Another Prosecutor Using Forfeiture Dollars as a De-Facto Campaign Fund

Posted: November 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

San Diego City Beat requested an accounting of how San Diego County’s district attorney Bonnie Dumanis spent her office’s forfeiture funds since 2009. What they got back was a two-page, typo-filled document that apparently took Dumanis’ office four-and-a-half hours to prepare. But more distressing than that lack of basic accounting standards is what the DA has been spending the money on:

We decided to take a closer look at Dumanis’ spending after receiving a press release that her office was providing $50,000 in asset-forfeiture funding for the 25th annual “Light the Night Against Crime” 5k run/walk. The race raises money to pay rewards to anonymous tipsters who call the San Diego Crime Stoppers hotline.

According to the typo-filled spreadsheet, in 2009, Dumanis gave $53,000—18 percent of the money her office spent—to the California District Attorneys Association. She was president of the organization at the time. That same year, another $2,500 went to the California District Attorney Investigator’s Association, an organization that recently endorsed Dumanis’ bid for mayor of San Diego. She also spent $415.82 to send Lincoln High School students to Six Flags, $17,250 to produce a short film and $60,000 to install cameras along the border. In most cases, the DA’s office did not provide the purpose of the grants, only the recipients.

You can see the whole list here. Most of the payments seem designed to curry favor with San Diego County voters, not enforce its laws more effectively. The fact that Dumanis openly spent the office’s forfeiture money on such questionable activities is prima facie evidence that forfeiture funds are not monitored closely enough in California. Of course, this could (mostly) be avoided if forfeiture funds were all deposited into the state’s general fund to be appropriated by the legislature. That’s by no means a perfect system, but at least in a legislative body, one person does not have absolute discretion over how money is spent.

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