Wednesday, June 26, 2013

State Sen. Ron Calderon sets up legal defense fund -- which, unlike a campaign, has no limit on giving

The Sacramento Bee reported June 21 that state Sen. Ron Calderon, who represents the Montebello area, has set up "a legal defense fund to cover expenses related to his 'public corruption investigation,'" according to a letter he filed with the secretary of state.

The FBI raided Calderon's Sacramento office June 4 and carted off several boxes. Although the agency has not said what it's investigating, it appears that the issue involves the senator's relationship with Central Basin Municipal Water District, for whom his brother Tom, a former state legislator, worked as a consultant.

Central Basin is a member of the San Gabriel River Discovery Center Authority.

Calderon's letter, the Bee continues, says that the funds "will be only to pay the attorney's fees and other legal costs related to the defense of the candidate as well as administrative costs directly related to compliance with recordkeeping and reporting requirements."

This isn't the senator's first experience with a legal defense fund, as the Bee noted.

He raised more than $150,000 after the legal issue was resolved, and his "expenditures from the account included more than $10,000 at the Bandon Dunes golf course in Oregon, $11,000 at the Edgewood golf resort at Lake Tahoe and $400 on restaurant tabs in Hawaii."

The rules were later changed, but one great irony remains regarding defense funds for elected officials: Unlike campaign contributions, "donations to legal defense funds remain free from the limits on how much individuals and interest groups can give to political campaigns."

In politics, money = influence.  And when the amount a contributor can give is unlimited, and the issues in play are whether the official will be found guilty of a crime and possibly go to jail? That, dear reader, is the potential for massively corrupting influence.

And all through a tool intended, in this case, to help an official defend himself in a public corruption investigation.

It's a looking-glass world.
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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Judge halts Whittier Hills oil drilling project; FBI raids local state senator's Sacramento office

Here at the Friends we follow events that impact the environment or governance, locally and beyond. Last week brought news of two events, one a long-hoped-for court decision on a local environmental matter, the other an unexpected federal law enforcement action targeting a local state representative. 

The environment . . . 

It appears the plans of the city of Whittier and its petroleum company partners to exploit taxpayer-purchased open space in the Whittier Hills for oil and profit will not go forward.
"When the parties say we want this for open space, that is inconsistent with having an oil derrick on it." -- Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant
The Whittier Daily News' Steve Scauzillo reported June 6 that Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant "halted the controversial oil and gas exploration project under way in the Whittier Hills, ruling the city of Whittier is acting against the wishes of Los Angeles County voters who paid for the land to be preserved in perpetuity as open space."

"When the parties say we want this for open space," Scauzillo reported the judge saying from the bench, "that is inconsistent with having an oil derrick on it." 

Scauzillo reported that local opponents celebrated the decision. The project had been opposed by organizations and officials such as Whittier Hills Oil Watch, conservation groups, the county, and the state attorney general since 2008.

The decision could leave things hot and contentious for Whittier leadership. Scauzillo reported June 7 that the city may have opened itself to lawsuits stemming from the decision.

WHOW representatives said the plaintiffs might sue for damages, and the city's oil industry partners might also sue.

WHOW representatives also said their group was looking at the possibility of a recall of city council members. 

. . . and the FBI raid 

Also last week, the FBI raided the Sacramento offices of state Sen. Ron Calderon, who represents the Montebello area and is part of an influential political family dynasty. 

The family has financial ties to one of the San Gabriel River Discovery Center partner agencies, Central Basin Municipal Water District.

The feds are keeping tight-lipped on the raid and investigation. The Los Angeles Times reported June 4 that a FBI spokesperson "said all information related to the nature of the search was sealed and the agency could not discuss it."

On Monday, the Times reported that Calderon had broken his silence regarding the raid, saying that he would focus on doing his job. 

"My intention at this point is to do my job that I was elected to do," he said, "attend my hearings, get my bills passed out of committee to the floor, and do the work of the state."

Based on information from other Southern California officials, the Times said it was possible the investigation was looking at "a group of healthcare companies that have fought restrictions . . . and have paid Calderon's brother Tom, a former lawmaker himself, tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees since leaving the Legislature."

The paper also said "officials have said they've been interviewed by the FBI about contracts that had been awarded by the Central Basin Municipal Water District to Tom Calderon."

Monday, June 3, 2013

$25 billion for state's proposed water fix

Last month here we discussed the politicking required to put a pork-laden $11 billion water bond before the voters. Last week, the Los Angeles Times' Bettina Boxall reported that the larger plan of which that bond is part is projected to cost $25 billion.

The state proposal to make dramatic changes to the "hub" of California's water system, Boxall writes, "calls for habitat restoration and the construction of two enormous tunnels to divert water from the Sacramento River and carry it under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to southbound pumps."

The costs--as currently projected--and who will bear them seem clear. As the San Jose Mercury News reported last week, "About 68 percent of the new Delta plan would be covered by water users through higher rates, while about 15 percent would come from taxpayers by way of two future water bonds, including one set for 2014."

Really, the 68-percent and 15-percent figures should be added together since they point to the same pocket. Which means that the ratepayer/taxpayer should expect to end up footing almost 85 percent of that $25 billion bill--if there aren't any cost overruns.

And, according to critics of the project, urban water users--that would be most people in the state--should expect to bear a bigger percentage of the costs than has been projected. That's because agriculture won't be able to afford its share. 

"They're irrational costs for a subset of San Joaquin Valley farmers to bear," said Jeffrey Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. "Urban users are going to pay much more for this than they've been told and the usual cost overruns will just make the problems worse."

Who stands where on this proposal? The Mercury News reports that supporters "include farm and business leaders, along with labor unions and many of the state's largest water districts, from the Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles to the Westlands Water District in Fresno." Opponents "include environmentalists, fishing groups and a dozen Bay Area members of Congress."

Perhaps the most interesting note in the Mercury News story was the suggestion that Gov. Jerry Brown may be suffering from "administration envy" and entertaining "hopes of going down in history as prolific as his governor father in creating lasting, visible signs of his political craftsmanship on California's landscape."

Clearly, it's not just questions of policy that get addressed when policy is debated and made. 
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