The longtime Democratic campaign treasurer who allegedly stole millions of dollars from her clients had a lengthy history of fines and investigations in California, but she had a relatively clean record on a federal level--a few unsuccessful complaints lodged against her but no fines reported on the FEC website. Kinde Durkee, who U.S. Rep. Susan Davis on Monday called the "Bernie Madoff of campaign finance," is out on bail after federal agents arrested her last week on charges that she embezzled $700,000 from California Assemblyman Jose Solorio and much more from a growing list of local, state, and national politicians in California. In the latest accusation, U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein said on Monday that Durkee had "wiped out" her campaign coffers.
Before her arrest on Sept. 2, California Democrats had widely sought to have Durkee's firm, Durkee and Associates, handling their finances. That's in spite of the fact that Durkee had "racked up $185,860 in fines from the [California] Fair Political Practices Commission in eight different cases," the Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday. "One longtime client, state Sen. Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), fired Durkee in 2009 and notified the district attorney's office after an audit of her campaign fund by the state Franchise Tax Board turned up 'irregular activities,' " the Times reported. Durkee worked for hundreds of campaigns, and the criminal complaint against her says she had signing authority over 400 bank accounts. In addition to Solorio, Davis, and Feinstein, U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez has said Durkee cleaned out her campaign fund, and the Los Angeles County Democratic Party says she stole $200,000 from it.
The Times report from Sunday suggests clients might have known better than to do business with Durkee, based on her 10-year history of fines by the state. But a search for her on the SEC's website turned up a much different profile. In the Enforcement Query System, her name shows up only in Matters Under Review -- that is, cases where a complaint has been lodged from outside but wrongdoing not confirmed. She's only accused of violating the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act in three cases, and in only one (as Sanchez's treasurer) did the commission find any reason to think she had violated the act, and in that case it took no further notice. Searches for Durkee in the commission's records of fines and alternative dispute resolutions returned no entries. With hundreds of clients on her roster, that's a small number of complaints lodged and an even smaller number upheld.
Aside from the matters under review, Durkee's name appears in the FEC's system in records such as the one in 2009 when she suggested ways for the commission to become more transparent on the web. In that, she made five clear, logical suggestions on how the commission could make more of its data available to lay people online. She wrote as part of the commission's search for input on how it could improve its online services.
Durkee's entire client list isn't available, but she represented more state and local politicians than she did federal ones, which could be a reason for her low FEC profile. It's also entirely possible she played by the rules federally. According to the Associated Press, "Davis told supporters that reports to the Federal Election Commission accurately reflected her contributions and spending, but Durkee falsely reported account balances to the campaign."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.