CITY HALL — The Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office on Thursday said it had referred a complaint about the election season practices of the group Santa Monicans for Quality Government to the District Attorney’s Office for a possible criminal investigation.

Referring the matter to county prosecutors, City Attorney Marsha Moutrie said, “does not reflect any determination of illegal conduct by any person or group.”

Instead, the referral was “a standard practice that we follow whenever there is either an actual conflict or the appearance of a conflict,” she said.

The potential conflict of interest in the case arose because SMQG, which has been accused of violating Santa Monica’s financial disclosure laws, paid for political advertisements that supported several members of the City Council prior to November’s election. The president of SMQG, a political consultant named Fred Huebscher, was also the campaign manager for two Santa Monica City Council members who won new terms last month — Pam O’Connor and Gleam Davis.

Because the City Attorney’s Office represents the council in legal matters, Moutrie said members of her staff aren’t in a position to investigate complaints that involve council members or groups tied to them.

The complaint against SMQG came from another politically active group — the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City — which has argued SMQG broke local campaign finance laws by failing to file disclosure documents in a timely fashion with the City Clerk’s Office prior to the Nov. 2 election.

Moutrie on Thursday said SMCLC’s complaint had been referred to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division.

Diana Gordon, co-chair of SMCLC, said she was pleased prosecutors will have the chance to investigate what she said was a clear violation of Santa Monica’s election laws. Her group has filed a similar complaint against SMQG with California’s Fair Political Practices Commission.

“The failure to tell resident who’s funding those campaign mailers was a crime,” she said. “Residents have the right to know who’s behind … council members who want to be [re-elected].”

While it’s unclear whether all of SMQG’s donors have been revealed, documents that showed $41,000 in gifts to the group from several companies involved with Santa Monica real estate projects were obtained by the Daily Press on Nov. 1.

SMQG drew criticism from several local groups in the weeks before the election for sending out four political mailers in support of various sitting City Council members who were up for re-election. Groups including the police and firefighters’ unions, the Santa Monica Democratic Club and Community for Excellent Public Schools said the mailers misled the public and amounted to misrepresentations of their official election endorsements.

Huebscher has all along argued SMQG followed all of its financial disclosure requirements by filing documents with the Secretary of State’s Office, which has different rules for financial disclosure from Santa Monica.

Reached on Thursday, he dismissed the possibility SMCLC’s complaint would result in charges being filed.

“I think that SMCLC is wasting tax dollars having all these agencies investigating when there’s no case,” he said.

Gordon said her group decided to file a complaint against SMQG in the interest of transparent government, not because her group was politically opposed to the candidates that SMQG backed.

“This is not about who we supported in an election,” she said.

nickt@www.smdp.com

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