The Federal Election Commission on Thursday raised sharp questions but came to no firm conclusion over Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein's bid for greater fundraising leeway in the wake of embezzlement by her former campaign treasurer.
The punt will give the FEC more time to consider whether California politicians ripped off by former treasurer Kinde Durkee can solicit additional funds from individuals who have already reached their contribution limit.
"We're all sympathetic to your client," FEC commissioner Ellen Weintraub told Feinstein's attorneys Thursday morning, "but it's still a hard question."
Though the commission's legal staff had recommended rejecting Feinstein's request, the commissioners during a two-hour hearing indicated they thought it was a close call. Several voiced concern over the potential "implications" for other campaigns of granting Feinstein's fundraising request.
"We have to do some special thinking," Commissioner Steven Walther said. "We're in a tight spot, and we need to think this one out."
Feinstein wants contribution limits be lifted following revelations that Durkee had embezzled millions of dollars from dozens of campaign treasuries. Feinstein's campaign alone reported losing at least $4.5 million under Durkee's scheming. The FEC's reasoning will apply to other former Durkee clients as well, and will also be closely attended to by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.
Durkee, 59, has pleaded guilty to five counts of mail fraud and is awaiting sentencing.
As investigators discovered last year, Durkee commingled funds from her various political clients, repeatedly transferring money from one account to another and using embezzled funds to pay personal and business expenses.
The FBI concluded Durkee finagled more than $7 million out of more than 50 clients.
"Embezzlement has become a bigger and bigger problem," Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said. "I thought we had seen the worst of it until this case came along."