By John Howard | 10/13/11 12:00 AM PST

For years, lawmakers have battered the Fair Political Practices Commission, the state’s campaign law enforcer spawned by the Watergate scandals.

Its budget has been slashed and limits have been sought on its authority. It’s been smacked and audited on the orders of legislators over whom the FPPC wields investigative authority. Its location on J Street eight blocks from the Capitol is not accidental: Lawmakers really don’t like the FPPC.

But as complaints intensify about the role of Democratic fiscal operative Kinde Durkee and a federal probe widens, a major irony has emerged: It was the FPPC that got the ball rolling two years ago. In fact, ultimately it may wind up that the FPPC’s action will have saved lawmakers and candidates hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even more.

If so, the FPPC probably shouldn’t expect any pats on the back.

“The legislators are getting really upset because they (the FPPC) waited for so long. A couple of years. Now they let people know they have a problem. I’m not sure the FPPC will be thanked by the legislators,” said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles and a former top official at the FPPC.

“The real thing that is bothersome is that the FPPC is considering waiving the contribution limits,” he added. “What it means is that incumbents – it’s mostly incumbents, maybe only two or three challengers – can go back to those same donors and double their contributions. That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”

Stern and others plan to appear Thursday before the FPPC at an unusual hearing in Los Angeles, at which the five-member commission will take testimony on the Durkee case and from anyone who has suffered losses. A number already have come forward, such as Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Garden Grove, who said her campaign fund was wiped out, and the L.A. County Democratic Party, which said it lost $200,000. State Sen. Christine Kehoe fired Durkee in 2009, following an audit by the Franchise Tax Board, and Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, said hundreds of thousands of dollars may be missing from his campaign accounts.

FPPC investigators found something suspicious in the finances of a campaign involving Durkee during routine checks in 2009 and began a detailed inquiry. The FPPC alerted the FBI, which triggered a federal probe that culminated Sept. 2 in the arrest of Durkee in Southern California for investigation of mail fraud stemming from the alleged looting of $677,000 from the campaign account of Assemblyman Jose Solorio, an Orange County Democrat.

She is scheduled to appear in federal court in Sacramento on Oct. 19.

By one count, Durkee has had connections to nearly 400 state, federal and local campaigns over the years. Early on, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein filed a fraud and breach-of-contract lawsuit against Durkee and First California Bank, which handled Feinstein’s campaign funds, and other court actions are likely.

The FPPC’s chief enforcement officer, Gary Winuk, said an FPPC staff auditor noticed peculiar transfers of funds in and out of the campaign account of Jerome Horton, a former lawmaker who now is chairman of the state Board of Equalization. The campaign transactions “raised red flags to him as an auditor,” Winuk said. Transaction issues also appeared in the campaign of Sen. Carol Liu, which Durkee also served as treasurer.

To read entire story, click here.