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Cedillo reports that his campaign donors bankroll lavish meals, travel and shopping

Gil Cedillo, a Los Angeles state senator running for Congress, has spent more than $125,000 gathered from campaign donors over the last six years on shopping excursions, gourmet meals, entertainment and upscale hotels around the globe, public records show.

At Patina, the haute cuisine restaurant at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Cedillo paid $1,203 for dinner. He dropped $289 at Nic’s Martini Lounge in Beverly Hills. At the Standard, a downtown hotel known for its hip rooftop bar and swimming pool, Cedillo and his staff spent $5,705 over the course of 26 visits.

In Mumbai, India, Cedillo’s stay at the Four Seasons came to $829; his tab at the Bar des Arts in Sao Paulo, Brazil, $229; his hotel and dining charges on a jaunt to Rome and Florence, $1,969.

Cedillo, a former labor leader who made his name fighting to provide driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, is not the only state lawmaker to tap campaign money for what many would consider lavish meals and travel. He often dines and attends retreats with fellow legislators.

But the scale of Cedillo’s spending was on par with that of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, whose worldwide travel and shopping at retailers such as Louis Vuitton in Paris led the state to tighten campaign disclosure rules last summer.

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Cedillo’s spending, detailed in reports he filed with the secretary of state, contrasts with the frugal record of Judy Chu, his chief rival for the San Gabriel Valley congressional seat. A former Monterey Park assemblywoman elected to the state Board of Equalization in 2006, Chu has spent no campaign money on shopping or entertainment, and less than $5,000 on meals and travel over six years.

The two are vying in a May 19 election to fill the House seat vacated by U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

Cedillo’s expenses include $7,022 at Nordstrom; $3,483 at Banana Republic; $1,418 at Ann Taylor; $498 at Bloomingdale’s; $450 at Crate & Barrel; and $375 at Macy’s.

“None of it’s for me,” Cedillo said in an interview this week at his campaign headquarters in El Monte.

All of the purchases were gifts for staff, legislators and “other people who are important to my campaign and my office,” Cedillo said.

The same, he said, goes for the $483 spent at Andrew’s Ties in Rome, $132 at the Louvre Museum in Paris and $117 at an unidentified Coach leather outlet.

State law bars candidates from using campaign money for personal expenses. Cedillo said he has always complied with the law, which requires campaign spending to serve “a political, legislative, or governmental purpose.” He pointed to a state audit that found one of his committees had substantially complied with disclosure laws from 2003 to 2006, apart from failure to report some donations on time.

“Not one aberration has occurred,” he said.

Regardless of legality, the nature of Cedillo’s spending is troublesome, said Robert Stern, president of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies and a longtime advocate of campaign finance reform.

“It sounds like he is using campaign funds to supplement his lifestyle,” Stern said.

Cedillo collected $116,208 in salary last year and $39,825 in tax-free per diem. The Senate bought a $53,436 black Lexus hybrid for Cedillo; he is charged $280 a month for its use. The state pays for his gas.

But Cedillo has relied on campaign donors to bankroll his shopping and travel, along with hundreds of restaurant meals and tickets for the Rose Bowl, Los Angeles Opera and Clippers basketball games.

Like many lawmakers, Cedillo collected contributions from a host of groups that lobby for favors: labor unions, Indian tribes, and the pharmaceutical, casino, telecommunications, insurance and banking industries, among others. Since 2003, Cedillo has collected $1.2 million, even with no viable election challengers. For the congressional race, he must raise money separately under federal rules that are stricter than the state’s.

In California, Cedillo’s campaign treasury has covered stays at Casa Madrona Hotel and Spa in Sausalito; the River Terrace Inn in Napa Valley; Portola Hotel and Spa at Monterey Bay; La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad; and the Handlery Hotel and Resort in San Diego.

Cedillo’s reports leave unclear how much of his hotel spending was for rooms, and how much for meals. The reports also do not indicate the length of stay. Although staff members incurred some of the expenses, Cedillo spent the great majority, the reports say.

In San Francisco, Cedillo favors boutique hotels in the Union Square and Embarcadero districts. His finance reports say he spent $1,584 at the Monaco, $742 at the Rex, and $543 at the Vitale on the bay-front.

His committees have spent $751 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Marina del Rey and $631 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. In both cases, Cedillo said, it was probably for meetings or retreats, not rooms. Travel elsewhere in California, he said, was for meetings of Democratic lawmakers and the state Latino Legislative Caucus, which he chairs.

Cedillo also paid $610 to the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel on Maui, but said he canceled the trip and was charged nonetheless. He also reported a campaign trip to Las Vegas with multiple aides. They spent $1,269 at the Palazzo casino hotel resort and $1,962 at Harrah’s.

As for the trips overseas, Cedillo said he visited India, Taiwan, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Cuba and Mexico on Senate business. He recalled discussing energy, immigration, population growth, water and climate change with foreign officials. To help manage the world’s eighth-largest economy, he said, senators must “go and engage people who have the same or similar circumstances throughout the world.”

“All these experiences are relevant to the extent that they enrich my capacity as a legislator,” he said.

Lodging at the Four Seasons in Mumbai might not look good to the public, Cedillo said, but aides choose the hotels. That would include the 17th century Sofitel in Florence and the Westin Excelsior near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

All told, Cedillo has spent about $77,000 on restaurants, $29,000 on hotels and $21,000 on airline tickets over six years in the Senate. (That does not include tens of thousands of dollars spent on fundraising events at restaurants, hotels or banquet halls.)

The restaurant charges that Cedillo reported as meetings, office or travel expenses include $424 at Ristorante Buca Mario in Florence; $298 at Ristorante San Francesco in Assisi, Italy; $501 at Emporio da Gula in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil; and in Los Angeles, $964 at Cicada; $559 at La Serenata de Garibaldi; $229 at Blair’s; and $1,373 at the Palm.

In the interview, Cedillo recalled that the $1,203 dinner at Patina was with Nunez and other lawmakers. The $289 visit to Nic’s Martini Lounge was for a “meeting” of legislators, he said.

But Cedillo did not recall attending the opera for which his campaign bought tickets. He also could not explain the $176 charge at the Salon Cuvee and Day Spa in Sacramento. “I imagine a gift certificate either for someone from my staff or a friend of the office,” he said.

At Ann Taylor, Cedillo said, he bought scarves and sweaters for women on his staff, and at Banana Republic, shirts and ties for men on his staff. Asked to identify who received gifts from Banana Republic, Cedillo named Dan Savage, his chief of staff.

Savage said Cedillo had indeed given him shirts and ties as gifts, but he did not recall any from Banana Republic. He also described his boss as “very into clothes.”

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michael.finnegan @latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Dining tab

A sampling of state Sen. Gil Cedillo’s restaurant bills:

Bastide: $406

Vic & Anthony’s: $401

Border Grill: $380

Lucca Restaurant: $317

Mi Piace Restaurant: $295

Mama’s Hot Tamale Cafe: $290

AOC: $261

Jar Restaurant: $255

Pacific Dining Car: $250

Vallejo’s Restaurant: $238

Sonora Cafe: $233

Ivy at the Shore: $223

Sushi-Gen: $215

Penthouse Restaurant: $200

KOI Los Angeles: $186

Blue Velvet: $180

Chez Spencer: $176

Cafe Pinot: $171

Sushi Roku : $166

Red White & Bluezz Wine Bar & Grill: $145

Spataro Restaurant & Bar: $122

Sources: Financial disclosure reports filed by state Sen. Gil Cedillo’s campaign committees with the secretary of state’s office from 2003 to 2008


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