Migden's big pile of problems

State Sen. Carole Migden’s record-breaking $350,000 fine by the state Fair Political Practices Commission does not seem to have uncovered any major smoking gun of corruption. Her 89 violations of the Political Reform Act cited since 2003 more closely resemble a drip-drip-drip water torture of repetitive fiscal misjudgments, sloppy accounting, heedlessness to rules and habitual secrecy.

The FPPC charges — to which Migden has already stipulated and agreed to pay the fine — include taking more than $16,000 in campaign donations for personal use; understating more than $236,000 in campaign receipts and nearly the same amount in expenditures; failing to report tens of thousands of dollars in contributions on time; failing to keep proper records or to detail credit card charges.

The commission staff did credit Migden with cooperating in the current investigation. In fact, she hired a professional treasurer, reviewed her campaign committee practices and reported to the FPPC the problems that were found. However, this internal cleanup only commenced after Migden was fined $94,600 in 2006 for failing to file timely contribution reports for a second time. In 2002, she had been fined $16,000 for failing to file timely contribution reports.

Migden’s attorney attempted to spin the situation by labeling most of the senator’s offenses as mere minor bookkeeping errors on the level of grabbing the wrong credit card. He said the senator has already written personal checks for more than $100,000 to repay questioned expenditures.

But the 35-page FPPC report said Migden’s “clear pattern of violations” deserved nearly the maximum fine of $445,000 because of “repeat failure to comply with some of the most basic requirements of the act.” Migden also sued the commission last month to let her use $647,000 from an old Assembly campaign account for her current re-election battle. The FPPC claims those funds were not properly transferred before Migden exited the lower house.

The senator’s newest round of embarrassment was triggered last autumn when Assemblymember Mark Leno filed an FPPC complaint questioning Migden’s compliance with campaign finance laws. Leno and former Marin County Assemblymember Joe Nation are opposing Migden’s re-election in a hard-fought June Democratic primary race for the Senate District 3, which stretches from San Francisco to Sonoma County.

The FPPC board meets today to consider accepting Migden’s $350,000 fine, the largest penalty ever imposed on a California legislator by the state’s political watchdog agency. As the commission’s report charged, “The public harm inherent in these types of violations is that the public is deprived of important information such as the sources and amounts of contributions to a campaign and the amounts expended by the campaign.”

Even if official punishments end there, longtime San Francisco lawmaker Migden carries a heavy burden into the final weeks of her re-election campaign.

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