D.A. Clears Gates After Complaint by Activist
The district attorney’s office Wednesday cleared Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates of charges that he illegally spent campaign funds to lease space for his reelection headquarters from a company he and his wife own.
The decision to exonerate Gates was reached in a complaint filed by Shirley L. Grindle, a longtime political activist from Orange, who accused the sheriff of spending campaign contributions in violation of the state Political Reform Act.
“Essentially, we reviewed Mrs. Grindle’s letter and, based on our review of the facts and information from a sheriff’s representative, we concluded there was no violation,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Wallace J. Wade, head of the district attorney’s special operations unit.
Grindle alleged that Gates paid $1,611 in rent this year to Ortega Equestrian Center in San Juan Capistrano, a stable and riding school owned by him and his wife, Diana, under the name Otra Inc. She also accused the sheriff of improperly using campaign funds to make a $250 contribution to the equestrian center for a charity event.
State law prohibits the use of contributions for anything other than election-related expenses and bars candidates from spending political donations to rent campaign office space on property that is owned directly under their name or the names of immediate family members. Contributions made to charities or charitable events are acceptable.
Although the sheriff and his wife own Otra Inc., Wade concluded that there was no wrongdoing because legal title to the business or property was in the name of a corporation, not the name of the sheriff or his wife. The law makes no mention of rent being paid to a corporation owned by a candidate.
“In this case it is a corporation, not a person,” Wade said. “If Mrs. Grindle does not like the wording of the statute she can seek the assistance of the Legislature.”
The district attorney’s office further concluded that the $250 payment to Ortega Equestrian Center was proper considering that proceeds of the horseback riding competition in question went to two charities, Rally ‘Round Renee and the Fran Joswick Therapeutic Riding Program.
Wade said the sheriff received some political advertising from the event, which was not previously reported in his campaign disclosure statements. But during the district attorney’s review of Grindle’s complaint, the sheriff amended his disclosure forms to reflect the publicity he received, Wade said.
Campaign disclosure statements are public documents required by state law that list all political donations received by a candidate and detail how campaign funds are spent.
Gates could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but his campaign manager, Eileen Padberg, strongly criticized Grindle’s complaint, which she said was orchestrated to benefit retired Fullerton Police Capt. Don Bankhead, who is challenging Gates in next Tuesday’s election.
“What else is Shirley Grindle going to take up as a hobby? And, why doesn’t she stop boring the people of Orange County?” Padberg said. “You might note that she gave $540 to Don Bankhead’s campaign, which shows that she is truly partisan in her effort. As far as I’m concerned, she will never have crediblity again.”
Grindle, who could not be reached for comment, has developed a reputation in local political circles for scrutinizing the county Board of Supervisors to make sure there is no hint of conflict of interest in their votes. In 1978, she helped pass the so-called TINCUP ordinance, which prohibits supervisors from voting on or influencing decisions that will have a financial or material impact on their major campaign contributors.