Garcia accused of misusing state vehicle

Times Staff Writer

The Democrat challenging Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia (R-Cathedral City) in a tough Imperial Valley race accused her Thursday of misusing state property for campaign purposes.

Democrat Steve Clute also accused a Garcia campaign consultant who works as her chief of staff of violating legislative rules intended to keep state employees from doing campaign work while being paid by taxpayers.

Assembly officials say the campaign consultant and chief of staff, Richard Harmon, failed to notify them that he was going to work for Garcia’s campaign.


Assembly rules designed to prevent conflicts of interest require that staff members notify the Rules Committee before accepting any other paid employment.

“I don’t have any notice of outside business activity or employment on file for Harmon,” Assembly Chief Administrative Officer Jon Waldie said.

Records filed by Garcia’s campaign committee with the secretary of state’s office show that Harmon was paid $26,449 between November 2005 and last month for campaign consulting. Waldie said Garcia did advise his office that Harmon would take an unpaid leave from the Assembly payroll from Sept. 6 through Oct. 30, but did not explain why.

Harmon did not respond to repeated requests for an interview Thursday.

Waldie said he also was investigating whether any legislative rules were broken Oct. 13, when someone smashed a window on Garcia’s state-leased Ford Expedition. The SUV was parked at Harmon’s Palm Springs home at the time, and Harmon told police that he parked the vehicle, according to a police report. He reported the theft of a shoulder bag and makeup bag worth $175 from the SUV.

After the break-in, Garcia implied that Clute’s campaign was somehow responsible.


In a message on her campaign website, Garcia stated: “In recent weeks, my opponent, Steve Clute, and his supporters have taken dirty campaigning to a new low. They have attempted to paint me as a sexual predator, my state vehicle was broken into, more than $10,000 in damage was done to campaign signs and even my billboards were altered to form obscenities.”

Clute has denied that his supporters broke into Garcia’s vehicle or vandalized her signs. His campaign consultant, Gale Kaufman, said her team began investigating the incident after Garcia linked Clute to the break-in.

“She’s been pretty sloppy and said some incredibly outrageous things,” Kaufman said. “She chose to put on her website accusations that can come back and bite her.”

Waldie said the incident raised a question about whether a lawmaker can allow campaign staff to use state-leased vehicles. Legislators are allowed to use their state cars for personal use because they pay 10% of the cost of the lease, Waldie said, and legislative staff frequently drive the state cars. But it is unclear whether Assembly rules allow campaign workers to do the same, he said.

Waldie said he was contemplating a new policy that would require staff members who drive lawmakers’ cars to first provide proof of insurance, permission from the lawmaker and a pledge that the car will be used only for legislative business.

Garcia was first elected to the Assembly in 2002 in a Riverside and Imperial County district dominated by Democrats. Her reelection bid ran into trouble last month when she answered a question about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger from La Quinta High School seniors by saying that she wouldn’t kick the governor out of her bed.