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Chula Vista Councilmember Andrea Cardenas Under Investigation for Violating Public Disclosure Laws on Conflict of Interest and Economic Interests

FPPC investigates Chula Vista Councilmember Andrea Cardenas over alleged violations of public disclosure laws related to conflicts of interest and economic interests

The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) of California is investigating claims that Andrea Cardenas, a Councilmember in Chula Vista, violated public disclosure laws relating to conflicts of interest and economic interests, according to a May 3 report by the San Diego Union-Tribune. 

The FPPC has notified Laura Wilkinson Sinton, who filed the complaint in February, that it will be looking into the allegations made against Cardenas. Sinton, a cannabis business owner in the area, previously sued the city in 2020 over a permit application for her own business, Caligrown.

According to the FPPC complaint, Cardenas failed to disclose the cannabis companies represented by Grassroots Resources, the political consulting firm that she works for, in her public statements of economic interest.

The complaint alleges that Cardenas failed to report the names of each source of income exceeding $500, as required by state disclosure laws. Furthermore, Cardenas’ brother, Jesus Cardenas, who established Grassroots—the consulting company that employs her—has disclosed clients in his Form 700, including several cannabis companies. 

State conflict of interest regulations prohibit officials from approving government contracts in which they have a financial interest, and the complaint claims that Cardenas has failed to recuse herself from discussions made in closed session with the City Council regarding litigation involving cannabis companies that are in competition with her clientele.

The complaint further alleges that Cardenas initially claimed that Grassroots had only independent contractors and no employees when speaking with a potential client in 2021. 

However, in her economic interest filing for March 2022, she reported being the director of community engagement for Grassroots and stated that because she was paid a salary, she was not required to disclose clients. Nevertheless, in April of this year, Cardenas reported that she was an independent contractor for the consulting company. Cardenas has not responded to requests for comment by the Tribune, but in a previous statement, she denied the allegations and filed a request to dismiss the complaint. 

In a recent letter to Wilkinson Sinton, the FPPC emphasized that it had not reached any conclusions regarding the validity of the allegations she made against Cardenas. The Commission’s jurisdiction covers both administrative and civil aspects of the Political Reform Act. 

The Political Reform Act is a California state law that regulates political campaign financing, lobbying, conflicts of interest, and governmental ethics. It was enacted in 1974 with the goal of promoting transparency and accountability in government and political activities.

Aside from the ongoing investigation, Cardenas was previously found to have violated local election laws last year by accepting contributions that exceeded the permitted limit. The contributions in question were associated with TMC Direct, a Grassroots partner and a company responsible for printing and mailing campaign materials.

These allegations have arisen after months of closed session meetings with Cardenas, according to the city’s minutes of the meetings.

Wilkinson Sinton expressed optimism about the ongoing investigation into Councilmember Cardenas’ alleged violations of public disclosure laws and conflict of interest regulations. Sinton remarked that she hoped the investigation was a sign of progress in enforcing the government’s ethics laws and maintaining transparency and honesty among all elected officials.

According to the San Diego County Young Democrats website, Cardenas is a seasoned political figure since her teens. She has held several positions of leadership, including President of the South Bay Young Democrats and Executive Director of the California Young Democrats. Cardenas is also currently an elected member of the San Diego County Democratic Party Central Committee and serves on its Administration Committee. Additionally, she is a California Democratic Party delegate and serves on its Rules Committee.

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