A visit to local public-relations hotshot Colin Flaherty's website, betterpress.com, reveals a cavalcade of advice to the media challenged. "Reporters like hearing from real people. With real information. Not high-priced media manipulators," goes one bromide.How Flaherty will handle not-so-flattering events next week is anybody's guess.In Sacramento, the state Fair Political Practices Commission on Sept. 3 will consider approving a $76,000 penalty against the former award-winning journalist for having "engaged in a pattern of campaign money laundering, and campaign non-disclosure" to support a host of pro-development candidates in three California cities between July 1997 and September 1998.According to a brief filed by FPPC attorneys, Flaherty most significantly orchestrated a "rather sophisticated" scheme to funnel campaign contributions through friends, acquaintances and family members "to secretly finance a slate of candidates in the city of Perris that he perceived as favorable to a project of his client."That client, Carlsbad-based Barratt American Homes, is one of the busiest homebuilders in Southern California. The company has reportedly invested $100 million in the Riverside County town, near Lake Elsinore and some 30 miles north of Fallbrook. In the last 10 years, the company has sold more than 200,000 homes nationwide and in Europe.Flaherty is charged with 36 counts of violating the state Political Reform Act for making political contributions through 11 other people and then reimbursing those people. He is also charged with two counts of failing to file a semi-annual major-donor campaign statement for exceeding the $10,000 contribution limit in 1997 and 1998. Each count carries a possible fine of $2,000.Flaherty-a former San Diego Reader reporter who later opened his own public-relations firm, Flaherty Communications, to help clients deal with the media-did not respond to e-mails or phone messages from CityBeat to comment on the charges. A web search of his phone number turned up an address in Hillcrest that belongs to Pacific Bell.According to an FPPC investigator's report, Flaherty told the agency in late 2000 that Barratt was his biggest client at the time, "and that while Barratt American Homes had received permission to build a large residential subdivision in the city of Perris [now known as Village of Avalon], it was hoping to revise the conditions of the city's approval regarding the project."The investigator said Flaherty "went on to say... that Al Landers, Perris city councilman and candidate for Perris mayor in 1997, was in support of the changes his client was seeking...." Landers is currently a member of the Perris City Council.The FPPC claims that Flaherty was able to conceal himself as the true source of the campaign contributions by "asking independent contractors, friends, relatives and others to make campaign contributions, and then reimbursing those persons for their contributions."Among those Flaherty allegedly enlisted in the scheme included media consultant and columnist Lisa Ross, former Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesman Rudy Murillo (now a director of the state's Commission on the Californias), a woman who cleaned his Encinitas house at the time, a freelance writer, a high-school basketball coach, a woman who did website work for his firm, a nephew, his nephew's roommate and a younger sister.None of the intermediaries could be reached for comment, but several told FPPC investigators that Flaherty offered to reimburse them at the same time that he solicited the contributions. Such campaign-contribution reimbursements are illegal in California.According to the investigator's report, Ross said she didn't know why Flaherty had written her personal checks. Her reimbursed contributions went to two San Marcos City Council candidates in July 1997, including current Councilman Hal Martin, two Perris City Council candidates that now sit on the council, and one contribution to the Riverside County Business & Property Owners Coalition, which the FPPC alleged was a funding vehicle for pro-development council candidates in Perris.Murillo told investigators that he, too, was uncertain why Flaherty had written personal check to him, "other than that over the years [Flaherty] and he had a practice of "loaning' each other money that did not have to be paid back."During 1997 and 1998, Flaherty-operating through his own major donor committee-contributed more than $27,000 to various candidates and committees, including the campaigns of former councilmen Byron Wear and Juan Vargas, county Supervisor Bill Horn and a committee for then-Gov. Pete Wilson, which received nearly $4,000 in in-kind contributions in August 1998 for "cake, balloons, pictures and music."Of the bulk of the charges, the FPPC brief noted: "Making a contribution in another person's name is one of the most serious types of violations of the [Political Reform] Act, because it denies the public of information about where a candidate receives his or her financial support."Flaherty was clever in his dealings, the FPPC brief added. "He made payments to the Perris candidates under $100, and treated the persons who worked for him as independent contractors, not employees, so that his name did not have to be reported on the recipients' campaign statements as a contributor or the employer of the contributor."The reimbursements also were "often not in amounts exactly matching the contributions, or were made in cash," making detection of the laundering scheme more challenging, investigators said. He also failed to produce personal or business records to document his contributions, "further making his reimbursement payments more difficult to detect."A spokeswoman for the FPPC said the full commission can lower the amount of the fine, but because Flaherty has filed no notice to defend himself in the matter, that seems unlikely.Note to our local Ethics Commission: At least some government agencies are taking campaign money laundering seriously.