FEC nixes DiFi’s post-embezzlement pitch

The Federal Election Commission ruled yesterday that U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whose campaign lost millions to embezzlement by treasurer Kinde Durkee, can try to go back and collect new contributions from donors whose checks were never cashed.

Dianne FeinsteinBut the FEC ruled Feinstein, D-Calif., can’t take new contributions from donors whose money Durkee pocketed. Overall, Feinstein campaign consultant Bill Carrick said today, that leaves the senator with almost no recourse.

First California Bank hasn’t released records from the Durkee-managed accounts, he said, so the campaign has no “capacity to figure out right now what money was deposited and what money wasn’t deposited.” Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, D-Lakewood; Loretta Sanchez, D-Anaheim; and Susan Davis, D-San Diego – also Durkee clients – are in the same boat, Carrick said.

“It’s disappointing, definitely,” Carrick said. “People intended their money to be used for the Feinstein senate campaign, they did not intend for it to be embezzled by Kinde Durkee.”

Durkee pleaded guilty in March to mail fraud, but is unlikely to be able to make full restitution to Feinstein and the other pols she bilked. Feinstein lent her campaign $5 million in the embezzlement’s wake, and although she has 23 challengers in next month’s primary election, none have held a candle to her in the polls – though the scandal has provided some rhetorical fodder.

Elizabeth Emken“Once again, the FEC has refused to allow Dianne Feinstein a free pass. Her refusal to accept any responsibility for the gross mismanagement that resulted in the embezzlement of millions of dollars in campaign donations shows an appalling lack of accountability to the people of California,” Elizabeth Emken of Danville, the state GOP’s endorsed candidate, said in a statement issued this morning. “It’s yet another reason why the average voter feels that Washington elites like Dianne Feinstein are out of touch, and a recent poll shows an overwhelming majority of Americans would vote to completely replace Congress. Incumbents like Senator Feinstein are being put on notice in 2012—the voters are saying it’s time to go.”

“That shows an appalling lack of judgment in trying to describe the situation,” Carrick responded. “I guess she doesn’t think anyone was victimized by someone who embezzled in the neighborhood of $10 million… It’s a pretty reckless statement.”

But not all Republican candidates share Emken’s view. Oceanside businessman Dan Hughes said today that although it might hurt his own candidacy, “I believe that the people/contributors whose funds were stolen before Senator Feinstein spent them should be able to re-contribute.

Dan Hughes“As much as I disagree with Senator Feinstein on policy, in this case she was the victim of a crime and she should not be made to suffer twice,” Hughes said. “Should she have had better controls in place? Absolutely yes, and the voters can decide if she is responsible enough to continue on as their senator.”

Meanwhile, Hughes and other candidates face an uphill battle getting support and exposure for their campaigns. Hughes yesterday shopped around a story that he “got Darrell Issa‘s support over the weekend;” today he sent a statement from Issa, R-Vista, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, calling Hughes “a leader in business and in our community who has my highest respect.”

But that “support” isn’t wholehearted, it seems. Asked whether Issa’s words amounted to an endorsement or just a “statement of respect,” John Franklin – Issa’s political director – replied today that it’s the latter.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield; Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Santa Clarita; Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River; and Rep. John Campbell, R-Irvine, have endorsed Emken.

And then there’s candidate Orly Taitz, the Republican dentist/lawyer from Laguna Niguel who has helped lead the fight to question President Obama’s citizenship. She released this video recently:

Is that suit of armor the “demon sheep” of 2012? And if so, is that a sad commentary on this year’s race? You be the judge.

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.