Matt Smith: Leno Accuses Migden of Wrongly Using $1 million

Late Inning Hardball Begins in Senate Race -- Leno Accuses Migden of wrongly using $1 million in old campaign cash, Migden’s campaign consultant: Shut up or I’ll own your house
By Matt Smith

San Francisco has long been represented in the statehouse by two political rivals with radical-seeming exteriors, and mainstream, Sacramento-moneyball-playing cores.
California State Senator Carole Migden, up to retain her seat in this November’s election, is gay and courts radical allies such as Chris Daly. But she seems to pride herself more in her effectiveness as a fundraiser and Democratic policymaker than as a left-wing ideologue. Migden’s opponent, Assemblyman Mark Leno likewise might superficially seem like an only-in-San Francisco fringe-dweller: he’s gay, and he occasionally champions kooky causes such as hemp farming. But Leno has expressed scorn for politicians who don’t realize that the key to moving bills in Sacramento is raising campaign money and effectively helping spread it around. Like Migden, Leno is good at this craft.

So it might seem only natural that the until-now unusually civil contest between these two would become nasty over what might be termed these politicians’ core issue: campaign cash.

The Leno campaign Friday filed a formal complaint alleging that Migden illegally lumped almost $1 million in left over money from her 2004 campaign to be re-elected to the California Assembly, into her current campaign for Senate. If true, such a maneuver would have allowed Migden to skirt state laws allowing people to contribute no more than $3,600 to a candidate for the state legislature. That’s because donors theoretically could have contributed to the limit for both Migden’s 2004 Assembly campaign, and her current campaign for Senate.

Leno blames the alleged violation on Migden’s campaign consultant, Sacramento fixture Ritchie Ross.

“His advice to his clients is, spend the money, get elected, and pay the fine later,” said Leno, making reference to a$236,000 fine levied against Ross client Cruz Bustamante in 2004 for double-dipping into funds from separate campaign committees.

“It didn’t serve Bustamante well, and we’re trying to make sure that she doesn’t get away with spending all this illegal money,” Leno said.

Ross, for his part, tells me that the alleged violations are actually mistakes made by volunteers.
“We’re the ones who found the mistakes,” Ross said. “What we believe are serious mistakes by her volunteer people. And they are serious mistakes. But we don’t think they will find anything untoward.”

Regarding Leno’s assertion that Richie plays fast and loose with campaign finance law, he said it was Bustamante’s law firm, not Richie, who was responsible for violations that triggered the 2004 fine.

“The last guy who accused me wrongly of campaign finance violations, I took him all the way to the state supreme court, and I took one of his homes,” Richie said. “Mark Leno should be extremely careful in the way he phrases his accusations, in that I push campaign spending, or violations of the law. If he accuses me of a felony, without even using that word, I will own his house.”

Given that campaign cash from powerful donors has corrupted the California statehouse into a state of dysfunction, this is the closest we’ll likely get to a substantial discussion of the issues.

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