SANTA ANA — Orange County Supervisor Don R. Roth reported spending nearly $2,900 in campaign funds to pay air fare for a 1990 rail technology tour of Europe, even though his travel for that same trip had already been paid for by a high-speed rail commission on which he served, according to public records.
The apparent double-billing raises questions whether Roth improperly used political campaign funds, or wrongfully claimed reimbursement from the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission for expenses that he did not actually incur. Either situation could further complicate Roth's legal and political problems.
Roth is already under investigation for possible violations of political law unrelated to this trip. He is on vacation at an undisclosed location, and repeated attempts over the last week to reach him for comment have been unsuccessful.
Roth's aide, Dan Wooldridge, said he had not been able to reach Roth to discuss the matter.
Dana Reed, Roth's attorney, declined to comment on the issue.
At issue is payment for a trip Roth arranged for about 25 Orange County people to view rail technology in West Germany and France from March 11-19, 1990. As a member of the bi-state rail commission, Roth is a leading proponent of linking his hometown of Anaheim to Las Vegas via a high-speed train. The project is now stalled by financial problems.
While in Europe, Roth and the Orange County delegation rendezvoused with eight other commission members for tours, briefings and train rides with representatives of the French and German train manufacturers. The Orange County private citizens paid their own way, officials said, while the train commission covered its members' fares.
Public records offer a contradictory account of how Roth's fare was paid, however.
Expense reports show that on Feb. 8, 1990, the train commission advanced Roth $2,930 "for travel to and from Europe . . . (for a) technology tour." A check for this amount was made out to Roth personally, according to commission executive assistant Richann Johnson.
But on March 21, two days after the conclusion of the trip, Roth stated in his campaign finance report that he had spent $2,879 in campaign funds for round-trip air fare between Los Angeles and Frankfurt for "speed train research."
This sum, as well as other political expenditures, were deducted from Roth's campaign war chest, which at the time held a beginning balance of more than $103,000. Although political contributions are generally intended for use in election campaigns, under California law they may also be used for a wide variety of political purposes.
Subsequent campaign reports do not reveal any correction or repayment of the money.
Some Roth associates suggested that the money could have been used to pay the air fare for his then-wife, Jackie, who accompanied him on the trip. But the travel agency that made arrangements for the European tour said that Roth's wife flew for free.
Jim Ort, a longtime friend of Roth and co-owner of All-Travel Service, which booked the flights, said that airlines often give him free tickets when booking a group of international travelers. "That's standard procedure," he said.
On this occasion, Ort got two free seats, he said. Ort used one as the "tour conductor," and his wife planned to use the other, he said. But she ultimately decided not to go, leaving Ort with an extra free ticket.
"So I went to Don and said, 'I can take care of Jackie, so you don't have to pay for her,' " he recounted. "Jackie's costs were not ever billed (to Roth) because I never paid for them myself."
Roth's campaign report shows All-Travel as the recipient of the $2,879 in campaign funds reportedly used to purchase a round-trip ticket from Los Angeles to Frankfurt on Lufthansa Airlines.
Ort, whose company donated $550 to the supervisor's campaigns in recent years, said he received payment for one prepaid trip package from Roth. But he did not recall how the bill was paid. He did recall Roth telling him that the commission would be reimbursing Roth for his travels.
The commission's records show that Roth was reimbursed $2,930 for his air fare, in one check, plus $1,868 in hotel, meal and telephone costs for the trip in a second check.
(A handwritten note with Roth's expense account explained that it included "no dinner & lunch or telephone receipts," as the commission generally requires. But then-chairman Arnie Adamsen approved the reimbursements anyway and directed staff to "cut check" for Roth, the note shows.)
Officials familiar with the trip said they could offer no explanation for the apparent conflicts in the billings.
"That's interesting," said Paul Taylor, the executive director of the train commission at the time of the trip, when asked about the payments. "That part about the campaign funds is news to me."