Harris campaign blasts Cooley for campaign cash

The race for state Attorney General got hotter yet today with a report that the Republican nominee, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, never noticed that one of his donors was using straw men to bypass campaign contribution limits, even as he prosecuted others for doing the same thing.

Steve CooleyThe LA Weekly reported that Gladwin Gill, a twice-convicted felon who is about to enter federal prison for campaign-finance fraud, had employees and associates donate to Cooley’s re-election campaign in 2003 and 2004 and then reimbursed them – exactly the kind of scheme for which Cooley prosecuted a billionaire real estate developer’s associates in 2003.

“The bottom line is that all the things that Steve Cooley has been shouting from the mountaintops at and persecuting and prosecuting and hounding people on for years, it seems that when the same thing happens under his own roof, nobody notices,” Ace Smith, campaign manager for Democratic Attorney General nominee and San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, said on a conference call with reporters this afternoon. “This (Gill) is a man who had gotten in trouble with the very same DA’s office, this is a man who was involved in a well-publicized case, and it didn’t dawn on anyone? My goodness, this is unbelievable.”

Smith said Cooley should bring in criminal investigators from outside his office to do an independent probe of what Cooley and his staff knew and when they knew it. Cooley also should return all contributions and gifts to Gill and his associates, and release all records of any contacts between Gill, his associates and his business entities and Cooley’s office, Smith said – all to be accomplished “quickly, rapidly and transparently.”

Told Cooley’s office has said the statute of limitations for any possible offenses expired in 2008, Smith fumed that’s “one of the most disgraceful answers I’ve ever heard from a law enforcement person.” For someone who claims to have built a career on corruption-busting to reject an investigation on such grounds is “pathetic,” he said.

“The only thing pathetic is Ace Smith’s hollow outrage and the story they’ve contrived,” responded Cooley campaign spokesman Kevin Spillane, who accused Smith of having planted the story with the LA Weekly in the first place.

Unlike Cooley, Harris has no real record of prosecuting public corruption cases, and so this is a “pathetic, lame attempt by the Harris campaign to distract from her vulnerabilities,” Spillane added, saying law enforcement groups are overwhelmingly endorsing Cooley.

As for repaying the contributions, Smith said, “If he needs to, he should write a personal check. Maybe he should cash in some of those gifts he took.”

“We’re talking about something that was three campaigns ago,” Spillane replied, noting Los Angeles County requires that campaign accounts be closed after the races are run. “The bottom line is that the money has long since been spent.”

Cooley – who as a popular Republican already holding public office in a Democratic stronghold seems to be one of the strongest members of the GOP statewide slate this November – leads Harris slightly in the polls. Harris’ campaign has made much of the San Francisco Chronicle’s report earlier this month that Cooley accepted gifts from prominent Southern Californians; all of the gifts were reported and none exceeded any legal limits.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.