A state investigation has found probable cause against community college trustee Eric Payne on 21 counts of alleged political wrongdoing.

Eric Payne

The Fair Political Practices Commission investigated Payne following a 2016 complaint that he failed to file campaign documents. The findings will likely lead to further investigation with subpoena power. The FPPC, though, says just because there is a probable cause finding, it does not mean violations occurred.

Payne won election to the State Center Community College District Board of Trustees in 2012 and was reelected in 2016.

Most of the counts allege that Payne failed to file campaign reports on time for his 2016 campaign. Other allegations say the trustee received and spent campaign funds in excess of legal limits and spent campaign money on clothing.

Fines for each count could reach $5,000.

When reached by GV Wire, Payne said that he did not want to comment directly on the allegations. He did say, however, “We are hoping to resolve the matter. We have been compliant with the FPPC.”

21 Counts

An executive staff report from FPPC’s Aug. 16 monthly meeting (report here, starting on page 8) laid out the accusations against Payne.

Sixteen of the 21 counts relate to failure to timely file various reports, including his Statement of Economic Interests from 2013-2016. All elected officials and candidates file these documents, commonly known as Form 700s. The forms include financial holdings and income information.

Two counts dealt with receiving or spending too much money in cash. The law limits such cash transactions to $100. In one count, FPPC accused Payne of receiving a $3,000 cash contribution. Another count alleges spending $605 in cash.

Two counts refer to inaccurate reporting.

One count accused Payne of spending $471.50 of campaign money on clothing. The law states:

Campaign funds shall not be used for campaign, business, or casual clothing except specialty clothing that is not suitable for everyday use, including, but not limited to, formal wear, if this attire is to be worn by the candidate or elected officer and is directly related to a political, legislative, or governmental purpose.

Not a Distraction

Payne said that the FPPC investigation will not hinder his work as a trustee representing west Fresno.

“I’ve done nothing but serve and represent my constituents in an honorable and noble manner. I’ve fought diligently for resources for west Fresno (like) getting a new campus in west Fresno when I had so many people fighting against it,” Payne said.

He noted that the original complainant, Jensen Vang, was associated with the campaign of Pao Yang. Payne defeated Yang in the Nov. 2016 election.

Prior Problems

This is not Payne’s first problem with FPPC. He paid a $200 penalty in 2016 for failing to pay a campaign filing fee.

In 2017, Payne was among  accused of misusing a district-issued credit cards. Two other trustees also had to answer questionable charges. The district canceled the cards afterward.

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