As we reported last week, Republican State Senator John Benoit has received at least one campaign contribution (possibly more) tied to the money laundering scandal involving indicted San Jacinto developer Steve Holgate.
John Benoit who served in the California Highway Patrol with Steve Holgate has denied having a close, personal friendship with the indicted developer. Benoit instead distanced himself from Holgate, calling him "an acquaintance" rather than a "friend."
The Californian reported that John Benoit at first denied receiving a campaign contribution from one of the donors, Accurate Business Services, that was reimbursed by Steve Holgate for contributions to indicted San Jacinto City Councilman Jim Ayres when Ayres ran for the State Assembly.
According to The Californian:
"After initially saying he did not receive a contribution from a key figure in the San Jacinto campaign money-laundering case, Sen. John Benoit, R-Palm Desert, acknowledged Wednesday that a Temecula woman gave money to his 2008 state Senate campaign through her bookkeeping business."
John Benoit's initial denial of the contribution is troubling. So is Benoit's characterization of Steve Holgate as merely "an acquaintance." Especially when this so-called acquaintance spent over $100,000 last year to help get John Benoit elected to the State Senate.
While state contribution limits prevent a single donor from giving more than $3600 to a candidate for the legislature, there are ways around the law.
One is the illegal way of laundering money to candidate through other donors as it appears Holgate did in 2006 for Jim Ayres' Assembly race. The alleged money laundering scheme between Jim Ayres and Steve Holgate is at the heart of District Attorney Rod Pacheco's corruption case against them, three other San Jacinto City Councilmembers, a San Jacinto School Board Members, and three other local businessmen.
The other way is a legal way where a major donor can contribute money to another campaign committee separate and apart from the official campaign. These are called Independent Expenditure Committees. The First Amendment prohibits the State from placing contribution or spending limits on these types of campaign committees. However, these committees are prohibited from coordinating their activities with the candidates they are supporting.
Last year Steve Holgate bypassed state contribution limits and provided an additional $100,000 of support to John Benoit's State Senate campaign by giving the money to a front group called "The Conservative Leaders of America."
Conservative Leaders of America then paid the Sacramento-based Republican political consulting firm of Gilliard, Blanning,Wysocki and Associates $95,222 to campaign for John Benoit and against his opponent, Republican businessman Russ Bogh.
We here at Inside Riverside believe that based on the information that is available, there needs to be a closer examination and greater scrutiny of John Benoit's ties to Steve Holgate. Benoit's denials of easily provable facts and Holgate's $100,000 spending spree on John Benoit's behalf warrant such a a review.
While both The Press-Enterprise and The Californian are looking at ties between Benoit and Holgate, The Desert Sun has yet to print a single line about this story.
Is The Desert Sun trying to protect Benoit from criticism within his soon-to-be Supervisorial District? After all The Desert Sun did strongly advocate Benoit's appointment. To report that Benoit may be knee deep with a crooked developer might be in the best interest of their readership, its certainly not in the best interest of the paper's credibility.
But perhaps a serious examination of Benoit's relationship with Holgate is already taking place. A spokesman for the Riverside County District Attorney's Office refused to comment when asked if John Benoit was under criminal investigation along with Steve Holgate and Jim Ayres.
Round and round the San Jacinto political corruption case goes. Where the charges of money laundering, bribery, and tax evasion stop, no one quite knows yet dear readers.