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State ethics agency faces limits in helping candidates in Kinde Durkee case

October 31, 2011 |  3:18 pm

The state’s campaign-finance watchdog agency does not have the power to waive contribution limits for candidates who are victims of an embezzlement scheme allegedly carried out by widely used treasurer Kinde Durkee, its lead attorney said Monday.

However, the state Fair Political Practices Commission could seek a change in law from the state Legislature to give it waiver powers or provide other limited relief, said the panel's general counsel, Zackery P. Morazzini, in a memo to be considered at a Nov. 10 meeting.

Durkee, who was treasurer for some 400 political candidates and committees, has been charged with misappropriating $670,000 from Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana), but other candidates said they believe they have lost more.

Morazzini said the panel can allow candidates to raise new funds from previous donors if  a contribution for an upcoming election "was delivered to Durkee, but the contribution was never deposited into the intended candidate or committee account, and was instead misappropriated by Durkee."

However, once a contribution is deposited in a candidate’s account it is considered accepted, and contribution limits cannot be waived, Morazzini wrote.

"Any such exception would have to be enacted through legislation and further the purposes of the [Political Reform] Act," he wrote.

The attorney also said candidates can form legal defense funds to pay for legal costs if they are named as defendants in an action filed by First California Bankbut  cannot use such funds if the candidate sues Durkee seeking restitution of misappropriated contributions.

-- Patrick McGreevy, reporting from Sacramento