State Senate’s ethics review is tomorrow

The state Senate will hold its special ethics review and self-flagellation session Wednesday, following the conviction of one senator and the indictment of two others.

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, announced the special day last month; all senators and staffers are required to attend.

The Senate voted 28-1 on March 28 to suspend Sens. Leland Yee, Ron Calderon and Rod Wright. Yee, D-San Francisco, has been indicted for allegedly selling official favors and conspiring to traffic in firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms. Calderon, D-Montebello, was indicted last month on bribery charges. Wright, D-Inglewood, was convicted in January of voter fraud and perjury related to not living in the district he represents.

Steinberg’s office says the meetings “will be closed sessions to facilitate frank discussions and candid interactive dialogue among the participants,” though Steinberg and Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff will hold a news conference late Wednesday morning.

The group sessions will include a presentation on “Creating a Culture of Ethics – A National Perspective” by Scott Raecker, CEO of the Josephson Institute of Ethics and executive director of Character Counts at Drake University. The nonprofit Josephson Institute works with corporations, governmental agencies and professionals on strengthening standards of conduct in individual and institutional decision-making.

There will also be a panel discussion of the “Challenges of Legal Ethics in a Legislative Environment” facilitated by three attorneys with expertise in political and campaign issues: Lance Olson of Olson & Hagel, who advises some of the state’s foremost Democrats; Charles Bell Sr. of Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, general counsel to the California Republican Party; and John Panneton, a former federal prosecutor. The panel will present hypothetical scenarios that raise potential ethical and legal issues; those scenarios will also be used by senate chiefs of staff, committee chief consultants and office directors as they lead staff discussions in individual Capitol offices later Wednesday.


Spotlighting suspended senators’ money & votes

You might have a harder time finding their legislative histories now, but three state senators who are in trouble with the law are being spotlighted by a Berkeley-based nonprofit that tracks money in politics.

MapLight.org reminded the public Monday that their site makes it easy to find the industries and individuals who have given the most (at least, those who’ve given the most through legal channels) to embattled state senators Leland Yee, D-San Francisco; Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, and Rod Wright, D-Inglewood.

Yee was indicted Friday on six counts of bribery, one county of conspiring to take bribes and one count of conspiring to traffic guns. Calderon was indicted in February on bribery charges. Wright was convicted in January of voter fraud and perjury related to not living in the district he represents.

Here’s a taste of MapLight’s data – lists of the top 10 interests that have given the most to those three senators from 2009 through 2012:

Leland Yee
Public Sector Unions — $81,800
Health Professionals — $54,720
General Trade Unions — $45,103
Insurance — $42,000
Pharmaceuticals & Health Products — $23,528
Gambling & Casinos — $20,100
Telecom Services & Equipment — $18,300
Accountants — $18,100
Real Estate — $16,820
Poultry & Eggs — $15,600

Ron Calderon
Insurance — $92,200
General Trade Unions — $57,600
Pharmaceuticals & Health Products — $38,900
Public Sector Unions — $38,250
Telecom Services & Equipment — $28,747
Health Professionals — $26,600
Real Estate — $24,200
Oil & Gas — $21,950
Electric Utilities — $20,500
Tribal Governments — $17,100

Rod Wright
Insurance — $99,707
General Trade Unions — $81,050
Public Sector Unions — $76,400
Telecom Services & Equipment — $62,989
Tribal Governments — $61,500
Beer, Wine & Liquor — $56,440
Gambling & Casinos — $56,191
Oil & Gas — $54,050
Pharmaceuticals & Health Products — $46,650
Real Estate — $42,900

The state Senate voted 28-1 on March 28 to suspend the three senators, and their official websites were “wiped” over the weekend of their legislative histories, biographies, news releases and so on.

But you can still find a list of bills each has introduced by visiting the state’s legislative information page and typing in their names. And their campaign finance histories are still available through the Secretary of State’s database: Follow these links to Yee, Calderon and Wright.


GOP senators seek to force Rod Wright’s explusion

Three Republican state senators will move for a vote Thursday to expel state Sen. Roderick Wright from the Legislature.

Wright, D-Inglewood, was convicted of last month of eight felony counts of perjury and voter fraud related to not living in the district he represents. The California Constitution disqualifies anyone convicted of crimes including perjury and malfeasance in office from keeping their seat, but state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has said he won’t seek Wright’s resignation before the judge makes the jury’s verdict final at sentencing.

Wright’s sentencing was delayed last week until May 16. Steinberg announced Tuesday that he had “met with Senator Wright and he requested an indefinite (paid) leave of absence pending the conclusion of the legal process now before the trial court in Los Angeles. I’ve accepted his request and wish him well going forward.”

That won’t fly for senators Steve Knight, R-Antelope Valley; Joel Anderson, R-El Cajon; and Andy Vidak, R-Hanford. They’ll be moving for a vote during Thursday’s floor session on Senate Resolution 29, for Wright’s explusion.

Read the full text of SR 29, after the jump…
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Darrell Steinberg urges Ron Calderon to resign

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg on Friday urged state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, to resign, hours after federal prosecutors announced he and his brother are charged with 24 counts involving bribery, kickbacks and cover-ups.

Here’s the full statement from Steinberg, D-Sacramento:

“I make this statement with the full support of my caucus.

“I value and respect the legal principle that a criminal defendant is innocent unless proven guilty. I also know that the Senate has an ethics code that governs the behavior of elected officials, regardless of whether they are convicted or not. Senator Calderon is entitled to his full due process in all venues. It may be difficult, if not impossible, for the Senate to conduct a full investigation of the issues contained in the indictment because the U.S. Attorney has asked us specifically not to call any witnesses who are part of their investigation.

“Given the seriousness of charges that strike at the very heart of what it means to be a public official, Senator Calderon’s continued service is a cloud over all the important work that we must get done this year. It is in the best interests of the people and the Senate if he resigns. I call on him to do so. The Senate Rules committee has already stripped him of his committee chairmanship and his committee assignments.

“At a minimum, he should take a complete leave of absence until the criminal proceedings are finished. If he does not resign, or take that leave of absence voluntarily, the Senate will seek to suspend him.”

This is quite a departure from Steinberg’s refusal just a few weeks ago to urge state Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood – convicted of eight felonies related to not living in the district he represents – to resign his seat. One could argue that the charges against Calderon are significantly more serious; one also could argue that Calderon has not yet been convicted of anything, while Wright has.


Brown pleases gun advocates and foes

As with many other bills Gov. Jerry Brown handled this session, he seemed to split the baby Sunday when deciding on bills dealing with how, where and when firearms can be carried in California, and by whom.

As I reported here earlier today, Brown signed AB 144, banning the “open carry” of unloaded handguns in public places – a bill supported by gun-control groups and law enforcement by opposed by gun-rights advocates. But he also signed SB 610 to streamline, speed and cheapen the process to seek a permit to carry a concealed handgun, something gun-rights advocates supported.

Brown also signed a bill letting the state Justice Department use an existing fee to fund its program tracking and seizing firearms from people who aren’t legally allowed to have them, and a bill requiring the state to preserve buyer information on rifles and shotguns sold or transferred in the state, just as it already does for handguns – both opposed by gun-rights advocates. But he pleased those same advocates by vetoing a bill on handgun ammunition sales, saying it’s something the courts should work out first.

AB 144, by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, makes it a misdemeanor to openly carry an unloaded handgun in any public place or street. Violations are punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Law enforcement personnel are exempt as are security guards, hunters and others carrying unloaded weapons under certain conditions.

“The right to Open Carry has been legal in the State of California since its inception, and there has never been a single case of an Open Carry advocate ever committing a violent crime in the Golden State’s entire 160-year history,” said Responsible Citizens of California President Adnan Shahab of Fremont, adding his group will work with others to challenge the new law in court. “Since no problem has ever existed that needs to be addressed or fixed, there was no reason for AB 144 in the first place.”

But California Police Chiefs Association President David Maggard Jr. said today that open carry was “a threat to the safety of the communities we police and the safety of our officers. The Governor’s leadership in signing this legislation will help assure that felons and gang members cannot openly carry an unloaded gun with impunity, all the while carrying the ammunitions for the weapon on their person, because with open carry, officers were prohibited from conducting any further investigation to determine if the individual is legally in possession of the weapon.”

SB 610 by state Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood, requires that a person need not pay for handgun training before the county sheriff has decided whether that person has good cause to receive a permit to carry a concealed weapon. If the sheriff finds no good cause, the bill requires that he or she inform the person why. One way or the other, the sheriff must give notice within 90 days of the application or 30 days after receiving the applicant’s criminal background check from the Justice Department, whichever is later.

The bill was supported by the California Rifle and Pistol Association and the National Rifle Association.

Lots more, after the jump…
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