. Steve Marshall said last year that he could criminally prosecute people in Alabama who help women obtain abortions elsewhere — a claim the U.S. Justice Department has refuted.

“They want to deny access not just to reproductive care, but the future of women and girls — their life, their self determination,” Newsom said. “How can women support Donald Trump for election this November?”

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A battle over 100 words: Judge tentatively siding with California AG over students' gender identification

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A battle over 100 words: Judge tentatively siding with California AG over students' gender identification

One-hundred words. That is the court fight some parents in California are waging against Democratic lawmakers and the Newsom Administration, who are trying to stop voters from a proposed ballot measure that would require schools to notify parents if a child is changing their gender. The initiative would also protect female sports from transgender athletes (born males) and mandate that students use school facilities consistent with their birth gender.

Polls show a majority of Californian voters support the measures. However, the state legislature, where Democrats enjoy a super majority, refused to hear the bill, and Democrat State Attorney General Rob Bonta changed the initiative’s title from “Protect Kids of California Act” to the “Restrict Rights of Transgender Youth” initiative.

CALIFORNIA LAWMAKERS ADVANCE BILL CREATING GENEALOGY OFFICE TO DETERMINE REPARATIONS ELIGIBILITY

California’s parents are pushing back against democratic lawmakers and the Newsom administration concerning a proposed measure that forces schools to notify parents if their child changes their gender. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Supporters also say Bonta changed the required 100-word summary of the initiative in a negative, misleading and pejorative way that they claim makes it nearly impossible to gather signatures or raise money.

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“His bias on these issues is clear, and he’s allowed to have his opinion,” says Dean McGee of the Liberty Justice Center, which brought the lawsuit against Bonta. “What he’s not allowed to do is mess with the democratic process in California. Rebrand this initiative in a way that makes it likely to fail, instead of giving it a fair shot at the ballot.”

CALIFORNIA BILL AIMS TO BAN NO-PET POLICIES, ANIMAL FEES AT RENTAL HOUSING PROPERTIES

California Attorney General giving an interview.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta is being accused of changing a measure’s title from “Protect Kids of California Act” to the “Restrict Rights of Transgender Youth” initiative. (Loren Elliott/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

According to state statute, the Attorney General is required to “give a true and impartial statement of the purpose of the measure” so that it “shall neither be an argument, nor be likely to create prejudice, for or against the proposed measure.” 

On Thursday night, a judge tentatively denied the parents’ lawsuit, saying statutes also give the Attorney General “considerable latitude in preparing a title and summary” and “only upon clear and convincing proof” that the title and summary is “false, misleading, or inconsistent with the requirements” of the (elections code), can a judge step in.

NEWSOM REFUSES TO BACK FELLOW DEMS TAKING ON GOOGLE, BIG TECH THROUGH NEWS LINK LEGISLATION

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Gavin Newsom

The Newsom administration is facing a fight against California parents in court over a measure that requires schools to notify parents if their child is changing genders. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Stephen Acquisto previously served as the chief deputy legal affairs lawyer for then Governor Jerry Brown.

The parent activist group cited research showing that most voters only read an initiative’s title and summary. It claims changing words such as “protect,” “ensure,” and “fairness” to “require, restrict and prohibit” typically doom measures to fail at the ballot box.

CALIFORNIA SCHOOL BOARD PRESIDENT ORDERED TO PAY LEGAL FEES AFTER LGBTQ FLAG DEBATE, DEATH THREATS

Rob Bonta, attorney general of California, responds during an interview.

California parents are calling for Rob Bonta, attorney general of California, to be “conflicted out.” (Loren Elliott/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“He’s attempting to bypass California’s abilities to evaluate this issue neutrally by writing a biased summary that people will be unlikely to support,” claims McGee. Leaders of Protect Kids California also say Bonta, a potential gubernatorial candidate, should be “conflicted out” because he’s already suing to stop the Chino Valley School District from adopting a similar policy.

“We recognize we are up against a rock and hard place. The system is rigged against us. The attorney general has a perverse incentive to draw this out until time runs out on us,” said attorney Nicole Pearson of Protect Kids California. “Big picture: They have the keys to the courthouse. Hopefully, the state will be forced to reissue a new title and summary and we can get this before voters where it belongs. If that happens, we will win.”

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Bonta’s office issued this statement: “Under California law, the Attorney General’s Office is responsible for issuing official titles and summaries describing the chief purpose and points of every proposed initiative… and stand by our title and summary for this measure.”

Judge Acquisto heard arguments Friday afternoon challenging his ruling. The parents’ group says it will likely appeal and hope to get on the 2026 ballot.

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