A Democratic opponent of Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove) Monday accused the freshman legislator of improperly paying lawyers nearly $50,000 to defend him in a federal lawsuit out of a fund set up for a different purpose.
The Democrat, Jerry Yudelson, who ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) in 1988 and says he plans to challenge Pringle in 1990, asked for an investigation of Pringle's campaign finances in a complaint sent Monday to the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Pringle's campaign statements "show a cavalier disregard" for new campaign-financing rules established under Proposition 73, which was passed by voters in last year's primary election, Yudelson said in a statement.
Sandy Michioku, an FPPC spokeswoman, said Yudelson's complaint had not reached the commission and added: "We'll take a look at the complaint when we receive it."
Pringle acknowledged Monday that, on his lawyers' advice, he paid them out of funds from a committee established to defend him against a recall attempt. The lawyers, however, are defending him in a federal lawsuit aimed at overturning his election last November. Pringle defended his action, saying he felt that it was "quite justified" because both the lawsuit and the recall attempt stemmed from the same issue.
"There is a direct and specific corollary between those two things," Pringle said.
The lawsuit, which is pending in federal court, claims that Pringle, his campaign manager and the Orange County Republican Party posted uniformed security guards at 20 Santa Ana polling places in the 72nd Assembly District. The lawsuit contends that the presence of the guards unconstitutionally intimidated first-time Latino voters.
Republicans have defended hiring the guards, saying they had heard rumors that Democrats might attempt to bus in illegal voters to the precincts in order to tip the hotly contested, $1.6-million race between Pringle and Democrat Christian F. (Rick) Thierbach. Thierbach lost by only 867 votes out of about 67,000.
Dropped Recall Plan
Orange County Democrats had planned to try to recall Pringle, citing the poll-guard incident, but they later dropped the idea.
Michioku said Pringle had set up his recall-defense committee under guidance from Kathryn Donovan, legal counsel to the FPPC. Donovan advised Pringle in a March 14 letter that the committee must be separate from those established for his reelection and that "no funds collected by this committee may be used for your other election campaign or office-holder expenses," Michioku related.
According to campaign statements filed with the FPPC for the period of Jan. 1 through June 30 of this year, Pringle raised $59,461.13 to defend himself against a possible recall. Most of the money came from two $25,000 loans, one from investor Joseph Tuttobene of Brea and the other from Security Pacific Bank and secured by Dean Thomas of Fullerton, owner of Delst Chemical & Research Co. of La Habra.
Pringle used $49,098.94 from his recall-committee funds to pay the firm of Wyman, Bautzer, Kuchel & Silbert of Irvine, according to campaign statements. David A. Robinson and Thomas R. Malcolm of that law firm are defending Pringle in the federal suit.
Setback for Pringle
Pringle received a setback in his defense of the lawsuit when the FPPC ruled in July that money for his defense came under the same restrictions as his other campaign funds. Under Proposition 73 limits, individual donors can give $1,000 and political action committees can give $2,500 in each elective cycle.
A few months earlier, however, Pringle had good news from the FPPC, which ruled that he could raise and spend as much as he needed to defend himself against a possible recall. For this reason, Democrats backed off from their plan to try to recall Pringle, according to county Democratic Chairman Mike Balmages.