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A lot was made yesterday of Bob Kittle’s allegation on the U-T‘s editorial page that City Attorney Mike Aguirre violated the city charter by accepting campaign donations from employees.

As that argument subsided and was questioned by two legal experts, an attorney for the Republican Party said she wanted to focus on a different legal issue: Did the city attorney solicit donations from his employees?

There’s a key difference there, as the city’s election laws — which are separate from the city charter — forbid elected officials from soliciting campaign contributions from their employees, unless those employees received the plea as part of a larger segment of the public. These are the laws that can be enforced by the Ethics Commission.

Those same election laws do allow employees to give to their bosses.

So the key, Republican Party attorney Theresa McAteer said, would be to see if those employees who gave to Aguirre were directly solicited.

I talked with three of them today. Here’s what they said:

  • Don McGrath said he went to a small fundraiser in Old Town. He also had a conversation with Jeff Van Deerlin, an aide in the City Attorney’s Office and a volunteer campaign worker, who mentioned that it was the end of the campaign-finance reporting period. McGrath said he gave his donation to Van Deerlin.

“Nobody solicited anything,” McGrath said. He declined to discuss from whom he learned of the fundraiser.

  • Kathryn Burton said she knows about the election process, knew his campaign was starting and wanted to be the first to contribute to Aguirre’s campaign.

“So I had the honor of being able to write the first check to Mike,” she said. Van Deerlin also said Burton wanted to be the first to write a check.

“I believe I speak for the other people, we are all really big Mike supporters,” Burton said.

  • Van Deerlin said he works in an unpaid role on the Aguirre reelection campaign and does his campaign work at home. “I do my darnedest and I really try to keep both things separate. I don’t like people coming in and talking politics in this office,” he said.

Van Deerlin said a minimum of $1,000 in contributions was needed to open Aguirre’s campaign committee.

“I probably said to Karen (Heumann) and Kathryn (Burton) that we needed $1,000,” he said. “They said, ‘I’ll give.’”

He said six of the seven employees who gave to Aguirre had given to his 2004 campaign, so they would’ve been in the campaign’s database to receive general solicitations. The seventh, Walter Chung, has known Aguirre since 1993 and used to work for Aguirre’s private firm.

“I think that’s an important distinction that these are all long-time supporters of Mike,” Van Deerlin said.

ANDREW DONOHUE

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