Los Angeles Times

Huntington mayor raises more than Assembly opponent, who questions expense report

This story has been updated to include a response from Matthew Harper about the expense report questioned by Keith Curry.

After a slow start to campaigning, Huntington Beach Mayor Matthew Harper has announced that he raised about $9,000 more than his opponent in the race for a state Assembly seat during the most recent filing period.

"From [primary] election night on, I felt very strongly that the momentum has turned to my side," Harper said Tuesday.

The announcement, however, prompted his opponent, Newport Beach City Councilman Keith Curry, to allege that Harper hasn't properly reported the numbers.

The two are set to square off in November for the 74th Assembly District seat after finishing within 3 percentage points of each other in the June primary.

The seat, representing the candidates' home cities as well as Irvine, Laguna Beach and Laguna Woods, will be vacated by Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa), who is running for Orange County supervisor.

Filings show that Harper outraised Curry, $56,030 to $46,873, between May 18 and June 30.

In contrast, Harper reported raising $21,999 from the beginning of the year to May 18 — less than one-twelfth of Curry's $278,278 in the same period.

"I know for some folks supporting me as a candidate, the contrast between the two of us motivates a lot of people to get involved," Harper said. Many of his supporters, he said, had hoped he would run for reelection to the City Council until they saw what Harper called a "strong message of confidence" from primary voters.

Curry, he added, has taken campaign contributions from unions after pledging not to — a move that lost the former Newport Beach mayor an endorsement from the Lincoln Club.

Harper said he reported ending the period with about $10,000 more cash on hand than Curry, after having spent $47,009 on his campaign versus the more than $300,000 Curry reportedly has spent.

"Mr. Moneybags is, apparently, down to his last pennies," Harper said.

Curry, who was out of town, cautioned in an email that the figures could be deceptive.

He alleged that Harper hadn't reported spending money to host a fundraiser at a city facility, rendering the donations garnered there "bogus."

Harper's filings did not list expenses for a June 26 birthday and campaign kick-off fundraiser at the city-run historic Newland House. On his website, he reported raising $40,000 at that event.

"Harper and [Ed Laird, Harper's fundraising chairman] know they are being dishonest," Curry wrote.

Harper said Thursday that he paid about $500 to rent out the Newland House last year, planning to have his wedding there.

But when he and his now-wife opted to get married instead at the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort, he essentially rolled over the money to pay for a birthday party at the Newland House, which then morphed into a campaign fundraiser as the date approached.

Harper emphasized that "the city has had my funds" since last year.

Still, the fundraiser expenses should have been reported, said Fred Woocher, a Los Angeles-based attorney specializing in election law and campaign finance issues.

In this case, he said, it should have been listed as an in-kind contribution to the campaign.

Though Harper may have rented out the venue without intending to use it for fundraising purposes, once he knew the use had shifted, he should have disclosed that he had, essentially, donated use of the facility to his campaign, Woocher said.

"It needs to run through [Harper's campaign] committee," he said.

Campaign finance law can be complex, Woocher said, and a relatively minor slip can usually be corrected by filing an amendment to finance reports.

Harper said he plans to fix the problem but added that the "real heart and soul" of the disclosure process is that the public knows who's donating to campaigns.

Curry noted that Harper's biggest donors include Rainbow Environmental Services — Huntington Beach's trash contractor — and Poseidon Resources, which is pushing to build a controversial desalination plant in Huntington Beach.

Since the beginning of the year, Poseidon has donated $4,100 to Harper's campaign, and Rainbow has contributed $7,135, according to filings.

Curry called those donations "thank you gifts."

He added that his own campaign had raised more than $350,000 overall and had garnered numerous high-profile endorsements, including those of former California Gov. Pete Wilson and the Orange County Taxpayers Assn.

Harper dismissed Curry's concerns as personal attacks aimed at distracting voters.

"This goes down to the bottom line, which is that Keith Curry knows that he will fail the issues that voters are concerned about," Harper said.

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