The state enforcer of campaign finance laws is launching an investigation into Orange County Board of Education Trustee Mari Barke, after a retired federal judge accused her in a formal complaint of failing to disclose financial interests while in office.
The state Fair Political Practices Commission has agreed to look into concerns that while in office, Barke illegally failed to disclose her and her husband’s income, some of which at least came from a COVID-19 skeptic book.
The panel’s Feb. 22 decision to probe comes two weeks after Lynne Riddle, a former bankruptcy judge from 1988 to 2002, raised concerns in a Feb. 7 complaint that Barke underreported her earnings for the five years she was required to.
Barke, who also sits on the Cypress Chamber of Commerce General Board of Directors, said Thursday night she was not ready to comment on the claims.
“This is a serious allegation. I’m very sympathetic to it. I’m concerned about it and I just really don’t want to comment until I know more,” she said.
Citing Barke’s LinkedIn-listed work experience as an English language teacher and consultant, Riddle said Barke failed to disclose substantial income and business interests since becoming a Board of Education candidate and later office-holder.
That would be a violation of the Political Reform Act of 1974, which also created the state enforcement arm that reviewed Riddle’s complaint.
Riddle’s complaint also raised concerns that Barke failed to disclose the income of her “high-school sweetheart” and spouse, Dr. Jeff Barke, a Newport Beach concierge physician who owned as many as three medical practices and authored at least 50 books, including Covid-19: A Physicians Take on the Exaggerated Fear of the Corona Virus.
Under the law, candidates for elected office must not only report their own income sources, but that of their spouses.
“It is necessary for the FPPC to get to the bottom of the issue by conducting a thorough investigation to determine just how much she failed to disclose, and what conflicts of interest might exist. Enforcing these requirements is critical to retain public integrity,” Riddle said in a news release.
Riddle was a U.S. Bankruptcy judge for 14 years and often speaks out at Orange County Board of Education meetings criticizing the decisions made by the board.
Her complaint also notes Barke’s substantial history of campaign donations to other elected office seekers and committees, citing online-searchable spending receipts collected by the Federal Elections Commission.
Furthermore, the Barkes appeared to form a family trust holding title to their home, according to Riddle’s complaint, which might also hold information about the Barkes’ other revenue generating assets.
“But Mrs. Barke has failed to disclose even the existence of the trust, much less any assets on income, on her Form 700s,” the complaint reads.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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