Sen. De León violated fundraising rule he authored; check refunded

Sen. De León admits his staff violated campaign finance rule he authored

A campaign committee for State Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) has violated a Senate rule he authored that prohibits accepting campaign contributions from groups that lobby the Legislature in August, the last month of the session. The senator acknowledged that one of his campaign committees accepted a $25,000 contribution early this month from the advocacy group EdVoice.

Dan Reeves, the chief of staff for De León, said a political staff member for the senator mistakenly deposited the check two days ago, but that it was refunded Thursday and the senator notified the Senate Rules Committee on Friday.

“Kevin sent the Rules Committee a letter today disclosing the violation, basically an administrative error, and the remedial action taken,” Reeves said. “Kevin is furious, but nevertheless it happened and it was corrected. As far as I am concerned it is no harm, no foul. It was remediated.”

De Leon said in the letter to Senate Secretary Gregory Schmidt: "I did not learn of this error until the campaign finance report became public yesterday.”

The senator added: “Nothing is more important to me than protecting the integrity of and public confidence in this Senate, which is why I advocated for Senate Rule 56 and why I hold myself and every member of my staff—both state and external to the highest standard of closely and clearly adhering to both the letter and the spirit of this rule. Moving forward, I strongly believe as we continue our outreach and education efforts that there will be improved compliance with our new Senate Rule.”

After two senators were charged with public corruption crimes, De León, who is in line to become the leader of the state Senate in October, authored the rule creating a blackout period for the last month of the Senate session.

At the time he proposed the rule, De león said it was needed to "ensure that members of the Senate are focused exclusively on legislative business at these crucial times in the legislative calendar.”

In the last month of session hundreds of bills affecting special interests are acted on; traditionally it has been a period of frenzied fundraising by lawmakers. The rule says the Senate “may take any disciplinary action it deems appropriate against a Member of the Senate who violates [the rule] … including, but not limited to, reprimand, censure, suspension, or expulsion.”

De León has a ballot measure committee called Believing in a Better California, which reported Thursday receiving a $25,000 contribution from EdVoice on Aug. 1. The group has paid lobbyists to represent its interest in school finance and reform actions by the state, including several bills.

Reeves said the contribution went to the senator’s political attorney, Stephen Kaufman, who was aware of the new Senate Rule 56. “However, one of the staff members broke protocol and instead of sending the check back actually deposited it,” Reeves said. “It was duly reported two days after and when it was reported and we became aware of it we contacted Steve Kaufman asking him to make an immediate refund of the contribution with a letter explaining the senate policy.”

Kaufman sent a letter to De León taking responsibilty for the error.

“I am writing to express my sincerest apology for the mishandling of the EdVoice contribution received by your ballot measure committee,” Kaufman wrote. “ From our work together over the last eight years, I know that you continually strive to achieve the highest ethical standards as a public official.”

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