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Public Owed Answers on Campbell Meetings

State Sen. William Campbell’s annual nonprofit conference on women isn’t as nonprofit as it appeared to be, at least where the senator’s wife and some of his aides are concerned.

State records show “consulting fees” totaling $165,000, about 30% of the 1987 conference’s reported total expenses, paid to a partnership owned by the senator’s wife, Margene, and his Orange County field coordinator, Karen L. Smith. The partnership was formed four days before the 1987 conference.

Smith and two other Campbell aides, in addition to their regular state salaries, also made $96,000 working on the conference between 1984 and 1986.. No figures are available for this year’s conference, which was held several months ago.

The payments have caught the attention of the state Fair Political Practices Commission and the state attorney general, who properly want to determine that all payments to Margene Campbell and the senator’s aides were duly reported.

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And the federal Small Business Administration, which has given the conference $243,739 for postage and printing since 1985, is now considering severing its ties with the conference. One federal official wondered whether the partnership was benefiting from the senator’s conferences and said that he considered the relationship a “potential conflict of interest.”

Those are reasonable concerns. Also reasonable are second thoughts about pouring so much money into the conference instead of directly into needy small business firms.

Even if the conference contracts to Campbell’s wife and legislative staff members violated no law, the arrangement still raises questions of propriety and potential conflicts of interest. If nothing else, it shows poor judgment by Campbell, a Hacienda Heights Republican who should know that even the appearance of a conflict of interest is damaging to government’s image and undermines public confidence in its institutions. Campbell can’t just dismiss himself from the conference he promotes and the receipt of conference funds by those closest to him.

Why wasn’t the contract for consulting services put out to bid? Were the fees paid to Margene Campbell and Smith reasonable? How much of the consulting fee, directly or indirectly, went to Sen. Campbell? If Margene Campbell and Smith are equal partners, the senator’s share of the $165,000 paid from the 1987 conference could be about $41,250 under the state’s community property law.

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Instead of clear answers, Campbell refused to comment when questioned by the Los Angeles Times about the money. Margene Campbell couldn’t be reached, and Smith referred inquiries to Campbell’s office in Sacramento.

The public deserves a better response than that.


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