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L.A. Ethics Commission fines campaign committee still under investigation by county district attorney

July 14, 2009 |  4:02 pm

The city Ethics Commission issued a $2,000 fine today to a San Fernando Valley-based campaign committee that has been under investigation by Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley over the last year.

On a 3-0 vote, the commission fined Citizens for Dependable and Reliable Leadership, which spent more than $54,000 in the 2005 election, along with five individuals affiliated with the committee — three of them politicians.

The Times reported last year that lawyers for Cooley were trying to determine whether the committee was controlled by state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) and L.A. Councilman Tony Cardenas. State law bars elected officials from controlling independent expenditure committees, which usually have no limit on how much they can spend on candidates.

A D.A. spokeswoman said the investigation remains open. Still, city ethics investigators identified only minor violations by the committee, saying it failed to submit copies of four campaign mailers — each supporting the 2005 mayoral bid of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — in a timely way for the public to review.

The agreement to pay the fines was signed not only by the committee’s treasurer, but by Padilla, Cardenas and Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar), as well as Padilla aide Bill Mabie and Cardenas aide Jose Cornejo. All five acknowledged that the committee bore responsibility for the violation, said attorney Stephen Kaufman, speaking on their behalf.

Still, Kaufman said none of the five men controlled the campaign committee. Kaufman said he believes the committee was created by campaign consultant Mario Solis-Marich, whose company has provided election-day automated “robo calls” to voters on behalf of various campaigns.

The committee’s treasurer is Kinde Durkee, whose office was raided by D.A. investigators last year.

Villaraigosa was not a subject of the probe.

Solis-Marich did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment. Last year, he appeared before the grand jury as part of the investigation, said one source familiar with the situation. Kaufman said he believed Solis ran the committee for at least part of its existence.

The committee also spent money on behalf of candidates in the San Fernando City Council election and, a year later, the 2006 candidacy of Lt. Gov. John Garamendi.

-- David Zahniser at L.A. City Hall

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