CITYWIDE ‚Äî As election season gets underway in California, Democrats running at the local, state and even federal level will be working doubly hard to patch holes in their campaigns‚Äô hulls left in the wake of treasurer-turned-embezzler Kinde Durkee.
Durkee and her company, Durkee & Associates, specialized in providing accounting and campaign reporting services for mostly Democratic political committees for state and federal offices, as well as local elections in Santa Monica.
In March, she confessed to stealing $7 million from at least 50 of the accounts under her care, including that of City Council candidate and incumbent Terry O‚ÄôDay and the Committee to Protect Community and Schools, a local organization formed to support the half cent sales tax passed in 2010, also known as Proposition Y.
Durkee also acted as treasurer for Rent Control Board candidate Chris Braun and Santa Monicans for Quality Government, a developer-backed group that got involved in the 2010 election.
According to court documents, Durkee used the money to pay for her mother‚Äôs assisted living center as well as Durkee‚Äôs own mortgages and other bills.
State and local law dictate that despite the fact that Durkee victimized the campaigns, they cannot raise money from donors that have given the maximum in the past.
The City Council recently raised that amount to $325 for City Council and Rent Control Board races.
Although big name candidates like Dianne Feinstein lost millions to Durkee‚Äôs theft, it‚Äôs smaller campaigns that may find themselves in a bind, said Hal Dash, CEO of campaign consulting group Cerrell & Associates.
“Feinstein lost $5 million, and I don‚Äôt want to belittle that, but she has national reach and she‚Äôs a candidate that (people) identify with and support strongly,” Dash said. “Small, local, Assembly and other races where money is harder to come by, it‚Äôs going to be an obstacle.”
O‚ÄôDay‚Äôs campaign is certainly feeling the pinch.
According to a court filing from 2011, O‚ÄôDay‚Äôs account went from $16,333.76 to $152.51, putting him back at square one in terms of fundraising.
“We‚Äôre rebuilding all of that funding. It just kind of takes the air out of your sails to have something like that happen,” O‚ÄôDay said.
O‚ÄôDay doesn‚Äôt have much hope that his campaign will be able to recoup any of the money, although he has responded to the various court filings in order to preserve any rights he might have.
The Committee to Protect Community and Schools lost approximately $18,000, said Tom Larmore, a local land use attorney who was the contact for the Proposition Y campaign.
Although the organization had no plans to be active in this year‚Äôs election, they were going to use the money to give bonuses to staff and volunteers who had gone above and beyond, Larmore said.
Now they have a much smaller pool of money to pull from.
“It was so unexpected,” Larmore said. “She was such a well-recognized treasurer.”
Even Dash had used her for campaigns in the past, although no money seems to have gone missing from those, he said.
In the past, Larmore had always had treasurers that he knew, but a campaign consultant had recommended Durkee. Both he and O‚ÄôDay will return to that practice in the future.
For this race, O‚ÄôDay tapped Debbie Mulvaney, the former Santa Monica High School PTA president, for the treasurer spot.
“I had to find a new campaign treasurer and I did,” O‚ÄôDay said. “So I got that taken care of, and (now) I‚Äôm starting from zero raising money again.”