On politics in the Golden State

Category: Campaign Finance

California lawmakers use Lady Gaga to attract campaign cash

New Years Eve Times Square.JPEG–06949Are Democratic state Sens. Ricardo Lara and Ron Calderon "Little Monsters," the term Lady Gaga uses affectionalty for her loyal fans.

The two state lawmakers will be at Staples Center on Sunday night to see Lady Gaga in concert. They are holding a joint campaign fundraiser at the event, with a $3,900 VIP contribution also including a hotel room for the night. Calderon, a Montebello resident, is raising money for his 2014 state controller campaign while Lara, who lives in Bell Gardens, is hoping to bring in cash for his reelection to the Senate.

It may seem strange that middle-age politicians normally found in suits and ties would be caught at the concert of a performer whose wild costumes have included slabs of meat. But apparently she has some attraction for the jaded pols.

For Calderon, 55, this is his second time seeing Lady Gaga in concert. In 2011, he received two tickets worth $392 from BP America for a Lady Gaga concert in Sacramento, according to his annual report on gifts.  Assemblyman Bob Weickowski (R-Freemont), who is 57, also reported accepting a $151 ticket to the same Lady Gaga concert, from AT&T. Then Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, 46, held a fundraiser at that same concert, which the performer called the Lady Gaga Monster Ball.

Lara, 38, said he likes Lady Gaga's anti-bullying message and her encouragement for young people to be themselves. "Who isn't a fan of Lady Gaga?"' Lara said, "I like her music. I like to dance once in awhile.'' Asked whether Calderon is a fan of the singer, an aide would only say said "He likes pop music."

One Capitol insider noted that, in the case of fundraisers, lawmakers don’t have to be fans of a musician as long as their concerts attract campaign contributors.


Gov. Jerry Brown commits to major Medi-Cal expansion

Gov. Jerry Brown wants changes at state university systems

Democratic legislative leaders relieved by Gov. Brown's budget

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: Singer Lady Gaga is pictured in Times Square to start the ball drop in 2011. Credit: Charles Sykes/Associated Press

More valuable gifts, contributions allowed to politicians in 2013

The cost of wining and dining politicians and giving to their campaigns is going up.

The state Fair Political Practices Commission on Thursday made adjustments to gift and contribution limits to keep up with inflation, using a formula in state law.

The maximum value of a gift that can be accepted by an elected official goes from  $420 to $440 starting Jan. 1. The maximum contribution a candidate can receive from an individual goes up to $4,100, from $3,900,  for legislative candidates,  and to $27,200, from $26,000, for candidates for governor.

The increases concerned good-government advocates, including Derek Cressman, regional director of Common Cause. "Inflation is bad enough for consumers, but to be inflating the already-supersized influence of big donors on our politicians is downright appalling," Cressman said.

The commission also adopted new rules Thursday aimed at helping the public track who is paying to qualify ballot measures and how much is being spent independently of candidates to give them support or opposition.

The commission agreed to require that the number assigned to proposed initiatives by the state attorney general will be included on a public form when a committee spends $100,000 or more circulating petitions.


Ariel Winter to stay with sister; dad to manage money

Judge issues arrest warrant for former San Fernando mayor

Jenni Rivera crash investigation focuses on pilots, plane condition

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Judge to hear money-laundering case against politician brothers

APphoto_State LegislatureAn administrative law judge will hear evidence on allegations that state Sen. Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto) illegally used two county Republican committees to launder $40,000 in political funds to benefit the 2008 election effort of his brother, former Assemblyman Bill Berryhill (R-Stockton).

The accusation was made by the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which alleges 16 violations of campaign finance laws punishable by fines of up to $80,000. The panel took the case up Thursday, agreeing to let it be heard by an administrative law judge.

Bill Berryhill was running for the state Assembly in 2008 and Tom Berryhill was running for reelection to the body when Tom allegedly provided his brother with $20,000 in contributions through the Stanislaus Republican Central Committee and a like amount through the San Joaquin County Republican Central Committee, the FPPC alleges.

The contributions broke money laundering laws because they were made in the name of the central committees when in fact their source was Tom Berryhill's campaign committee, the written accusation says. The contributions also allegedly violated the $3,600 contribution limit on Tom Berryhill's campaign and led to violations involving false reporting on campaign finance documents.

At issue is a fundraiser held by Tom Berryhill on Oct. 28, 2008. "Most of the money that Respondent Tom Berryhill raised for his own committee as a result of that fundraiser wound up being laundered to his brother’s committee through the central committees," the accusation said. On the same days that Tom Berryhill contributed $20,000 to the two committees, they in turn contributed the amount to Bill Berryhill’s campaign, the accusation says.

Charles H. Bell Jr., an attorney for Tom Berryhill, denied that the brothers acted improperly.

"Tom Berryhill made lawful contributions to the two central committees at the end of the election," Bell said. "The central committees made lawful contributions to Bill Berryhill’s campaign, as the parties are permitted to do without limit under Proposition 34."

The attorney accused the FPPC of having "an animus about political party committees, and this animus is driving their pursuit of this enforcement case."


Ariel Winter to stay with sister; dad to manage money

Judge issues arrest warrant for former San Fernando mayor

Jenni Rivera crash investigation focuses on pilots, plane condition

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo:  Former Assemblyman Bill Berryhill lost an election bid for the Senate this year. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

Former GOP leader sets up new charity with leftover campaign cash

Former state Sen. Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga) has used more than $700,000 in leftover political contributions to set up a new charity organization.

During his years in office, Brulte, who is now a potential candidate for state Republican Party chairman, was known as a prodigious fundraiser. Like many former politicians, he stashed his leftover campaign cash in a political account for an office most expected he would never run for.

Earlier this year, Brulte shut down his campaign account for the Board of Equalization and established a 501(c)(3) organization that he said will focus on charities in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

In an interview Monday, Brulte said his new Inland Empire Foundation will hand out money to other, well-established charities in the area. The timing, he said, has nothing to do with his new interest in becoming the next head of the California Republican Party.

“This is where I live, this is my community,” he said. “I want to give back.” Closing out his political account also allows Brulte to make money on the lecture circuit, something he couldn’t do while he was still technically a candidate for public office.

Under state rules, politicians are limited in how they can spend money from campaign accounts. They can either give the money to another campaign or to a nonprofit organization.

GOP attorney Charles Bell will serve on the board of the foundation, along with Brulte. But the former Senate Republican leader said nobody will draw a salary from the new organization. And because it is a 501(c)(3) charity, it will not be able to participate in politics.

As for the timing of the move, coming weeks before his reported interest in running for state GOP chairman, he said, “It is totally coincidental. If I had any idea I was going to be running for chairman of the party. I wouldn’t have closed my account. I could have used some of the money for my campaign for chairman. Now, I have to go out and raise it.”


GOP may scale back its goals

Berman-Sherman House race sets spending record

Lawmaker revives bill to ease firing of teachers in sex abuse cases

--Anthony York in Sacramento

Photo: Former state Sen. Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga) has used more than $710,000 in leftover campaign funds to establish a charity. Credit: Associated Press

Ex-campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee sentenced to 8 years in prison

Campaign Treasurer Charged.JPEG–01f49Former campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee was sentenced to eight years in prison on Wednesday and a judge ordered her to pay more than $10.5 million to victims including state and federal politicians from whom she stole political funds.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller in Sacramento accepted the recommendation of federal prosecutors that Durkee, a former go-to treasurer for Democrats, spend 97 months in federal custody. Durkee pleaded guilty in March to five counts of mail fraud.

In making that plea, Durkee admitted to the theft of $7 million from more than 50 victims, but the judge Wednesday ordered her to pay restitution of more than $10.5 million that 77 victims claim to have lost, including expenses incurred in establishing the losses. However, to pay the restitution Durkee has so far produced only $91,000 from a retirement account. Durkee apologized in court "to those who trusted me and I betrayed."

The judge called the crime a "significant and egregious offense."

Durkee's victims included the campaigns of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Democratic Reps. Laura Richardson of Long Beach, Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove, Linda T. Sanchez of Lakewood and Susan A. Davis of San Diego.

In a sentencing memorandum, U.S. Atty. Benjamin B. Wagner called the penalty "an appropriate sentence," adding, "This sentence will reflect the seriousness of the offense, provide just punishment, and afford adequate deterrence."

Federal authorities said most of the money went to keeping Durkee's campaign finance business afloat, paying her mortgage and covering other expenses, including Dodgers and Disneyland tickets.

Her attorney, Daniel V. Nixon, wrote in a court filing that Durkee had shown remorse for her actions and cooperated with authorities.

"Ms. Durkee acknowledges that her conduct amounted to a serious criminal offense, she breached the trust placed in her by her clients and caused the campaigns to suffer significant material loss," the filing by Nixon says.


Proposition 30 win gives Brown a major boost

California sees strong October for tax revenue

Proposition 30 win no guarantee of fiscal safety for California

--Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: Former campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee. Credit: California Democratic Council

Durkee attorney challenges number of fraud victims listed by feds

Campaign Treasurer Charged.JPEG–01f49A federal prosecutor has called Kinde Durkee "the Bernie Madoff of campaign treasurers" for a 12-year spree in which she stole $7 million from more than 50 clients, but her attorney says in new court papers that prosecutors have "overstated" the number of victims.

A pre-sentencing document prepared by federal officials lists 77 clients of Durkee who they believe are victims. That list is believed to include Sen. Dianne Feinstein and state Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana).

But Daniel V. Nixon, an attorney for Durkee, says in court papers that 19 of those on the list did not lose any money, two others should not be on the list, and nine others lost less than $2,500 each.

"Although the number of victims technically exceeds 50, the majority of the total loss amount in this case is attributable to a group of victims numbering far fewer than 50," Nixon wrote in the defense filing. Even so, Durkee believes the 97-month sentence proposed by prosecutors is "just and appropriate," the filing adds.

Nixon also said the case has been difficult for Durkee’s family and friends who "have a difficult time reconciling the person they know with the crime she committed." One unidentified sister is quoted in the court filing as saying Durkee’s crime "goes against everything we know about our sister’s character."


Proposition 30 win gives Brown a major boost

California sees strong October for tax revenue

Proposition 30 win no guarantee of fiscal safety for California

--Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: Former campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee. Credit: California Democratic Council

Kinde Durkee sees eight-year sentence as "just and appropriate,'' filing says

Former campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee sees the proposed eight-year prison sentence recommended for her theft of $7 million in political funds as "just and appropriate," her attorney said in a court filing Tuesday.

Attorney Daniel V. Nixon says a shorter sentence Campaign Treasurer Charged.JPEG–01f49could be justified but the 97 months recommended by federal prosecutors, with three years' supervised probation, is more appropriate than the 11 to 14 years previously considered.

Nixon asked for the judge taking up the matter Wednesday to consider Durkee’s age, 59, the fact that she admitted to wrongdoing and cooperated with authorities, has no previous criminal record and her contention that she did not use the money taken from 50 politicians to live the high life.

"Unlike many defendants, Ms. Durkee did not use the stolen funds to finance a lavish lifestyle," the court filing says. "Although a significant amount of money was used to pay for personal expenses, including mortgage payments and credit card charges, a great deal of the stolen funds were used to keep the business afloat and her employees employed."

Her husband’s long unemployment and the lack of payment by some clients led her to begin borrowing from one campaign account to fill another and to cover business expenses, Nixon said.

"Unfortunately, it spiraled out of control, she lost track of the amount of the shortfall and it ultimately reached a level that she will be unable to repay in her lifetime," the court filing says. She has offered restitution including a six-figure 401(k)-plan balance and equity in her Burbank business property.

The filing also discloses that Durkee began to have financial problems in the 1990s when she worked for a prestigious campaign finance firm. At that time, she covered for other employees mistakes and sometimes did not take paychecks.


Proposition 30 win gives Brown a major boost

California sees strong October for tax revenue

Proposition 30 win no guarantee of fiscal safety for California

--Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: Former campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee. Credit: California Democratic Council


$2.5 million frozen in Kinde Durkee case released to politicians, charities

Campaign Treasurer Charged.JPEG–01f49Politicians who had their campaign accounts plundered by former campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee may not get much in restitution, but a civil action has freed up $2.5 million in funds frozen in bank accounts during the federal investigation.

First California Bank had frozen the accounts of dozens of politicians whose money was handled by Durkee. A Superior Court judge recently ordered the accounts unfrozen and the money left over distributed to its owners.

The money was what was left in the accounts after Durkee misspent up to $7 million, said Atticus Wegman, an attorney pursuing civil action against Durkee on behalf of federal and state legislators.

Durkee pleaded guilty earlier this year to mail fraud involving the theft of more than $7 million from her political clients and faces about eight years in prison.

The court last month  unfroze $38,000 left over in Rep. Lorreta Sanchez’s campaign bank account, but she still is missing $400,000, Wegman said. Correa received $69,000 in funds left over in his campaign bank account, but another $700,000 is still missing. There is little hope that much of the money will ever be recovered.

That court decision also meant a check for $80,000 to the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, according to Chairman Eric Bauman. Until the account was unfrozen, the party activists had to work hard to raise money to match what was off limits.

He said the distribution was especially helpful to dozens of small charities whose modest bank balances were needed to keep operating.


Proposition 30 win gives Brown a major boost

California sees strong October for tax revenue

Proposition 30 win no guarantee of fiscal safety for California

--Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: Former campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee. Credit: California Democratic Council.



Prosecutors seek 97-month prison term for campaign treasurer Durkee

Campaign Treasurer Charged.JPEG–01f49Federal prosecutors have recommended that former campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee be sentenced to 97 months in prison after she pleaded guilty to five counts of mail fraud involving the theft of more than $7 million in political funds from 50 clients, according to documents released Monday.

Durkee’s victims included U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein; and Democratic Reps. Laura Richardson of Long Beach; Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove; Linda T. Sanchez of Lakewood; and Susan A. Davis of San Diego.

"Over the course of approximately 12 years, the defendant misappropriated millions of dollars from clients, used the money for her personal and business expenses, and prepared false campaign disclosure reports to hide the theft," according to a sentencing memorandum filed  by U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner ahead of a Wednesday sentencing hearing.

Prosecutors said they hope to report on money that might be recovered for restitution, and said the recommended sentence of more than eight years was reached in consultation with the probation office.

"The United States believes that this is an appropriate sentence under the Sentencing Guidelines’’ as well as federal law, the prosecutor wrote. "This sentence will reflect the seriousness of the offense, provide just punishment, and afford adequate deterrence."


Proposition 30 win gives Brown a major boost

California sees strong October for tax revenue

Proposition 30 win no guarantee of fiscal safety for California

--Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: Former campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee. Credit: AP Photo/California Democratic Council.


Jerry Brown, California Democrats appear to be big winners in election

PHOTOS: California voters head to polls

Gov. Jerry Brown’s $6-billion-a-year tax initiative to rescue California schools and the state's finances appeared to squeak by with a victory early Wednesday, and Democrats' grip on Sacramento tightened as the party crept toward winning a super-majority in both houses of the Legislature.

Tuesday's election also brought an end to the three-decade-long congressional career of Rep. Howard Berman, who early Wednesday morning conceded defeat in his political slugfest against fellow Democrat Brad Sherman in the San Fernando Valley.

The bitter contest between Sherman and Berman, awash in more than $13 million in campaign spending by the candidates and independent political groups, was triggered when California's newly drawn political boundaries put the two incumbents in the same district.

"I congratulate Brad. ... I will do whatever I can to ensure a cooperative and orderly transition," Berman said in a concise concession statement early Wednesday.

FULL RESULTS: California races

In a similar high-profile mash-up between Democrats, Rep. Janice Hahn of San Pedro was cruising to an easy win against Rep. Laura Richardson of Long Beach in a newly drawn district that includes many minority, working-class communities, election results showed.

Among other closely watched races for California House seats, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Oak Park) narrowly defeated state Sen. Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark) in Ventura County, and Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) bested former Republican Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, according to results with all voter precincts reporting in those districts.

California's senior U.S. senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, won an easy reelection victory over nonprofit executive Elizabeth Emken, her underfunded, little-known Republican challenger.

PHOTOS: California voters head to polls

The governor woke up Wednesday as one of the biggest apparent victors in Tuesday’s election, however.

Facing well-funded opposition, Brown campaigned heavily for Proposition 30 as a way to restore fiscal sanity to Sacramento and to stave off deep cuts to public schools and universities. The initiative calls for a quarter-cent increase to sales taxes for four years and a seven-year tax hike on California’s highest earners.

Californians have not approved a statewide tax increase since 2004.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected a competing measure bankrolled by millionaire civil rights lawyer Molly Munger -- Proposition 38 – which would have increased income taxes for most Californians to raise funds primarily for schools and early childhood education.

In one of the highest-profile state ballot measures, labor unions appeared to defeat Proposition 32, which would have reduced their political influence by barring unions from using paycheck deductions for political purposes.

Californians also soured on a measure to abolish the death penalty -– Proposition 34 -- which was trailing badly with most of the voter precincts reporting Wednesday morning.

Other law-and-order measures were greeting more warmly. Voters favored Proposition 36, which would change the three-strikes sentencing law so offenders whose third strikes were minor, nonviolent crimes could no longer be given 25 years to life in prison.

Voters also supported Proposition 35, which promoted increased punishment for sex trafficking of a minor. Both led by wide margins with most ballots counted.

With most ballots tallied across California, initiatives to label genetically engineered foods and change state law to create a new car insurance discount appeared headed for defeat.

One of the biggest surprises of the election was the Democrats' strong showing in legislative races. Democrats appear on the verge of winning a two-thirds majority in the state Senate and Assembly, enough to approve tax measures without Republican support.

In Los Angeles County, veteran prosecutor Jackie Lacey became the county's first female and first African American district attorney after defeating Deputy Dist. Atty. Alan Jackson. Jackson conceded early Wednesday morning.

Lacey, 55, touted herself as the only candidate with the experience to run the office. She had the support of her boss, Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who is retiring after three terms.

Los Angeles County voters also approved a local measure requiring adult film actors to wear condoms. With most precincts reporting, a measure to fund transportation projects by extending a countywide sales-tax increase for an additional 30 years remained just shy of the two-thirds vote required for approval.

Some races remained too close to call, including the San Diego congressional race between Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (R-Carlsbad) and Democrat Scott Peters, a San Diego environmental attorney. In the Coachella Valley, Democratic emergency room doctor Raul Ruiz was leading Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Palm Springs) with just under two-thirds of precincts reporting early Wednesday morning.


Munger’s Proposition 38 fails, according to AP

Prop. 40, on state Senate districts, passes, per AP

Proposition 36 on three-strikes law passes, AP says

-- Phil Willon

Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown addresses supporters of Proposition 30 and 32 at the Sheraton Hotel in Sacramento Tuesday. Source: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times


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