American Indian tribe fined for violations involving Sen. Calderon

American Indian tribe fined for violations involving Sen. Calderon
State Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, sits at his desk in January before he was suspended. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

An American Indian tribe that runs a Northern California casino and golf course has agreed to pay $9,000 in fines for campaign finance violations that include improperly providing more than a thousand dollars worth of free golf games at a fundraiser held for state Sen. Ronald S. Calderon (D-Montebello).

Investigators for the state Fair Political Practices Commission are also looking at possible fines against Calderon for accepting the free golf games at the Cache Creek Casino Resort and Yocha Dehe Golf Club as campaign contributions that exceeded the state limits on such donations.

"We are pursuing it," said Gary Winuk, chief of enforcement for the commission.

Calderon was suspended from the Senate with pay in March after he was charged by federal prosecutors with accepting $88,000 in bribes in exchange for his influence on legislation as a lawmaker. He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting a trial in 2015. A spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

In a new, unrelated civil case, the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, which operates the casino resort and golf club north of Sacramento, has agreed to pay administrative fines to the state commission for four violations of campaign finance laws.

An investigative report by FPPC enforcement staff says the golf course was frequently used by politicians for campaign fundraisers, and the tribe would often not charge campaign committees for the cost of golf rounds for tournament participants.

"The free rounds of golf constituted non-monetary campaign contributions by Respondent to the committees of the officers/candidates," the report said. "On three occasions …, Respondent failed to disclose the free rounds of golf as contributions on its campaign statements and lobbyist employer reports."

The improperly reported fundraising costs benefitted Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced) and former Assemblyman Joe Coto (D-San Jose).

Gray has agreed to pay a $2,000 fine to the FPPC for failing to disclose the non-monetary contribution from Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.

The FPPC report released Monday said that Calderon held a golf tournament fundraiser for his campaign committee in March 2009 and the event cost the tribe $10,195.98, but his committee was billed only $3,870.98, which covered the cost of food and beverages for the event.

"The invoice did not include the cost of golf for the tournament participants, which totaled $6,325," the report said. "The Calderon Committee paid the invoice amount but did not make any additional payment to Respondent for the fundraiser."

The tribe had already contributed $3,000 directly to Calderon so the unpaid fundraising costs put it well over the $7,800 contribution limit for that election.

"Contribution limits exist to prevent contributors from exerting disproportionate influence over elected officials," the enforcement staff wrote in arguing for a fine. "A contribution limit violation is one of the more serious violations of the (Political Reform) Act."

In January 2010, the tribe asked Calderon through its lobbyist to pay the unpaid balance but it was not, the report said.

"A review of Yocha Dehe’s campaign contribution records over the past several years uncovered four administrative errors in its reporting process," said Greg Larsen, a spokesman for the tribe in a statement. "Yocha Dehe takes very seriously its responsibility to report all contributions in a timely and accurate manner and amended its reports as soon as the errors were discovered.It will pay the fine determined by the FPPC."

The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation reported that its lobbyist at the time was the firm Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates. In February, the firm headed by lobbyist Kevin Sloat paid a record $133,500 fine to the FPPC for providing expensive wine, cigars and liquor to 38 politicians, including Calderon, at fundraisers held in Sloat's Sacramento home.

The tribe also failed to properly disclose contributions through golf fundraisers for the campaigns of Padilla, a candidate for secretary of state, Gray and Coto. A September 2010 golf tournament fundraiser held for Padilla's ballot measure committee cost the tribe $8,146, which it failed to report at the time.

Separately, the FPPC staff has proposed a $1,000 fine against state Assembly chief executive Debra Gravert for accepting tickets to a San Francisco 49ers football game arranged by the Sloat lobbying firm in 2012. It is a violation to accept a gift arranged by a lobbyist. At the time, she was on the staff of a state assemblyman.

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