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Orange County

Bustamante Ruling Has Implications

The decision, which bars the lieutenant governor from collecting funds that exceed state law, resonates in some local political campaigns.

September 25, 2003|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

A court ruling this week barring Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante from collecting political contributions that exceed state law sent a chill through some campaigns in Orange County, where a similar lawsuit accuses a local assemblyman of violating the county's strict campaign ordinance.

While issues in the two cases differ, both sides in the Orange County case acknowledged that the decision by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Loren E. McMaster resonates locally. The judge upheld the state's contribution limits despite Bustamante's defense that the Fair Political Practices Commission approved of how he handled the money.

In blunt terms, McMaster said the intent of voters trumps contradictory interpretations by regulators.

"It is clear from a review of the ballot measure materials that the intent of the people in enacting this measure was to limit the effect of large contributions to candidates for public office," the judge wrote.

A suit by Santa Ana Councilman Brett Franklin challenges the transfer of $340,000 by Assemblyman Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) from two accounts established for his state races into an account created for his run for county supervisor. A hearing date for Franklin's lawsuit, filed in Orange County Superior Court, will be set Friday.

Franklin contends the transfers violated Orange County's 1992 campaign law prohibiting transfers into county campaign accounts from any other federal, state or local account.

The purpose, according to the law, was to "ensure that the financial strength of certain individuals or organizations does not permit them to exercise a disproportionate or controlling influence on the election of Orange County candidates."

Correa said he made the transfer after receiving a written opinion in January from Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas' office. Chief Assistant Dist. Atty. Charles Middleton agreed with an earlier opinion from the state attorney general that said prohibiting a candidate's ability to transfer money from one campaign to another is unconstitutional.

Correa, who hasn't hired an attorney yet to handle his case, said he was still "digesting" McMaster's ruling.

"We did everything right and we checked with the FPPC," he said.

The intent of Orange County voters in 1992 was crystal clear, said Franklin's attorney, Kimon Manolius: Transfers from one account to another were barred.

"I think what the Sacramento judge did was send a signal that you have to follow what the voters wanted," Manolius said from his San Francisco office.

Correa said he made sure his transfers didn't violate the county's $1,000 contribution limit, which was raised in recent months to $1,400. In a report, he accounted for 340 transfers of $1,000 each from a host of donors to his state campaigns.

Longtime government watchdog and political activist Shirley L. Grindle, who wrote the 1992 ordinance, said she told Correa she believed the transfers violated the law but that she doubted he would be prosecuted because of the interpretations by the attorney general and district attorney's offices. Voters want local campaigns run on a local level, she said, so a candidate doesn't benefit from a financial windfall obtained for a different race.

"It's very clear that transfers are prohibited, and that's exactly what the voters wanted," she said.

She noted that another candidate for supervisor, Garden Grove Mayor Bruce Broadwater, transferred about $35,000 to a supervisorial account from his city campaign. Franklin, Correa and Broadwater have declared candidacies to replace 1st District Supervisor Chuck Smith, who is termed out this year.

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