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Harris calls on Cooley to return campaign contributions in attorney general's race

September 7, 2010 |  4:20 pm

The Democratic nominee for state attorney general on Tuesday called on her Republican rival, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, to return campaign contributions he received from two government officials whose cities have been investigated by his agency.

San Francisco Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris said that as a prosecutor, Cooley must adhere to the “highest ethical standards."

“I’m calling on my opponent in this race to take some accountability and responsibility for the appearance of impropriety," Harris said in a conference call with reporters.

A spokesman for the Cooley campaign called Harris' criticism "smear politics at its worst," saying the contributions Cooley received came longtime friends or associates and had no connection to any investigations.

The Times on Monday reported that Cooley had accepted $1,500 in campaign contributions from David Perez of Valley Vista Services. Perez, the mayor of the City of Industry, has been the focus of an inquiry by Cooley's office into his private business ties to City Hall.

Cooley’s campaigns also accepted $13,000 in contributions from Bell Gardens City Manager Steve Simonian, a longtime friend and former aide, during and immediately after an inquiry by the district attorney’s office involving two of Simonian's bosses on the City Council.

David Demerjian, head of the district attorney’s Public Integrity Division, has said that Cooley was never briefed on the two investigations and that there is no connection between the campaign contributions and any investigation of public officials.

Cooley campaign spokesman Kevin Spillane called the issue a deliberate attempt by the Harris campaign to smear Cooley.

“Basically, Harris’ outrage is as phony and false as Harris’ effort to portray herself as tough on crime," Spillane said. “The story is manufactured, fabricated and without any merit at all."

Spillane said the Los Angeles County prosecutor set up a public corruption unit 10 years ago that “sets the standard" in California, and that fundraising has no influence on the work of the district attorney's office.

The Perez contribution had been criticized by a Harris campaign aide before The Times reported on the issue. The Times, however, independently reviewed Cooley's campaign filings and obtained additional records and interviews.

Harris campaign consultant Ace Smith said the San Francisco District Attorney will continue to highlight “significant contrasts" between the two candidates. “The only one who needs to make apologies here is Mr. Cooley," Smith said.

-- Phil Willon