Heading into the November general election to replace retiring U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, Orange County's Loretta Sanchez faces an almost impossible uphill battle. California Attorney General Kamala Harris, the more progressive frontrunner, trounced Sanchez during the June primary and increases her massive fundraising advantage on a daily basis.
But has the stress of chasing Harris prompted the Blue Dog Democrat's campaign to botch a federal disclosure report?
That question came to mind last night when I contacted an individual officially listed as a $2,700 contributor to the Loretta for Senate campaign: Mark Puente. According to a July quarterly report filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in Washington, D.C., Sanchez's campaign claims Puente gave the money on May 31, listed his employment with the "Baltimore Sun" and reported his occupation as "investigative reporter."
The entry caught my eye because Puente isn't just an investigative reporter; he's one of the nation's best journalistic hell raisers with a long list of honors, including three Pulitzer Prize nominations while capturing the Institute on Political Journalism's Clark Mollenhoff Award for Excellence in Investigative Reporting. Like myself, I assumed he might not share his income with a well-paid, ten-term member of Congress.
"I have no idea who Loretta is and the $2,700 you're talking about," Puente, who left the Sun for the Tampa Bay Times, told me. "If I had $2,700 I wanted to throw away, a politician would be the last person to get it."
Ashleigh Aitken, treasurer for Sanchez's campaign and the person who officially vouches for the accuracy of the disclosure reports, directed me to Luis Vizcaino, the campaign's spokesman.
Vizcaino, a 2008 California communications director for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential effort, said he was unaware of the issue and will investigate.
Katharine Borst, the committee's custodian of record, couldn't be reached; the telephone number she listed with the FEC has been disconnected.
(Aitken is the daughter of high-profile Orange County lawyer Wylie Aitken, the mastermind of Sanchez's historic, 1996 upset of Congressman Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove).
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UPDATE; 12:31 p.m.: Vizcaino issued this statement to the Weekly, "Mr. Mark Puente who contributed to the campaign is a different Mark Puente who was listed. We have made the correction and the filing will be amended."
Perhaps. Search records support Vizcaino's representation that a Mark Puente, this one a healthcare organization's CEO, is tied to the area.
But the mess raises two questions: What caused the bizarre mix up? After all, Puente, the journalist, has no connection whatsoever to the address or the Sanchez campaign. And what else can't be trusted on Sanchez's disclosure reports?