Kinde Durkee's Alleged Fraud Continues to Take Its Toll on California Politicians

The effects of the stunning fall from grace and subsequent arrest on September 2nd of veteran campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee continue to ripple throughout the California political community. Durkee is accused of stealing and misappropriating campaign funds from Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D). However, many more alleged victims have come forward. The reach of Durkee's alleged fraud is unprecedented. No less than 400 political committees were under her control.

Last week, attorneys representing the suspected victims of Durkee's deception (nearly all of whom are democrats or democratic organizations) asked California's political watchdog organization, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), for help and guidance.

Attorneys representing Durkee's alleged victims asked the FPPC to permit them to raise money from donors who already contributed the legal maximum. Specifically, some attorneys have argued that contributions purportedly misappropriated by Durkee should not count toward individual contribution limits. In addition, they have also asked for the ability to use legal defense funds to raise money to pay for their legal battles. Under existing law, legal defense funds can only be used to pay for legal actions filed against candidates and officeholders.

Attorneys also asked that the FPPC implement changes in campaign finance reporting laws or enact exemptions for them. Those representing the alleged victims have said it is impossible to file correct reports by pre-existing deadlines because they do not know how much money is in campaign accounts, where the money came from, or how it was spent. In addition, attorneys explained that documents needed to file those records are being held by banks, or have been subpoenaed by a grand jury. Ann Ravel, the FPPC's new Chairwoman, has quite rightly stated that those affected by the alleged malfeasance will get some latitude in filing those reports.

It is now up to the FPPC and perhaps the Legislature to fashion an appropriate response for California-based committees affected by the Durkee debacle. Ravel has already proposed that all campaign treasurers attend training about state laws governing the handling of campaign funds. Such a proposal, which would have to be imposed by the Legislature, could make a big difference in preventing this type of widespread fraud from happening again. Ravel has also stated that the FPPC will post the results of investigations into violations by campaign treasurers on its website. This is yet another step in the right direction.

Stay tuned. The FPPC will next meet on October 13th to consider how best to deal with the alleged victims of Durkee's scheme.