Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Harris Renews Attack on Cooley Campaign Contributions
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, yesterday fired another salvo in a dispute over the propriety of campaign contributions accepted by her Republican opponent, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley.
Harris, in a conference call with reporters, renewed her demand that Cooley allow an outside investigation into his fundraising and called on him to return allegedly improper contributions by “felons” and “people being investigated by his office.”
She pointed to a story in the Los Angeles Times yesterday highlighting contributions by individuals in Bell Gardens and the City of Industry who were close to targets of inquiries by Cooley’s office, as well as a report last month accusing Cooley of accepting “straw” contributions from a felon while prosecuting contributors to Democrats for the same offense.
“I’m calling on my opponent to take some accountability and responsibility for the appearance of impropriety,” Harris said. She commented that Cooley “needs to provide assurances that the way he administers the work and power of the office is fair and just.”
A spokesperson for Cooley’s campaign rejected Harris’ assertions, calling yesterday’s story “a ridiculous reach…that takes guilt by association to a new low.”
Cooley’s campaign and his office have both maintained that there is no connection between campaign contributions and the investigation or prosecution of public officials by the District Attorney’s Office’s Public Integrity Division. The spokesperson said that Harris’ call was “as phony as her efforts to portray herself as tough on crime,” and accused her campaign of planting the stories as part of a smear campaign to distract voters from Cooley’s “total sweep” of endorsements by law enforcement groups.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Cooley’s current campaign accepted $13,000 from Bell Gardens City Manager Steve Simonian, a longtime friend and former aide of Cooley, during and immediately after an inquiry involving two of Simonian’s bosses on the Bell Gardens City Council.
It also said that the campaign accepted a $1,500 contribution from City of Industry Mayor David Perez, whose family owns trash-hauling firm Valley Vista Services. Perez has reportedly been the focus of a year-long probe by Cooley’s office into his private business ties to the city, which include multimillion-dollar refuse collection and landscaping maintenance contracts.
Cooley has touted his corruption-busting credentials in his current and past campaigns, including felony charges he brought against Democratic contributors who allegedly reimbursed friends and associates for donations to city politicians to get around contribution limits.
However, last month LA Weekly reported that he failed to investigate contributions to his 2004 re-election campaign by Gladwin Gill, a previously-convicted felon who in 2008 was sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty to a charge of campaign-finance fraud for orchestrating similar contributions to Republican candidates for federal office.
Gill and 11 employees or affiliates of his business, St. Ann’s Hospice, a small, Glendale-based home health agency specializing in hospice care, each contributed $1,000 to Cooley’s 2004 re-election campaign, the maximum amount allowed. Six of those contributors were connected to the federal investigation.
Cooley’s campaign told the MetNews that no investigation was initiated into the 2004 contributions because no one ever filed a complaint with the Public Integrity Division. A campaign spokesperson said the division could not start an investigation without a complaint, a rule designed to avoid accusations of “political witch hunts.”
The spokesperson also noted that the statute of limitations on charges resulting from any such investigation had already run, and said that the contributions could not be returned because the 2004 campaign’s accounts had been “zeroed-out” as required by law.
Harris’ campaign has rejected those explanations as insufficient.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company