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State Official Reveals Unreported Income : Politics: Agriculture Secretary Henry Voss discloses at least $100,000 from farming after watchdog groups alleged a conflict of interest.

March 17, 1995|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — Under fire from public interest organizations, Secretary of Agriculture Henry J. Voss has belatedly disclosed that he received more than $100,000 in unreported income from his farming businesses during the first five of his six years as a top state official.

But the disclosure failed to satisfy Consumers Union, which contended Thursday that Voss not only violated the law by failing to file accurate reports of his outside income, but hid "the fact that he had conflicts of interest."

A spokeswoman for the state Fair Political Practices Commission, citing agency policy, refused to say whether an investigation of Voss will be started. Depending on the degree of seriousness, reporting violations can be handled as an administrative, civil or criminal matter.

Under the voter-approved Political Reform Act of 1974, state officers are required under penalty of perjury to annually disclose their interests in outside business activities and sources of income. The law is intended to discourage conflicts of interest.

In his amended reports filed last week, Voss, who was appointed secretary of agriculture in 1989 by Gov. George Deukmejian and reappointed by Gov. Pete Wilson, said he received more than $20,000 a year from 1989 through 1993 from two farms and an agricultural equipment rental company in which he was a partner or owner.

In his original filings, Voss checked a box that declared that he had no reportable interests.

The new reports also showed previously undisclosed business dealings with major food companies, including Del Monte Corp., Smuckers, Sunsweet Growers, Tri Valley Growers and California Grown.

Voss and other state officials must file their economic interest statement for 1994 on April 1.

Consumers Union and California Common Cause complained to the FPPC on Feb. 2 that Voss may have a conflict of interest because as the secretary of agriculture he approves marketing orders that regulate the supply and quality of cling peaches. As a farmer, he grows cling peaches, they said.

Voss, the state's top regulator of the agriculture industry who is paid $109,608 a year, was in China on a trade mission and unavailable for comment.

Emma Suarez, press officer for the Department of Food and Agriculture, said Voss told her by telephone Wednesday that if the FPPC decides to investigate him, "he wanted to make sure that all his information is accurate and as up to date as possible."

Suarez, who said last month that the charges against Voss are politically motivated, said she was not authorized to answer why Voss had failed to submit more timely and complete reports. She also did not say why he signed the revised reports Feb. 17 and Feb. 23 but delayed filing them until March 6.

Suarez said Voss amended his earlier filings in the wake of news coverage of the complaint against him. "The FPPC to date has never challenged any of the secretary's filings. He just wanted to take it one step further and add information to that (existing) core of information," she said.

Harry Snyder, a West Coast director of Consumers Union, said he will demand that the FPPC conduct an investigation of Voss' failure to make complete reports and also whether he had a conflict of interest in issuing marketing orders that might affect his farming businesses.

"This goes beyond the failure to file. He didn't comply because he was hiding the fact that he had conflicts of interests between his personal business activities and his government activities," Snyder said.

Snyder said Voss had "never before shown any income from any of these interests. It's the income that creates the conflict." Snyder said he believed that further analysis would reveal that Voss' outside income would far exceed $100,000 for the six-year period.

Snyder said he called Voss' original filings to the attention of Wilson's staff in October, when Consumers Union tentatively concluded that he may have violated the reporting law. A Wilson spokesman declined comment.

Voss came to the attention of Consumers Union last year, Snyder said, when Voss opposed a bill that would have allowed growers to sell blemished fruit that did not meet marketing order standards at reduced prices.

In the complaint, Consumers Union and Common Cause said they believed that Voss received outside income from his peach farms and "has a financial interest in government decisions affecting the marketing of peaches."

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