Loading...

Worst Legislator in California, Part II 

Charles Calderon lets special interest groups ghostwrite his laws

Thursday, Jun 2 2011
Comments

Please click here to read Part I in this occasional series: "The Worst
Legislator in California: San Fernando Valley Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes takes Sacramento bill-peddling to a new low."

State Sen. Ron Calderon and his brother Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon, carry on a family tradition every Thanksgiving. The brothers from Montebello hand out hundreds of turkeys to the less fortunate.

Next stop: Sacramento, where the brothers Calderon back laws that enrich payday loan companies, gambling interests, financial institutions, unions and others willing to pony up campaign contributions — laws that sometimes hurt their constituents, who may get only the turkey.

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY FRED NOLAND
  • ILLUSTRATION BY FRED NOLAND

Related Stories

  • Calderon Indicted 7

    The political dynasty of Ron and Charles Calderon took a body blow as US Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. today charged the brothers with criminal political corruption and painted a devastating picture of Ron Calderon as a man who drew his own son and daughter into his web. His brother, former state...
  • How to Vote 8

    You know the incumbents. So our June 3 voter guide is about the other stuff - like a comedic race for judge featuring candidates so bad the bar association finds both "Not Qualified." One is Charles Calderon, who L.A. Weekly previously reported as one of the worst legislators in California. There's...
  • Porn vs. Sacramento

    A proposal that would make porn stars use condoms on-set passed a key hurdle in the California legislature yesterday. A similar bill died in a committee last year, but this time around there seems to be more support for the legislation by Assemblyman Isadore Hall of L.A. His AB 1576 passed...
  • A New Pot Law 2

    A proposed law to provide statewide regulations for marijuana dispensaries was once firmly opposed by the cannabis community.  It sought to outlaw concentrates like wax, and it would have limited what kind of doctors could recommend weed as well as what form of pot they could prescribe. No longer. The...
  • We Wish We All Could Be Caprice's Kind of California Girl

    “This is myself with my best friend at the time, frying my skin," says the across-the-pond celebrity Caprice Bourret while looking at old photos, nibbling a scone at high tea at the Culver Hotel. "I used to be such a California girl. I used to fry. Hawaiian Tropic, no sunscreen at all."...

Emboldened by overflowing campaign coffers, the Calderon duo doesn't merely introduce bills designed to reap profits for huge special-interest groups. Many of the laws that bear the names of Charles and Ron Calderon are actually quietly ghostwritten by special interests who benefit from laws they've custom-designed — for themselves.

As bad as that sounds to those who believe in a government by the people instead of the almighty buck, in some ways, the brothers Calderon aren't all that special. Everyone — from the California Retailers Association to the Sierra Club — eagerly ghostwrites laws that benefit themselves or their views. There's even a special term for it, used by everyone from Gov. Jerry Brown to the Sacramento press corps.

Reporter Karen de Sa, of the San Jose Mercury News, revealed in a blockbuster series last July that 39 percent of all California laws proposed during 2007-08 were written not by lawmakers but by special-interest groups. And the ghostwritten bills, greased with campaign contributions, are far more likely to be approved by the full Legislature and signed by the governor than laws written by the elected representatives.

Charles and Ron Calderon got special attention in de Sa's series because they're awash in money given to them by the very ghostwriters whose laws they push.

Most reporters in the Sacramento press corps pretend this spectacle isn't important, and they rarely write about it. It's easy to become confused. In Sacramento, a legislator who introduces a bill is called the "author." But often, the Calderons and their political colleagues don't so much as lift a pencil. The pencil is controlled by political action committees, corporate executives or Sacramento's throngs of lobbyists, 1,200 strong, who use a public servant — say Ron or Charles Calderon — to push their law through committee votes and floor approvals.

In Sacramento-speak, the ghostwriters are called the law's "sponsors."

"How can you have a true democracy when you have a system of legalized payments to public officials who make the decisions that affect the very interests that make the payments?" asks Virginia Ellis, a member of the respected Little Hoover Commission, a state watchdog agency.

Formerly an award-winning investigative reporter, Ellis covered Sacramento for 20 years for the Los Angeles Times. "In Florida, you can't give money to public officials at certain times of the year — like when the Legislature is in session," she says. "In California, you can. People have accepted this as the way government operates."

Or have they simply stopped noticing? Three Calderon brothers — Charles, Thomas and Ron — have served in the state Legislature since 1983. In those three decades, there has been only one two-year period when one of the Calderon boys didn't hold a seat in Sacramento.

Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, says the Calderon boys "take turns getting into the Legislature and have been in power a long time. They fly under the radar — but every time I look at the Legislature, there's a Calderon in it."

In 2002, when middle brother Thomas Calderon decided not to run for re-election, baby of the family Ron ran for and captured Thomas' 58th Assembly seat, the one Charles now occupies. The 58th Assembly district includes East La Mirada, Pico Rivera, Montebello, Hacienda Heights and South San Jose Hills, plus parts of Downey, East Los Angeles, South San Gabriel, Industry, Rowland Heights and Whittier.

Ron's 30th Senate District overlaps Charles' 58th and includes South El Monte, Bell, Bell Gardens, Huntington Park, Montebello, South Gate, La Mirada, Pico Rivera, Commerce, Norwalk, Cudahy, Santa Fe Springs and Whittier. Several of these cities are in financial distress, notably Bell, where former City Manager Robert Rizzo is accused of using city coffers as his piggy bank. Montebello's troubles include a secret $1 million bank account being investigated by State Controller John Chiang.

Ron's website has a picture of him as Santa; Charles' website features a video with churchy organ music and his favorite moments speaking to the Legislature.

Why do special-interest groups seek out and funnel money to the Calderons? Not only are the two brothers willing to "author" laws they don't write a word of, but Charles and Ron both hold seats on so-called "juice committees" — the legislative bodies that consider bills that directly affect the bottom lines of the most powerful special-interest groups.

Related Content

Now Trending

  • Possible Tagger Shuts Down L.A. Freeway at Rush Hour

    A man who might be a tagger and whom authorities are treating as suicidal prompted the California Highway Patrol to shut down both sides of California's main freeway at rush hour in East Los Angeles today, officials said. An L.A. County Sheriff's Department sergeant told us the man, seen perched...
  • The Dodgers Can’t Beat the Good Teams, My Ass!

    Yes, the Dodgers are 2-4 coming out of the All-Star break, and yes, the back of their rotation makes for viewing scarier than The Purge, but don’t buy into whatever “they can’t beat the good teams” chatter you may be hearing. Elementary as this may sound, the Dodgers can beat the good...
  • LAX Area Streets Could Be a Parking Lot This Weekend

    In the heart of summer travel season, the folks at Metro have decided to shut down the main artery to LAX, where 200,000 passengers a day were expected this weekend. At least they warned us.  Century Boulevard at Aviation is scheduled to be closed for 57 hours starting at 9...
Los Angeles Concert Tickets

Slideshows

  • Here's What Happens When President Obama Comes to L.A.
    President Obama came to town again to rake in some funds and clog some traffic. The only view of his visit you probably saw were the brake lights of the car ahead of you in the traffic jam he caused, but here's what was really going on. All photos by Ted Soqui.
  • 21st Annual Classic Cars "Cruise Night" in Glendale
    On Saturday, spectators of all ages were out in multitudes on a beautiful summer night in Glendale to celebrate the 21st annual Cruise Night. Brand Boulevard, one of the main streets through downtown Glendale, was closed to traffic and lined with over 250 classic, pre-1979 cars. There was plenty of food to be had and many of the businesses on Brand stayed open late for the festivities The evening ended with fireworks and a 50th anniversary concert from The Kingsmen, who performed their ultimate party hit, "Louie, Louie." All photos by Jared Cowan.
  • The World Cup Celebrated And Mourned By Angelenos
    The World Cup has taken Los Angeles by storm. With viewings beginning at 9 a.m., soccer fans have congregated at some of the best bars in the city including The Village Idiot, Goal, The Parlour on Melrose, Big Wang's and more. Whether they're cheering for their native country, favorite players or mourning the USA's loss, Angelenos have paid close attention to the Cup, showing that soccer is becoming more than a fad. All photos by Daniel Kohn.