Big time swindling isn’t just for big shot Wall Street con artists, such as Bernie Madoff. It seems that California lawmakers’ campaign accounts also make good marks.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is the latest Democrat claiming to have been hornswoggled out of election cash by campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee, a Democratic treasurer who’s been likened to ponzi-scheme pilferer Bernie Madoff.
Feinstein’s campaign, which had a cash balance of $5 million on June 30, believes it suffered losses but does not know how extensive they were, according to campaign advisor Bill Carrick. The campaign puts the blame squarely on Durkee, who managed the senator’s finances for years along with the accounts of several other top California politicians.
Feinstein said the campaign is presently unable to determine exactly how much money was “appropriated” for the campaign treasurer’s alleged “self-imposed stimulus” plan. Feinstein added she and her campaign staff have been unable to access all their bank records at this point because Durkee alone controlled access to the account, which has made it difficult for them to assess how much money is gone.
Durkee was arrested and hit with fraud charges earlier this month. U.S. Rep. Susan Davis (D-San Diego) told her contributors in a letter released Monday that her campaign was robbed of about $250,000. Davis told supporters that reports to the FEC “accurately reflected her contributions and spending, but Durkee falsely reported account balances to the campaign.”
Durkee is also alleged to have so far victimized U.S. Reps. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) and Susan Davis (D-San Diego), state Sen. Lou Correa (D-Anaheim) and Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana).
Sanchez declared her $379,000 campaign war chest was “nearly wiped out” by Durkee. The Los Angeles County Democratic Party reported that it is also missing at least $200,000. Solorio currently leads the pack with $677,000 in disappeared campaign cash.
Durkee had authority over more than 400 bank accounts, including political campaigns, according to the federal complaint filed earlier this month. Dozens of other campaign committees have yet to declare whether they suffered losses as well. The federal mail fraud complaint accuses her of moving campaign money from Solorio’s account to the accounts of Davis, Sanchez and Beth Krom, the Democratic Irvine city councilwoman whose losing campaign to unseat Rep. John Campbell (R-Newport Beach) in November 2010 was mired in debt.
Over the last decade Durkee had racked up $185,860 in fines from the Fair Political Practices Commission in eight different cases, a sum that FPPC Chairwoman Ann Ravel said points to “quite serious” issues.
The Durkee and Associates founder, who began her campaign treasurer career in the early 1970s, reportedly had admitted to the FBI that she has for years misappropriated her clients’ money and filed false reports to cover up the thefts. She then spent the booty on her Burbank company’s payroll, her credit card bills, her mother’s assisted living facility and other personal expenses.
The longtime Democratic campaign treasurer had a lengthy history of fines and investigations in California, but she had a relatively clean record on a federal level. There have been a few unsuccessful complaints lodged against her, but no fines reported on Federal Elections Commission’s website. A Los Angeles Times story from last Sunday suggests clients might have known better than to do business with Durkee, based on her 10-year history of fines by the state.
But according to Atlantic Wire writer Adam Martin, a search of the Security and Exchange Commission’s records yielded much different results. Her name shows up only in Matters Under Review, that is, cases where a complaint has been lodged from outside but wrongdoing not confirmed. She’s only accused of violating the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act in three instances. In only one (as Sanchez’s treasurer) did the commission find any reason to think she had violated the act, and in that case it took no further action.
Aside from the matters under review, Durkee’s name appears in the FEC’s records in 2009 when she suggested ways for the commission to become more transparent on the web. Records show she made five suggestions on how the commission could make more of its data available to lay people online and improve its web-based services.
Durkee’s entire client list isn’t available, but she represented more state and local politicians than she did federal ones, which could be a reason for her low federal profile, leading authorities to think she might have played by the rules federally.
As of press time, Durkee was free on a $200,000 bond.
–Sources: Atlantic Wire/LA Times, OC Weekly, FOX, Federal Law Enforcement Information reports