When one of the most visible elected officials pushing for ethics reforms is charged in a criminal corruption case, there is a problem. Neil Derry, a San Bernardino County Supervisor, has been a vocal proponent of increase disclosure and more stringent ethics rules, having at one point proposed the creation of an ethics commission. Derry now finds himself at the center of an ethical scandal, having been charged by the state attorney general's office with failing to disclose the identity of those making donations to his 2008 race.
While the charges sound bad, the specific factual allegations underlying the charges are worse.
The California Attorney General's office charged Derry with two felonies and a misdemeanor for allegedly helping Arnold Stubblefield, a San Bernardino developer, to launder a monetary contribution through a political action committee run by infamous former Assessor Bill Postmus.
Under California law, most campaign contributions must be disclosed. The law recognizes the compelling governmental interests served by disclosure, including educating members of the electorate. Unfortunately, if the charges are true, Derry had no interest in educating the public as to the source of some of his campaign contributions.
For those with a law book handy, flip to the definition of "unclean hands" and you will see a picture of the disgraced Postmus, who recently pleaded guilty to more than a dozen felonies, including accepting bribes. Postmus made a deal with prosecutors to provide them with information, and it now seems some of that information involves Derry.
Derry has stated that if he did not comply with reporting requirements, it was a mistake and he will fix it. The investigator's declaration in the case tells a story that sounds like anything but a mistake. According to the declaration, Derry actively tried to conceal Stubblefield's name from Derry's campaign reports. Not one to inconvenience anyone, Derry reportedly told Stubblefield that he could write his donation check to Postmus' PAC, and Derry then delivered the check himself. The declaration also provides that Stubblefield admitted to writing a check to Postmus' PAC, which was intended for Derry's campaign. The PAC did indeed later write a check for the same amount as Stubblefield's check, $5,000, to Derry's campaign.
With charges like this, it is simply shocking that the public doesn't have more faith in their elected officials. It boggles the mind why elected representatives face low approval ratings. Derry's case, if true, should serve as a cautionary tale, and a reminder to officials everywhere to remember what it should mean to be a public servant.