State ethics watchdog may run against councilwoman his commission is investigating

A member of a statewide ethics commission that is investigating Long Beach Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce over conflict-of-interest allegations is considering running for her seat, the Long Beach Post has learned.

Brian Hatch, a Long Beach resident who was appointed to the Fair Political Practices Commission in March 2017, said in an interview Tuesday that he has been asked to run for Pearce’s seat on the City Council, which is up for election in March.

“I have been asked to run,” he said, “but I have not made up my mind.”

Hatch declined to say who asked him to run.

The revelation sets up an unusual situation in which an ethics watchdog is considering challenging a councilwoman whom he may vote to levy fines against in the future. If he were to run, however, he would have to resign his position as one of five appointed members of the FPPC, which enforces state laws that govern how politicians conduct themselves.

The FPPC is investigating Pearce after a Post report in May—followed by a city-commissioned investigation—in which the councilwoman admitted accepting payment for consulting services from businesses linked to the cannabis industry and the Queen Mary, which is in her district. Pearce also failed to reveal some of those payments on required financial disclosure forms.

District 2 Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce walks away from the podium after speaking to about 50 supports at a pro-choice rally. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

She has since agreed to recuse herself from participating in votes or discussions involving those areas of city business.

Meanwhile, sources told the Post this week that Hatch has requested meetings with city officials recently, and attended a meeting of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor with Pearce, who introduced him around. Hatch confirmed he attended the meeting, and that Pearce was there, but said that she arrived about an hour after him.

Pearce, who was at City Hall for Tuesday’s council meeting, declined to comment.

Hatch said he and Pearce were introduced recently. The two have not discussed her case before the FPPC, he said.

“If you want information about [her case] you need to call the FPPC,” he said. “The commission doesn’t get involved [in investigations] until the tail end. … The only thing I know about her case is what I’ve read in the news.”

Brian Hatch, a commissioner on the Fair Political Practices Commission. Photo courtesy the FPPC.

Brian Hatch, a commissioner on the Fair Political Practices Commission. Photo courtesy the FPPC.

FPPC commissioners are prohibited from communicating privately about the agency’s enforcement cases, according to a manual provided to commissioners. An FPPC spokesman said Pearce’s case was still under investigation.

Most cases involving politicians end in settlements that are approved by commissioners, and they often involve thousands of dollars in fines. The maximum fine for each violation of the Political Reform Act is $5,000. Violations can include conflicts of interests and failures to make required financial disclosures.

The final penalties are based on factors such as complexity and seriousness of the case, the harm to the public, the cooperation of those involved, whether the violation was deliberate, negligent or inadvertent.

If Hatch were to enter the race for District 2, he would join an increasingly crowded field. So far, seven people have announced they are challenging Pearce—the most recent being former business owner Cindy Allen.

Hatch, 79, is a Democrat and former lobbyist for the California Professional Firefighters who was appointed to the commission in March 2017 by Secretary of State Alex Padilla. He has lived in Long Beach since 1995.

Questions were raised about an incident two years ago involving Hatch speaking with a lawyer involved in business before the commission. The Sacramento Bee reported in August 2017 that Hatch met secretly with a lawyer working for Senate Democrats while advocating for changes to campaign finance law that would have helped a Democratic senator facing a recall campaign.

He said he did his own research on the issue—which involved contribution limits to recall candidates—and determined on his own that a state agency’s opinion on the matter was wrong before he spoke to the lawyer.

“I had my mind made up without talking to anyone,” Hatch told the Bee at the time.

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Melissa has been a journalist for over two decades, starting her career as a reporter covering health and religion and moving into local news. She has worked as an editor for eight years, including seven years at the Press Telegram before joining the Long Beach Post in June 2018. She also serves as a part-time lecturer at Cal State Long Beach where she teaches multimedia journalism and writing.