SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California's political watchdog agency is putting off a decision about whether Democratic candidates can re-collect money from donors that they may have lost in an alleged fraud scheme involving contributions.
Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, said the commission opted not to include the item on its agenda Thursday because the commission had other pressing business and a decision about the fundraising wasn't urgent.
FPPC attorneys had recommended that some candidates be allowed to go back to donors who had given their campaigns the maximum contribution allowed under California law, because the money might never have been deposited in their bank accounts and their campaigns never had access to it.
Kinde Durkee, who was treasurer for hundreds of Democratic officeholders, candidates and groups, is charged with mail fraud and faces federal accusations that she siphoned $700,000 from the account of state Assemblyman Jose Solorio and targeted others. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has estimated that she may have lost $5 million.
A court appearance for Durkee was postponed until January, giving federal prosecutors more time to investigate the complex case.
Many candidates are uncertain how much money they might have lost, because their bank accounts have been frozen. Even if they did not lose any money, they do not have access to the funds, presenting problems for next year's races.
Many are expected to face tough primaries in June, when new political boundaries and a new primary system will be in play for the first time. The commission is not scheduled to meet again until March 15.
Commissioner Ronald Rotunda, a Republican appointed by Democratic state Controller John Chiang, has questioned the FPPC staff's response to the Durkee case, which he says stems partly from candidates and campaigns failing to exercise oversight of their own funds.
Durkee was "certainly acting as an agent — a crooked agent is still an agent. That is what the FPPC has said in the past," he said in a memo.
The five-member commission on Thursday also approved a $111,500 fine against former Pinole mayor and city council member David Cole. He was accused of 23 violations of state rules regarding public officials, while serving from 2000 to 2007 on the city council and as a member of the city's redevelopment agency, where he repeatedly made government decisions "in which he had a material financial interest."
The commission fined Cole for failing to report his income and business position in a real estate development and property management company that had contracts with the city.