But now, the multi-million dollar question in the allegations of embezzlement against Durkee: which donations were actually deposited... and thus are now final... and which were not?
As the Legislature reconvenes for its final sprint on issues small and large, a new compilation of campaign finance data shows that almost $61 million was raised in the first six months of 2009 for campaigns near and distant, expenses small and large.
Some new numbers reinforce the growing influence of independent expenditure committees, those political entities that can raise and spend money in unlimited amounts because they're not controlled by candidates for office.
Data compiled by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission on yesterday's legislative races in open seats (no incumbent) concludes that just under $10 million was spent by IE committees either for or against various challengers for the Assembly and Senate.
Most of that money, about $5.9 million, was spent on the 19 open Assembly races. And tops on that list appears to be the Democratic primary in Assembly District 8, where Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada knocked off West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon. That race alone attracted more than $1.15 million in IE spending, with big money funneled into IE committees by both the educational non-profit EdVoice (pro-Cabaldon) and the California Teachers Association (pro-Yamada).
Big IE bucks were also spent the Democratic primary in the Bay Area's Assembly District 19 ($787,310) and in the Democratic primary for Los Angeles County's Assembly District 40 ($705,408).
On the state Senate side, IE campaigns spent a combined $3.77 million on six open seats. Tops here was the Democratic primary for Los Angeles County's Senate District 25. Here, former Assemblymember Rod Wright beat three challengers, including incumbent Assemblymember Mervyn Dymally. More than $950,000 of the IE money in this race came from one committee funded largely by business, real estate, and energy interests.
The second largest draw for IE cash on the Senate side was the GOP primary in Riverside County's Senate District 37, where Assemblymember John Benoit defeated former Assemblymember Russ Bogh.
The FPPC recently released a detailed report on independent expenditure committees, whose appeal can be found in that they are exempt from any of the donation limits under existing state campaign finance laws.
It seems like California's official campaign finance watchdog is barking a little louder these days about the role of money in politics. And its top target: the murky world of interest groups who ostensibly operate independently of the campaigns run by candidates for office.
The Fair Political Practices Commission recently began a new effort to shine light on the millions of dollars in "independent expenditures" spent in support or opposition of various candidates. IEs, as they're known to politicos, gained special prominence after the passage of Proposition 34 in 2000. The ballot measure was marketed as a way to dampen the influence of money in politics. But it seems to have mostly been a measure cleverly crafted by legislative leaders to change the flow of cash from one path to another that's not as transparent... and one where contributions can be made in unlimited amounts, as long as the committee in question is legally independent of any candidate.
The FPPC recently launched a page on its website devoted to tracking IE money in the 2008 campaigns. This morning, the agency released a detailed and fascinating look at who's been behind the most expensive IE efforts since Prop 34 took effect.
The report, "Independent Expenditures: The Giant Gorilla In Campaign Finance," finds that over the past six years IE committees have made a whopping $88 million in political contributions. Of that amount, a full $61.7 million was above and beyond the contribution limits outlined in Prop 34. Again, it's not that the contributions were illegal; rather, that they were made through a legal but not-so-visible loophole in the law.
The new report can be found online here. Some of the more juicy morsels worth pondering:
* The #1 IE since Prop 34 took effect was in support of Democrat Phil Angelides in the 2006 gubernatorial primary. That IE committee, known as "Californians For a Better Government," spent more than $9.8 million to help Angelides defeat rival Democrat Steve Westly. The FPPC report says more than 80% of that money came from Sacramento developers Angelo Tsakopoulos and his daughter, Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis. Angelides was a one-time business partner of the elder Tsakopoulos.
* The report reaffirms what most political watchers already knew-- that much of the money funneled into IE campaigns has come from familiar political players: labor unions, business groups, and Indian tribes with casinos.
* The FPPC identifies seven politicians it calls "Million Dollar Babies," meaning that at least $1 million was spent in support of that candidate's campaign. The list, in order of IEs spent on their behalf: Phil Angelides in his losing 2006 race for governor ($19.6 million); Democrat John Chiang in his winning 2006 race for controller ($3.5 million); Republican Tony Strickland in his losing 2006 race for controller ($2.1 million); Democrat Lou Correa in his winning 2006 race for the state Senate ($2.4 million); Democrat John Dutra in his losing 2006 race for the state Senate ($1.8 million); Democrat Gloria Negrete-McLeod in her winning 2006 race for the state Senate ($1.2 million); and Democrat Nicole Parra in her winning 2006 race for the state Assembly ($1.2 million).
The FPPC's new chairman, former legislator Ross Johnson, is no stranger to the world of campaign finance-- having worked on a number of contributions rules and regulations for the better part of the last two decades. His new reign as the top man at the FPPC is shaping up to be one of the most activist eras at the agency in recent memory.