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Long Beach Sues PAC for Alleged Breach

Politics: City attorney plans to seek fines of at least $80,000, saying the group accepted donations that exceeded the $600 limit in the race for mayor.

April 18, 2002|NANCY WRIDE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Long Beach city attorney's office Wednesday filed a lawsuit alleging election illegalities by a political action committee whose treasurer also serves that role in the campaign of mayoral candidate Dan Baker.

Baker has said he had no knowledge the PAC was spending money to support his bid to become mayor of California's fifth-largest city.

Baker could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but he has pointed out that the PAC treasurer, Kinde Durkee, is treasurer for numerous candidates in other Southern California elections. Sabrina Skacan, field director of Baker's campaign, said his office had received a copy of the suit, but he had not had time to review it.

City Atty. Bob Shannon said he will seek fines of at least $80,000 from the California Concerned Citizens for Neighborhood Empowerment.

"It could be more," said Shannon, "if the investigation finds other unlawful activities" by the PAC. "We want to deter this happening in the future."

The suit alleges that the PAC and Durkee violated a Long Beach ordinance that says mayoral candidates and PACs may not solicit or accept donations exceeding $600. Durkee could not be reached for comment.

Illustrating the small world of local politics, newly reelected City Prosecutor Tom Reeves said Wednesday that he is handing the inquiry over to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office because he had paid Durkee to "fill out some campaign forms."

He also said that he had employed Baker's campaign manager, Mike Orlito, as his chief fund-raiser.

"The press has reported that CCNE supported candidates that used the political consulting services of Mike Orlito," he said in a prepared statement.

"Therefore, in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety, [Tuesday] I spoke with the district attorney's office and requested that it take responsibility for the criminal investigation of this matter."

The mayoral race had enough novelty to earn unprecedented attention: a termed-out incumbent, Mayor Beverly O'Neill, whose bold but underdog write-in campaign won her the most votes in the April 9 election, and a June runoff with only one name on the ballot.

However, on Wednesday, the spotlight was on the financing of the campaign.

Orlito and Baker are former officers of the Long Beach chapter of the Lambda Democratic Club, which gave $1,000 to the PAC.

Lambda is a national organization formed 25 years ago to provide gays and lesbians a voice in the Democratic Party.

Baker, who is gay, has not made that a focal point of his campaign, but gay political groups note that, were he to win, Long Beach would become the largest city in the country with an openly gay mayor.

In addition to the $1,000 from Lambda, the PAC accepted other large donations, the suit alleges.

Among them was $15,000 from the Long Beach Police Officers Assn., which endorsed Baker.

Other PAC contributors with Orlito ties are Lambda chapter President Marsha Naify, who gave $5,000, and Camden Realty Inc., a developer Orlito represented in its efforts to build a high-rise project now under construction downtown. Camden gave $7,500.

The lawsuit notes the PAC produced fliers that suggested that mayoral candidate and City Councilman Ray Grabinski had so exaggerated his accomplishments that he claimed to have found a cure for cancer. Grabinski's wife died of a brain tumor in the 1980s, leaving him a single father of four.

The mailer's content did not violate the election law, but it did embarrass some Baker supporters and shifted attention toward the PAC during the final days of the campaign.

The Lambda chapter requested its donation back after the flier was circulated.

The PAC "purports to act independently of candidates in the Long Beach race," Shannon said Wednesday. "However, a state registration form listed the expenditures as having been made in support of a mayoral candidate."

Shannon said the public filings by the PAC, which he termed "anonymous and amorphous," show that it accepted contributions of $5,000, $7,500 and $15,000, clear violations of city election law.

Several Baker supporters who contributed to the PAC said they don't remember or won't comment on who solicited their donation or accepted it.

For the record, Shannon said he has never employed Durkee or Orlito in his campaigns but did endorse Baker in a City Council race a few years ago.

City law allows prosecution of election illegalities as either crimes or civil violations, and Shannon said he and prosecutor Reeves decided a civil lawsuit would provide a speedier investigation and resolution.

However, Shannon conceded that resolution won't come before the June runoff.

"No," he said, "realistically, no, it will not."

The runoff competitors are Baker and O'Neill, but only Baker's name will be on the ballot.

O'Neill was a write-in candidate in April and will remain so in June.

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