Bates Heads 'Rubbergate' List for State

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Overdrafts totaling $170,685 by former Democratic San Diego Rep. Jim Bates are the highest so far of any former or current California representative involved in the House check-overdraft scandal.

Bates' total, along with those of Duncan Hunter (R-Coronado) and Bill Lowery (R-San Diego), gives San Diego County the dubious distinction of having the top three California-based writers of bad checks in the House of Representatives.

Bates, who is running for the county's new congressional seat, said Tuesday he would release a list all his checks that were held for insufficient funds by the House bank, whose laissez-faire operations have drawn him and hundreds of members into the embarrassing "Rubbergate" scandal.

Late Monday, Bates obtained the record of his account from the House Ethics Committee that shows he wrote 89 bad checks totaling $170,685 over a 39-month period ending Oct. 3.

A government audit of the now-shuttered bank revealed that 355 members and former members had at least one overdraft during the period, but Bates was included on a list of 24 "worst offenders" whose overdrafts sometimes exceeded their monthly pay.

The worst abuser wrote 996 bad checks, making Bates' 89 seem relatively small. But his negative balance exceeded the amount of his next paycheck in nine of the 39 months studied.

The Ethics Committee cutoff point to make the "abusers" list was eight such occurrences.

Bates is still analyzing the committee information but suggested that his routine of shifting most of his paycheck to his account in a California bank probably accounted for the large overdrafts.

He would leave a small balance in the House account, and "sometimes that obviously wasn't enough to cover" other checks he wrote.

Bates attributed the overdrafts to three causes:

"One, I overdrew the account--not intentionally--but through carelessness and negligence.

"Two, I assumed I had overdraft protection.

"And three, the bank was late in posting some of my deposits."

"The thing that really bothers me is those instances where I had long or protracted holds on my checks," Bates said. Most of the checks were held only two or three days, he said.

Democrat Bob Filner, one of Bates' primary opponents in the new 50th District, claims that one of the held checks Bates wrote was part of a $30,300 loan to his reelection committee when he ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham (R-Chula Vista) in 1990.

Bates said Tuesday that a check for $4,300--one of four written to his campaign in late May and early June of that year--may have been held for two or three days by the bank.

In a written statement, Filner said Bates "has now distinguished himself as being the first congressman to use an interest-free gift from the House bank to bankroll his own reelection effort."

All four members of the San Diego congressional delegation have been notified that they wrote overdrafts: Hunter, 407 totaling $129,225, the highest from California until Bates; Lowery (R-San Diego), 300 totaling $103,968; Rep. Ron Packard (R-Oceanside), four totaling $1,963, and Cunningham, one for $15,000.

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