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Local Political Candidates Go with the Flow of Campaign Cash

State races drawing top dollars; former Democratic campaign treasurer pleads guilty in $7 million embezzlement

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @magnoli |

With California’s June 5 primary just two months away, political candidates are in full fundraising mode now — or they should be. Meanwhile, a once high-flying campaign treasurer for the state’s top Democrats will be sitting out this election, having pleaded guilty Friday to embezzling more than $7 million from her clients’ accounts.

In Santa Barbara County, three seats on the Board of Supervisors are up for grabs this year and incumbents and challengers alike are in the money chase.

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal has reported raising $66,880 since January and has $304,100 in cash, according to pre-election campaign finance reports filed with the county Elections Office. He pulled in big contributions from Specialty Merchandise Corp. CEO Mark Schwartz, who donated $25,000, and the county firefighters government committee, which donated $15,000.

His challenger, Montecito resident Carole Lieff, who runs the Santa Barbara Watchdog blog, has not filed any fundraising forms with the county.

Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr was outraised by challenger Steve Pappas for the first three months of 2012, with $21,285 to his $53,000, but she holds far more in the bank with $94,931 in cash.

Anne Crawford-Hall Enterprises, owned by Santa Ynez Valley Journal publisher Nancy Crawford-Hall, gave Pappas $10,000, as it did for the 2008 election he lost to Farr.

The Fourth District seat is a three-way contest between incumbent Joni Gray, Santa Barbara Community Action Network (SBCAN) executive director Joyce Howerton and Santa Maria farmer Peter Adam.

Adam, of Adam Brothers Family Farms, has the financial support of the agricultural community and outraised Gray so far this year by almost $2,000 with $52,649 total.

Howerton, who entered the race later, has received $2,100 — $2,000 of which is from her husband, Alfred.

If no winner can be declared in the supervisorial races, a run-off election will be held in November.

For city of Santa Barbara initiatives, the Santa Barbara Education Foundation gave $10,000 to the campaign for the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s parcel-tax measures on the June ballot.

No campaign finance documents have been filed for the Veronica Meadows initiative.

Big money is being thrown into state races, however, especially since redistricting has drawn new boundaries that have separated many incumbents from their current constituents, or at least bumped them to new numbers.
The new 19th Senate District includes Santa Barbara County and northern Ventura County, from Santa Maria in northern Santa Barbara County to Camarillo and Fillmore in Ventura County.

Democrats Jason Hodge and Hannah-Beth Jackson and Republican Mike Stoker are aggressively campaigning and fundraising for the seat. With open primaries this year, the top two vote-getters — regardless of party affiliation — will face off in the November general election.

Stoker has about $70,000 while Hodge and Jackson have triple-digit bank accounts. Hodge raised $72,375 so far this year and has $150,230 in the bank. Jackson raised $162,797 and has more than $309,000 cash.

In the 37th Assembly District, which is similar to the 35th District occupied by Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, the freshman legislator is taking on Republican Robin Walter. Williams has a healthy bankroll, with $107,591 in cash, while Walter has not filed campaign finance documents with the Secretary of State’s Office.

Santa Barbara County will be experiencing one of redistricting’s biggest changes with a new, more compact congressional district to replace one of the country’s oddest configurations: the 23rd District that snaked along the Central Coast from Ventura County to Monterey County. Running to represent the new 24th District are Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, who has represented the Central Coast since 1998, Republican former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria and Republican Chris Mitchum, a former actor and member of Republican Party Central Committees for both Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

As of Dec. 31, Capps had $1.03 million on hand and Maldonado had $640,299. Maldonado has raised far less in contributions from individuals and committees — with about $463,000 to Capps’ $1.05 million — and made $750,000 loans to himself in the last election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission documents. Mitchum, who joined the race late, raised less than $7,000 in 2011.

With open primaries, redistricting and a presidential election, the 2012 primary promised to be a frenetic season for fundraising. For many Democrats, however, the challenge took a frantic turn after a prominent campaign treasurer was arrested last fall on federal mail fraud charges.

Kinde Durkee, principal of Durkee & Associates of Burbank, pleaded guilty Friday to five counts of mail fraud in a long-running scheme in which she stole more than $7 million from campaign clients, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Prosecutors say it is the largest campaign embezzlement case in U.S. history.

Durkee served as treasurer for hundreds of Democratic candidates, organizations and nonprofit groups throughout California, including several in Santa Barbara County. Although local groups found no discrepancies in their books after her September arrest, they were still cut off from their funds when First California Bank, the bank used by Durkee’s firm, shut down all client accounts and handed over the investigation to the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Fearing that a resolution could take months, the Santa Barbara County Democratic Central Committee created an emergency fund in advance of last November’s Santa Barbara City Council election to offset the $13,000 the bank had frozen.

“The bank freaked out about the liability of giving people their accurate amounts of money and bank statements,” Central Committee chairman Daraka Larimore-Hall told Noozhawk at the time. “I don’t think we’re going to have access soon, but there’s no reason to believe that it’s gone.”

The Central Committee handled funds for many local Democratic organizations, including the Campus Democrats at UCSB, which also was cut off from its account. Two other Durkee clients — the Democratic Women of Santa Barbara County and the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee — also found no discrepancies in their accounts.

Durkee could face a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the five counts when she is sentenced in June. As part of her plea deal, she is required to pay restitution to the victims.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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