California Senate panel shelves GOP ethics bill

State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), left, speaks on a bill while Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) works at his desk before the two lawmakers were suspended in March.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

State Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a Republican bill that proposed some of the toughest ethics and campaign finance restrictions put forward since three Democratic lawmakers were suspended while facing criminal charges, two of them involving corruption.

SB 1379 fell one vote short of the majority needed to pass out of the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee after Democratic Sens. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara and Loni Hancock of Berkeley withheld their votes. Two other Democrats voted for the measure, and Republican Sen. Joel Anderson of San Diego voted no.

The Republican proposal would have required faster public disclosure of campaign contributions, prohibited lawmakers from paying their spouses and children with campaign funds, barred the use of certain political funds for criminal defense expenses and doubled the penalty for bribery convictions.

“The unprecedented corruption charges brought against two members of this house has caused many of us to look at both campaign finance and ethical reforms,” Senate Republican leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar told the panel.

He cited the suspension of Democratic Sens. Leland Yee of San Francisco, Ronald S. Calderon of Montebello and Roderick Wright of the Inglewood area.


Wright has been convicted of perjury and voter fraud for lying about living in his Senate district, while Calderon and Yee have been charged with accepting payments for official favors.

“Due to bad behavior alleged against the suspended members, the integrity of the Senate has been dealt a serious blow,” Huff said. “We have to act with urgency to strengthen current law in order to win back the public trust.”

Hancock withheld her vote because she wanted more analysis of the impact of the proposed longer criminal penalties in the bill, according to spokesman Larry Levin. Jackson did not say why she withheld her vote.

Meanwhile, a bill that would create a campaign fundraising blackout at the end of the legislative session stalled in an Assembly committee Tuesday on a 1-1 vote, with four assemblymembers withholding their votes. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) authored SB 1101.

“I believe that a fundraising blackout period, particularly at the end of legislative session, is good public policy,” Padilla said. “It shows we are serious about reform and committed to separating fundraising and votes. I am disappointed that the bill did not pass.”