You may have noticed that I don’t always agree with Ron Calderon and his legislative priorities. You know, killing bills that block the dumping of indigent hospital patients and releasing private prescription data to marketers just isn’t my thing. But today he has a new honor, being named the Worst Legislator in California with his brother Asm. Charles Calderon.
Of course, Calderon isn’t the first to win this award from the LA Weekly, that honor goes to Felipe Fuentes for, well, being a California legislator. The knock on Fuentes made last year could just as well have been made on almost every legislator in the Capitol. The problem they pointed out with Fuentes was that he was “authoring” bills actually written by “sponsoring” interests. Yes, Fuentes does that, and he might take the art to new levels, but he is hardly unique. This is just part of the crazy, messed-up system we have in Sacramento. (Incidentally, if you’d like to learn just how messed up it is, Ray LeBov can teach you a lot in his Lobbying 101 class).
So, yes, “special interests” write most of our bills, and, yes, that is totally and completely messed up. But, as for Fuentes, hate the game, don’t hate the player. Well, maybe tell the player to knock it the hell off, and wait for him to get termed out. And the Brothers Calderon’s “award” starts with a similar trope of bill “sponsors.” But more importantly it moves on to how they have been key players on Team PayDayLoan:
The reward for Calderon has been significant. According to MAPLight, he received more in direct campaign contributions connected to the payday and title loans special-interest group – $31,450 – than any other member of the Assembly in the 2009-10 or 2010-11 sessions. In the state Senate, his brother Ron received the most from the payday group – $50,000.
The current $300 loans cost a fee of $45, the maximum allowed. But the fee is deducted from the loan, leaving the borrower just $255 – and beholden for $300. That must be repaid within two weeks. The average payday loan customer takes out seven such loans each year. …
Charles Calderon argues that the current $300 limit barely pays the bills. “There are people who think payday lenders are vultures,” he says. “I don’t think I’m in a position to decide what [people’s] reasons are for wanting these loans. I represent East L.A., and those people need that money when they need it, sometimes to save the family car. I grew up in East L.A. in a poor family. I know desperation. Desperate people do desperate things.”
The assemblyman bristles when he’s accused of taking money for his vote, or as payback for carrying a bill for special interests.
“I might take money from a bank or a union, and then two or three years down the road I vote on a bill affecting that bank or union – and I get criticized because they gave me money years before.”
Not always “two or three years” later. As MAPLight.org points out regarding his yes vote on AB 2774, the big sums appeared in Calderon’s campaign chest within days. (LA Weekly)
As Asm. Holly Mitchell (D-47th, SE LA) pointed out, these lenders are vultures who are preying on the vulnerable. Making Californians more vulnerable is not the answer.
But that’s not all for the Brothers Calderon. Today, the LA Times revealed the dirty work that the Calderons have been doing for their local water agency:
Central Basin has also paid Oldtimers’ board president, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, more than $750,000 in consulting fees since 2004 for political and legislative advice.
Calderon’s two brothers, both state legislators, have defended the water district’s interests in Sacramento. In 2009, Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) helped thwart an audit of Central Basin’s books. This year, Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Whittier) proposed legislation that could reduce the fees Central Basin’s customers pay for groundwater.
Tom and Ron Calderon, as well as Central Basin officials and contractors, helped finance a recall effort in 2008 against two council members in the City of Commerce who were critics of the water district, records show. (LA Times
The Calderons are certainly not the only ones who will do you a favor for some campaign cash or a gig for their brother, but they certainly strike a stunning profile in the art. Ron is termed out in 2014, Charles in 2012. Although, I suppose it wouldn’t shock anybody to see Tom Calderon run for the Senate seat in 2014 so that they can continue their, umm, service to the people of California.
One of the issues with the so called “moderates” in the California Democratic party isn’t so much where they disagree on social issues, because that rarely comes up anymore. It is where they are able to be swayed by, typically, large corporate interests to put the interests of the few over the interests of the many. That’s really not being moderate, that’s something entirely different, that doesn’t serve constituents or the state in general. If you have beliefs, fine, let’s talk about them. But I’m not so sure the Calderons really want to have a very public debate about the finer points of payday loans or water policy vis a vis their consulting contracts.
Clearly the laws of the State of California leave gaping holes for dirty money to seep in, and much of it is completely legal while some others skirt the lines. However, we needn’t strive to walk that line, but rather look for ways to cut dramatically back on this crap. And perhaps some political dynasties, the state of California would be better doing without.
The Calderons are hardly the first, and they certainly won’t be the last. However, we can hope that a little sunshine from organizations like MapLight can discourage the skeazier of these actions.