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Kamala Harris kept campaign money from disgraced fundraiser

Democratic attorney general nominee kept $1,250 in donations from Norman Hsu, now in prison for breaking campaign finance laws. She had assailed her rival for keeping funds in a similar case.

September 15, 2010|By Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times

Democratic attorney general nominee Kamala Harris, whose campaign has criticized her Republican rival for keeping donations from a donor convicted of campaign finance fraud, has kept $1,250 from a donor found guilty of similar charges.

Disgraced political fundraiser Norman Hsu, a major contributor to the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and other Democratic candidates, made two contributions in 2006 to Harris, the San Francisco district attorney. The following year, it was revealed that Hsu had been a fugitive for 15 years on grand theft charges in San Mateo County.

Clinton returned $850,000 in contributions raised by Hsu for her presidential campaign, and other candidates also returned money when his past became known. A federal judge in New York sentenced Hsu last year to more than 24 years in prison for violating campaign finance laws and defrauding investors in a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.

Harris campaign spokesman Brian Brokaw said the district attorney wanted to donate Hsu's contributions to charity during her 2007 reelection campaign, but San Francisco law prohibits candidates from doing so during an active race. Harris thought the donation had been made after the election — which the law permits — but, in response to questions by The Times, discovered it had not, Brokaw said.

"Now that it has been brought to our attention, we will be contributing the funds to charity as was the original intent," Brokaw said. The money will be sent to the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium and will come out of Harris' campaign account for attorney general, he said.

A spokesman for GOP nominee Steve Cooley, the Los Angeles County district attorney, dismissed the Harris campaign's explanation and said it shows that the Democratic candidate is either "incompetent or dishonest."

"She is the one who raised the issue with her own phony attack," said Kevin Spillane of the Cooley campaign. "The reality is she's been taking cheap shots, and here she is guilty of the same thing she's been trying to turn into political hay."

Brokaw said there is a "night and day" difference between the Hsu contributions and those accepted by Cooley. Hsu was never accused of wrongdoing in San Francisco, Brokaw said, while Cooley's contributor lived in Los Angeles County — Cooley's jurisdiction.

In August, the LA Weekly reported that Cooley received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in 2003 and 2004 from Glendale businessman Gladwin Gill, who in 2008 pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of campaign finance fraud. After the article appeared, Harris campaign consultant Ace Smith called on Cooley to return the money. Smith criticized Cooley for failing to investigate Gill — a Republican political fundraiser — while aggressively prosecuting Democrats on charges of public corruption and campaign fraud.

Spillane said that Cooley was unaware of Gill's contributions and the federal investigation. He also said no formal complaint against Gill was ever filed with the district attorney's office, which is required before an inquiry can be launched.

phil.willon@latimes.com

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