Last week when Kinde Durkee pleaded guilty to five counts of mail fraud, candidates and elected officials were left in the aftermath of a destructive embezzlement storm. After all, she was the campaign treasurer that California Democrats from Dianne Feinstein to local Democratic clubs relied on to maintain their funds.
What makes the Durkee scandal perplexing to many is that she led a life of relative obscurity without living lavishly.
As reported by The Daily Beast last week:
“Any of the TV images you see about conwomen, she is not one of them,” said Eric Bauman, chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. “She is not slick. She isn’t well-spoken. She isn’t running off to Paris. She wears Kmart clothing and lives in a beat-up old house in Long Beach.”
Prosecutors allege that Durkee, who received the Susan B. Anthony Award from the Democratic Women of the San Fernando Valley in 2007 for her dedication to women’s political causes, carried out one of the most extensive campaign-fraud schemes in the history of California.
On Tuesday, federal prosecutors charged Durkee, who was arrested in September and indicted on suspicion of mail fraud, with five more counts of mail fraud against her political clients—including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, Rep. Linda Sanchez, State Assemblyman Jose Solorio, and State Sen. Lou Correa—adding up to more than $7 million.”
The Durkee scandal also left many politicians of color in a bind. Among those affected beyond the Sanchez sisters, Jose Solorio, and Lou Correa include Jerome Horton, Laura Richardson, and the California Legislative Black Caucus. These politicians who are up for re-election have now been put in a position to raise more money because of the losses sustained.
Bad enough minority politicians typically find themselves behind in the rat race that is political fundraising. But, this latest incident – combined with redistricting challenges – is enough to put an enormous amount of uncertainty into the game. Richardson, for example, faces the fight of her political life as she not only fends off a dramatic primary challenge, but also finds herself in a congressional ethics pickle that could cost much more than her seat.
While Durkee was once sought out because of her “sterling reputation,” there were a few warning signs that could have prompted the California political class to engage in due diligence. A former Durkee employee, Elsa Martinez, embezzled $8,244 from Jerome Horton in 2005 and 2006. Additionally, Durkee had already been cited for failure to disclose and report a number of times by the California Fair Political Practices Commission. A simple search of “Kinde Durkee” on the CFPPC’s website yields two pages of instances where Durkee had been cited including fines.
Plainly, this is an instance where simply following the lead of the larger fish in the pond did not work to the benefit of all the guppies in the school.