In Fundraising, As Elsewhere, The More Things Change…

The line between felony and fundraising is plainly visible.

Public officials who vote or act in a certain way in return for a campaign contribution are guilty of  big time crime.

Yet California legislative history is littered with politicians and those who solicit contributions for them who have gone well outside the OB marker.  

This inability to solicit within the lines led to the conviction of 14 Democratic and Republican lawmakers, staffers, lobbyists in a federal undercover corruption investigation that came to light 25 years ago this August.

Memories of Shrimpgate — so dubbed because the phony bill used by FBI agents to snare lawmakers centered on economic inducements to locate a shrimp processing plant in West Sacramento – have been rekindled recently.

Recently, Sen. Ron Calderon of Montebello received a search warrant from FBI agents who wished to poke around the 56-year-old Democrat’s Capitol office. Calderon’s brother, Tom, a former Assemblyman, seeks his brother’s Senate seat. Tom’s actions on behalf of clients are rumored to be part of the investigation. Both brothers deny wrongdoing. Federal authorities won’t say what they’re up to.

Nonetheless, the mere presence of FBI agents in the Capitol invariably leads to intense soul-searching by lawmakers — even those of unblemished reputation.

Lists of contributors are scrutinized. Unfamiliar donors are investigated. Votes, both for and against bills of all description, are catalogued. The substance of legislation is examined – often for the first time.

Searches are made for any public statements about voting for another lawmaker’s bill if certain amendments are taken. That’s a felony, should prosecutors wish to bring charges.

The fundraising invitation below is not a felony. It’s not even close.


Overly overt? Sure. But there’s never been anything subtle about fundraising.

“California’s rookie class of lawmakers campaigned on a pledge to clean up the Capitol but so far they have been as busy as their more seasoned colleagues vacuuming up campaign contributions from special interests.”

So begins a March 13, 1995 article on legislative fundraising in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Later the piece quotes then Senate President Pro Tempore Bill Lockyer, a Hayward Democrat:

“Actual illegal practices are rare. There were a few bad apples in the building but they got turned into applesauce by federal prosecutors (several years ago),” said Lockyer, referring to Shrimpogate. “What we need to respond to is an appearance of impropriety.”

Again, that’s a quote from 18 years ago.

Mickey Conroy

Mickey Conroy

In the 1995 article, Lockyer says an appeal by then Assemblyman Mickey Conroy, an Orange Republican, is “probably a crime.” 

(Lockyer’s probably right.)

Conroy had recently been named chair of the lower house’s Utilities and Commerce committee. He sent an appeal to a “small, select group involved specifically in the utilities and commerce arena” inviting them – at $2,500-a-head — to attend a Sacramento Kings basketball game and sit in a luxury box with him and then Assembly Republican leader Jim Brulte, now head of the state Republican Party.

“This is like no other fund-raising event you have attended,” the article quotes Conroy as saying in his letter. “Consider: Size — Only a dozen guests. Venue — A fabulous 26-seat luxury suite. Access — Three-plus hours to discuss your utilities and commerce issues with Leader Brulte and me.”

 The letter quite literally links access to campaign contributions. Conroy said he never approved the final draft of the letter and canceled the event, the article notes.

The article continues:

 “Other invitations by lawmakers bear messages that are similar but more subtle. A popular strategy is to list which committees a legislator is on — a reminder to lobbyists of the subject areas the lawmaker can influence.”

Eighteen years later, the same strategy is employed by Kevin de Leon or KDL as he enjoys being called.

(Presumably like JFK and FDR rather than BFD.)

Beneath his name at the top of the fundraising invitation, de Leon identifies himself as “Chair, Senate Appropriations Committee.”    

Sen. Kevin de Leon

Sen. Kevin de Leon

The invitation to the $1,000-a-head “evening reception” doesn’t contain a paragraph or even a footnote that says something like:

 “Appropriations is the committee that determines the fate of the legislative session’s most significant measures of which most powerful interest groups that employ lobbyists have several.”

Amplification of that sort isn’t necessary. Lobbyists or the heads of trade associations or corporate government relations who receive de Leon’s missive earn their living navigating the complexities of the legislative process.

They know more than they want to about de Leon, the committee he chairs, the contents of the committee’s suspense file, even the peccadillos of the committee’s staff.

Nonetheless, de Leon chooses to tell the obvious to these well-informed members of the Third House. Why?

To subliminally increase receptiveness to becoming a “patron” at $2,500 or a “sponsor” at $4,100? To insinuate the tightly woven nexus between chair and final committee action? To tease into consciousness any anxiety over the outcome of major issues pending with the committee and, thus, invest accordingly?         

Of course not. That would be ridiculously wrong. And way too subtle.




Filed under: Fundraising

1 Comment »

  1. True Story: Two weeks ago I was attending a trade association conference and during a time out from the presentations, I broke out the iPad to check messages. As the WiFi began searching for connections, one of them read: FBI Surveillance Van.

    Probably some Capitol denizen’s idea of comedy but for many, I’m sure it isn’t so funny.

    Comment by ThinkChick — 6.22.2013 @ 5:58 pm

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