Cox fined $3k by political watchdog
San Diego Union-Tribune
By Joshua Stewart
SAN DIEGO — The state Fair Political Practices commission has approved a $3,000 penalty against San Diego Supervisor Greg Cox for votes he took on the California Coastal Commission involving SeaWorld.
The settlement, which was unanimously approved Thursday, pertained to two commission votes Cox made regarding SeaWorld’s application for a permit to expand its orca enclosure. At the time, Cox’s wife held 500 shares in SeaWorld stock in her retirement portfolio.
“I am extremely embarrassed by this situation and I have no one to blame but myself,” he said in an interview earlier this month when he announced he would be fined.
Cox said he was unaware that his wife purchased the stock when he considered the SeaWorld permit in October.
At a commission meeting, Cox was the lone vote against an amendment that would prohibit SeaWorld from both breeding orcas and transferring them between parks. He then joined the rest of his colleagues to award SeaWorld the permit on the condition that the marine park no longer breed or transfer the animals.
SeaWorld opposed the commission’s restrictions and the company’s stock value dropped after the action. The theme park later filed a lawsuit but eventually dropped it.
When he learned of his wife’s investments in January, Cox self-reported the conflict to the FPPC through his lawyer and his wife sold her stocks stock.
An FPPC spokesman said the commission’s staff looks at several factors when considering the severity of a penalty, including prior offense, if the violator’s action changed the outcome of a legislative procedure and whether the violator is cooperative.
In a memo, FPPC staff said Cox, a long-term legislator, and his wife, former Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox, are experienced policymakers and should have known to discuss their investments and possible conflicts of interests.
Greg Cox said he and his wife are doing a better job detailing with each other their individual investments.
FPPC commissioner Maria Audero said she wasn’t convinced that Cox sincerely self-reported the conflict.
“It could also be a very cleverly planned and executed situation where ‘I violate and then I report and then I’m okay.’ So I don’t put a lot of weight into the self-reporting,” she said.
The FPPC received four communications, all from people who have previously criticized SeaWorld’s orca program, that urged members to impose a higher fine against Cox.
“Dunno about you but my ethics are worth a lot more than 3000$ in fact they are priceless,” Lindie O’Brien, an animal rights activist. said in an email to the commission.
The board kept the penalty at $3,000. Cox said the money would be paid from personal funds, not from his campaign account.