Calif. Lawmakers Fined Over Campaign-Finance Games

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California’s political watchdog on Thursday fined a pair of lawmakers $93,000 for skirting campaign-finance laws stemming from a 2012 scheme aimed at preventing campaign funds from reaching their political rivals.

According to the California Fair Political Practices Commission, current Los Angeles-area state Sen. Tony Mendoza moved $50,000 from an independent expenditure committee to several state candidates running in the June 2012 primary election. The donations were over the state limit, and Mendoza violated conflict of interest laws by failing to report that the money came from multiple expenditure committees that he and his family controlled.

The commission says that just weeks before Mendoza left as chairman of the California Latino Legislative Caucus in 2012, he liquidated cash from the caucus-controlled committee “Yes We Can” in a last-ditch effort to keep the money from then-vice chairman Ron Calderon.

Calderon was upset that the caucus chose to endorse one of Mendoza’s long-time friends and not his brother, Tom Calderon. According to the commission, Mendoza feared he would be ousted from the caucus and that the committee’s cash would be funneled to Tom Calderon.

“Politically speaking, I don’t want Tom to win, because everybody knew that Tom was not running for Assembly really. He was running for Senate,” Mendoza is quoted in the commission’s complaint.

On his way out of the caucus, Mendoza moved chunks of money into committees controlled by other Democratic primary candidates including former Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez, who was running against the Calderons’ nephew Ian Calderon.

Tom Calderon was eventually defeated in his 2012 Assembly bid and did not run against Mendoza in the 2014 state Senate race.

The brothers recently pleaded guilty to public corruption, with Tom Calderon sentenced to a year for money laundering and Ron to more than three years for accepting $156,000 worth of bribes while in office. The U.S. Department of Justice dismissed 23 other counts as part of Ron Calderon’s plea agreement.

The five-member commission settled with Mendoza and Bermudez and their committees on 12 violations of the California Political Reform Act. Mendoza and his committees were fined $63,000, and Bermudez $30,000.

The original complaint was filed by Leslie Rodriguez, who worked on Ian Calderon’s campaign.

Mendoza said in October that he accepts responsibility for violating campaign-finance laws and that he’s eager to move forward.

“Although my actions were well intentioned, I will accept full responsibility for the FPPC campaign finance-related violations,” Mendoza said in a statement.

The political watchdog issued a combined $176,000 in penalties during its monthly hearing. The payments will be directed to the state’s general fund.

Other actions included a $9,000 penalty against Sacramento County Supervisor Susan Peters for voting on property projects in which she had a financial interest.

The commission also settled with the Contra Costa County committee “For the Children” for $25,000 over late contribution reports and its name change to reflect the economic interest of a donor. The committee campaigns for local tax measures that stand to raise revenue for schools in Contra Costa County.

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