Crystal Geyser fined $67,508 for role in Siskiyou County election over water bottle permits
Five years after a Siskiyou County measure that would have required companies to get permits to bottle water was voted down in an election, Crystal Geyser Water Co. has been fined $67,508 for not disclosing its role in helping to defeat the measure.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission levied the penalty because it said Crystal Geyser did not disclose on fliers and other advertisements its role in trying to defeat Measure H.
The company also agreed to pay the fine after it admitted to not filing timely campaign financial statements and contribution reports, according to an agreement the company made with the FPPC in August.
The ballot measure ultimately failed. But Crystal Geyser in 2021 also gave up its effort to open a bottling plant in Mount Shasta and has sold the property where it planned to operate.
Andy Fusso, founder of the Siskiyou Forward Movement, which supported the measure, said he was happy with the commission’s decision, but said it should have come sooner than five years after the election.
“I am concerned that the FPPC is underfunded for this. And that as a result, the voters did not have the opportunity to be informed that this fake grassroots group was in fact based completely on a lie,” Fusso said.
As Crystal Geyser made plans to open a bottling plant in Mount Shasta, Siskiyou County residents qualified a measure on the November 2016 ballot called Measure H, which would have required companies to obtain permits to extract water for bottling.
In response to that measure, Crystal Geyser hired a treasurer and set up a committee called “Committee for a Strong Siskiyou Economy, No on Measure H.”
The purpose of the committee was to oppose the measure, according to an agreement, order and decision signed by Crystal Geyser and the FPPC. The agreement and order lays out the commission’s findings and the penalties levied against the company.
That document says Crystal Geyser contributed more than 80% of the funds the No on Measure H committee received leading up to the election.
According to campaign statements, for the reporting period ending Dec. 31, 2016, the No on Measure H committee raised $25,790 and spent approximately $29,942.
However, the company did not disclose that it was a sponsor of the No on Measure H committee, according to the FPPC. And it did not indicate on campaign mailers and other advertisements that it sponsored the No on Measure H committee, the FPPC said.
By failing to disclose that it was a sponsor, there was an appearance that the No on Measure H committee was a grassroots effort made up of Siskiyou County residents and officials, the agency said.
Attempts to contact Crystal Geyser officials were unsuccessful.
However, in comments before the commission in February, Crystal Geyser representative Jim Sutton said “there was never, ever an intent for Crystal Geyser to not fully and accurately disclose all of the money that it was spending on this campaign.”
Before the election, Crystal Geyser hired Kelly Lawler as the committee’s treasurer. Jill Harris, the company’s communications director, was the committee’s principal officer and worked “nearly full time” for the campaign, the agreement says.
Lawler and Harris were both parties to the agreement with the FPPC.
The agency's staff came before the commission in February 2022 and proposed a $48,000 penalty against the company. But the five-member commission unanimously rejected that amount on the basis that the fine needed to be higher.
Some members of the commission also raised concerns over language in the agreement they said seemed contradictory about whether Crystal Geyser deliberately intended to conceal its role in the election.
The agreement says there is evidence Crystal Geyser “had an intention to conceal their role in the committee.” But it also says the company assumed it was acting legally.
However, the FPPC’s enforcement division said “Crystal Geyser’s role in the committee is not evidence of a deliberate violation of the (law),” according to the agreement.
However, when determining whether the violations were part of a pattern, the FPPC noted that in the past five years Lawler had been named in four matters for campaign reporting violations and has received nine warning letters from the commission.
Damon Arthur is the Record Searchlight’s resources and environment reporter. He is part of a team of journalists who investigate wrongdoing and find the unheard voices to tell the stories of the North State. He welcomes story tips at 530-338-8834 by email at email@example.com and on Twitter at @damonarthur_RS. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today!