The California Senate on Wednesday approved new campaign rules in response to a controversy involving the political activities of suspended Sen. Ronald S. Calderon and his brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, both Democrats from Montebello.
The measure, which next goes to the governor for consideration, prohibits elected water board members throughout California from accepting campaign contributions of more than $250 from sources with business pending before their board.
The bill by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) also requires water district board members to abstain from voting if they have accepted such a donation in the previous year.
Garcia introduced the bill in response to reports by the Los Angeles Times that the two Calderon brothers had made large campaign contributions to four of the five board members of the Central Basin Municipal Water District before the panel voted to approve a lucrative consulting contact for Tom Calderon.
“Given the scandals in my backyard with the Central Basin, this was important to me,” Garcia said after the vote. She worked the Senate floor before the vote trying to get enough support for passage of the bill. “If I’ve accumulated political capital over the last 18 months up here, I kind of cashed it all in today on this bill.”
Ronald and Tom Calderon were indicted by a federal grand jury in February on charges unrelated to the water district. The senator was accused of accepting $88,000 in bribes in exchange for official actions and the former assemblyman was charged with money laundering. They both have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
The U.S. attorney’s office has also subpoenaed records from the Central Basin district, including documents involving a district contract that paid Tom Calderon more than $750,000 in consulting fees since 2004 for political and legislative advice.
The last, six-month, $69,996 contract with Tom Calderon was approved by the district board on Aug. 27, 2012.
Less than three months before the contract vote, a Tom Calderon campaign committee contributed $10,000 on May 30 to the reelection committee of water board member Phil Hawkins. He also gave $1,557 to Hawkins a month earlier.
Water board members Ed Vasquez, Rudy Montalvo and Art Chacon also voted for the Calderon contract extension. Montalvo and Vasquez are no longer on the board.
Vasquez’s reelection committee received $6,433 in three contributions from Tom Calderon from February through May of 2012, and $4,400 from Sen. Calderon that year. Montalvo’s reelection campaign received $6,262 in contributions from Tom Calderon spread out over March, April and May 2012.
Chacon’s campaign for the water board received a $3,000 contribution from Sen. Calderon in 2010.
The water board also approved a $965,000 contract that was awarded to Water2Save, a company with which Tom Calderon held a consulting contract. However, district plans changed and the Water2Save contract with the district was never paid out.
Garcia’s bill would not only restrict board members in accepting campaign cash and voting, but would also require them to publicly disclose at a meeting if they have received a contribution of more than $250 from an entity with business before the board.
The measure was opposed by the Assn. of California Water Agencies and the California Special Districts Assn., which said in a letter to lawmakers that the measure “could set negative precedent for other special districts and local agencies by changing campaign finance principles for locally elected officials."