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Legislator's Aide Broke Campaign Laws

The chief of staff for Compton's Dymally stopped paying on $187,000 fine after declaring bankruptcy.

May 01, 2003|Richard Marosi | Times Staff Writer

Assemblyman Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Compton) has hired a chief of staff who violated campaign funding laws and has never fully paid one of the largest fines ever assessed by the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Kenneth Orduna, fined $187,500 in 1991 for violations stemming from an unsuccessful run for Los Angeles City Council, owed $139,500 before filing for bankruptcy in January. Orduna's attorney says the debt is discharged by the bankruptcy, but state officials disagree and say they will continue pressing for payment.

As Dymally's top aide in the 52nd District since January, Orduna's presence adds to a controversy over the legislator's hiring practices. Another Dymally aide, Richard Mayer, a field representative, was convicted in 2001 of seven felony electoral fraud counts.

Dymally has introduced a bill that could, in effect, throw out the conviction of Mayer, who was found guilty of lying about his residency to qualify as a candidate in a South Gate election.

Dymally's critics in the southeast Los Angeles County district accuse the legislator of using his office to dispense favors to cronies, and of worsening the area's reputation for governmental corruption and malfeasance.

"It goes counter to what I've been trying to do in the city of Compton," said Mayor Eric Perrodin. "The only way to change the image of Compton and surrounding cities is by putting honest and forthright people in office, and staff should be held to the same standards."

Neither Orduna nor Dymally returned calls.

Interviewed last week in the Lynwood Press, a local newspaper, Dymally defended himself. He said Mayer, a Latino, was given a staff job in part because he needs a Latino representative in the majority-Latino district.

Orduna's attorney, Scott Clarkson, said Orduna intended to repay the FPPC, but declared bankruptcy because he was overrun with debts from a janitorial service owned by his wife.

He said the business got into financial trouble after Orduna's wife fell ill. "He owed significant amounts of moneys that he was unable to pay and he needed a fresh start, as all honest debtors are entitled to," Clarkson said.

Orduna's relationship with Dymally goes back to the 1970s. He served as an aide and chief of staff during Dymally's years as lieutenant governor and congressman, earning a reputation as an intensely loyal staffer.

Orduna ran afoul of the FPPC after his unsuccessful 1987 campaign for City Council. The commission said Orduna and his treasurer, Lonnie Sanders, another former Dymally aide, committed 134 campaign violations, most of them laundering campaign contributions.

At the time, Dymally stood by Orduna, calling him a victim of racism because he was fined more than non-minorities charged with similar wrongdoing.

But FPPC officials rejected those allegations, saying Orduna's case featured some of the most serious and flagrant violations the agency had encountered. It was, at the time, the second-largest fine ever assessed.

Since 1991, Orduna has made only one voluntary payment of $500, said state officials. In 1997, the FPPC began garnisheeing his wages as a director at a local water district.

Collections continued until a few months before Orduna declared bankruptcy. Filing for bankruptcy does not discharge debts to the government, but Clarkson said the FPPC is not a government entity. Commission officials disagree, saying they are a regulatory agency whose collected fines go into the state's general fund.

Orduna makes $7,083 monthly as chief of staff. In general, legislative aides meet with constituents and lobbyists and sometimes handle calls from the media. Some also give political advice on whether a member should support a certain person or issue.

Dymally has stirred more controversy by introducing a bill that would change the residency laws of locally elected officials. Under current law, local candidates are required to live in the city in which they serve.

Under Dymally's bill, an elected official's residence would be presumed to be the address where the official is registered to vote. Local officials would be afforded the same rights as state or national legislators, who may live outside their districts.

But critics, including prosecutors in the Los Angeles County district attorney's public integrity unit, say the laws are different for local officials because they do not need to reside in Sacramento or Washington, D.C., to perform their duties.

The bill, they say, would open the door for local candidates to campaign for offices in cities in which they have no ties. Because the proposed law is retroactive, the conviction of Mayer, Dymally's field representative, and others could possibly be thrown out.

Mayer ran for office in South Gate, even though he lived in Boyle Heights. Mayer had registered to vote in South Gate at an address where he never resided, and a judge rejected his argument that local officials should be allowed "political addresses."

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Times staff writer Nancy Vogel contributed to this report.

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