10:00 PM PST on Wednesday, March 3, 2010

By JIM MILLER
Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – Riverside County district attorney investigators showed up last week at the Northern California offices of a prominent Republican consulting firm and a bookkeeping business linked to a defendant in the campaign-finance prosecution of several Inland political and civic leaders.

Gilliard Blanning and Associates of Rocklin and the KAL Group of Willows have advised dozens of candidates and campaign groups in the Inland area and around the state over the years.

During the 2008 election cycle, the companies worked for a committee involved in the hard-fought Republican primary for Riverside County’s 37th Senate District between then-Assemblyman John Benoit and former Assemblyman Russ Bogh.

District attorney investigators spent part of last Thursday at Gilliard Blanning’s office.

The same day, members of the district attorney’s political corruption unit served a search warrant at the KAL Group, according to government records.

A spokesman for Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco would neither confirm nor deny last week’s activities. David Gilliard, a GOP campaign veteran, has not returned several phone calls in recent days. KAL Group owner Kelly Lawler also has not returned requests for comment.

In November, Pacheco’s office announced a 155-count indictment alleging that nine people, including four of the five San Jacinto City Council members, conspired to skirt campaign contribution limits and funnel money into the 2006 Assembly candidacy of San Jacinto Councilman Jim Ayres.

Neither Gilliard Blanning nor the KAL Group was part of the indictment. State records show that neither business was involved in the 2006 Assembly primary race at the heart of the November case.

Speculation in political circles has centered on ties between the two firms and Stephen R. Holgate, one of the defendants in the Riverside County case.

In spring 2008, Holgate, an Inland developer and former CHP officer, largely bankrolled a pro-Benoit campaign committee called Conservative Leaders of America, giving it $100,000.

Almost all of the advertising money went through Gilliard Blanning. The KAL Group, the committee’s treasurer, was paid about $2,000.

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