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.


Legal scandals lead Dems to cancel golf fundraiser

Chalk up one immediate victim of the ethical and legal scandals sullying the state Senate: Golf.

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Sen. Kevin de Leon, who’ll succeed Steinberg in the top spot at the end of this year, issued a joint statement Tuesday announcing they’ve cancelled this weekend’s Pro Tem Cup – the annual Democratic party fundraiser at which donors give tens of thousands of dollars to join legislative leaders on the links at Torrey Pines in La Jolla – “in light of the very recent and extraordinary breaches of the public trust by three individuals.”

C’mon, guys, SAY THE NAMES! Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood, convicted of voter fraud and perjury; Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, indicted on bribery charges; and Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, charged last week with trading favors for money and conspiring to traffic arms.

So, no golf!

“In its place, we intend to spend this weekend in our districts having an open and public conversation with our constituents about the work ahead for this Legislature and for this state,” Steinberg and de Leon said in their joint statement. “It’s important that our constituents understand that, despite the appalling acts of a few individuals who – on their own – put self-interest ahead of the public interest, the Senators who are here are here to serve, to do the hard, unglamorous work of fixing tough public-policy problems, and – most important – to do it the right way.”

And that means putting the putters away. Steinberg and de Leon said the modern campaign system makes fundraising “an occupational necessity, but Senate Democrats have always prided themselves on doing it ethically, appropriately, and in full adherence to every rule and regulation governing public disclosure.

“The Pro Tem Cup has long been a successful, signature example of this,” they said. “But these are unprecedented times and they demand that we take a step back and take stock of how we all do the people’s business and balance it against the demands of running for office.”

The lawmakers said Senate leadership in coming weeks will conduct a “rigorous review of existing campaign finance laws and our own internal fundraising practices – and make recommendations on where we can improve as a caucus and a state, with a focus on when, where and how we raise campaign dollars and how we increase public transparency.” They’ll also schedule a public hearing to discuss campaign finance “the constitutional limits on reform.”

“Make no mistake: Senate Democrats fully intend to strengthen our productive, progressive majority this election year and have no intention of unilaterally disarming in terms of campaign resources,” Steinberg and de Leon said. “But this is time for a reality check. And, while the Legislature as a whole cannot be held responsible for the bad acts of three individual members, we do bear a high and profound responsibility to do all we can to repair the excruciating breach of public confidence they left behind.”


Why the senate suspension vote was only 28-1

A caller left me a voice mail this morning noting that we’ve not reported why several state senators didn’t cast votes in Friday’s roll call on suspending the three Democrats who’ve run afoul of the law.

The vote was 28-1 in favor of suspension; the lone dissenter, Joel Anderson, R-San Diego, believed suspension was too light a reaction and expulsion would be more appropriate.

The senate has 40 seats, one of which (the 23rd District) currently is vacant. And naturally, the three senators being suspended – Leland Yee, D-San Francisco; Ron Calderon, D-Montebello; and Rod Wright, D-Inglewood – weren’t there to vote.

So that leaves seven. Of those, six – Marty Block, D-San Diego; Mark Leno, D-San Francisco; Richard Roth, D-Riverside; Fran Pavley, D-Calabasas; Anthony Cannella, R-Modesto; and Andy Vidak, R-Hanford – had excused absences for previously scheduled commitments and were not in Sacramento.

State Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-South Los Angeles, is the only senator who was present but didn’t vote.

“She felt that the motion should have been divided so that each case was considered separately, so they could debate the merits and the ground for each case,” Mitchell spokesman Charles Stewart said Monday. “But there was not the mood or the votes to sever the issue.”


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.


Steinberg wants Calderon 86ed from committees

State Sen. Ron Calderon – embroiled in an FBI corruption probe – should be removed from all his committee assignments, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg recommended Wednesday.

“I am asking the Senate Rules Committee to temporarily remove Senator Ron Calderon as chair of the Senate Insurance Committee, pending resolution of the United States Attorney’s investigation into his conduct,” Steinberg, D-Sacarmento, said in a statement issued Wednesday morning. “I will also ask the Committee to temporarily remove Senator Calderon from all other committee assignments, pending the same investigation.”

“I do not make this request lightly, nor do I judge the truth of the publicly reported allegations,” Steinberg continued. “I am concerned, however, about keeping Senator Calderon in his positions. The allegations, though yet unproven, are serious enough to cloud any interactions the Senator might have with colleagues, advocates, and the public on issues within his jurisdiction.”

The claim that an elected official took money and favors for official acts “is perhaps the most serious breach of the public trust and the institution in which they serve,” Steinberg said. “In other highly sensitive public situations that do not involve proven allegations of misconduct, public employers take similar actions. The public and the Senate deserve no less protection in the current situation.”

Calderon, D-Montebello, chairs the Senate Insurance Committee and sits on the Banking and Financial Institutions Committee, the Environmental Quality Committee, the Governmental Organization Committee, and the Select Committee on Procurement. Steinberg also wants to eliminate the Select Committee on California’s Film and Television Industry, which Calderon chairs but which has not convened since its creation earlier this year.

The Rules Committee will consider Steinberg’s recommendations at 1 p.m. Tuesday in Room 113 of the State Capitol.