The "60 Minutes"-style video climaxes with an assemblyman hustling through a Capitol corridor and down a flight of steps, trailed by a constituent asking where the lawmaker stands on controversial mortgage legislation.
Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, the Sylmar Democrat who is the subject of "What Legalized Bribery Looks Like," says the piece produced by liberal activists is a "lie."
It also highlights how the pitched political struggle over the future of California's mortgage law has roused labor and activist groups into using guerrilla tactics to call out moderate Democrats in an election year.
"Embarrass and expose," said Steve Maviglio, a veteran Democratic strategist and campaign consultant. "It's a very effective tool."
The fight is over legislation sponsored by Attorney General Kamala Harris intended to give struggling property owners more foreclosure protections. The package of bills would, among other things, give borrowers more legal recourse, mandate that lenders provide a single point of contact for information, tighten mortgage documentation rules and ban companies from foreclosing on property owners who are reworking their loans.
Introduced amid fanfare on the heels of Harris' multibillion-dollar settlement with the nation's five largest banks, the bills tripped out of the legislative starting gate as moderate Democrats balked. Democratic leaders quickly formed a two-house committee to work through the issues.
The banking and mortgage industries warn that such measures would create another drag on the anemic real estate market and trigger a wave of lawsuits.
"We're concerned because we believe that (the bills) will stall economic development in the state," said Marti Fisher, a lobbyist for the California Chamber of Commerce.
The issue is tailor-made for unions and liberal-activist groups that consider themselves defenders of the working class, said Darry Sragow, a Democratic Party strategist and partner with the SNR Denton law firm based in Los Angeles.
Those interests also can parlay the mortgage issue into a test of lawmakers' liberal fidelity, because California's new top-two primary rules and redrawn district lines are tempting some Democrats to move to the center.
"This sends a signal that there may be some risk in doing that," Sragow said.
Groups backing Harris' bills also have sent an attack mailer to constituents in another Democratic lawmaker's district and mounted a loud protest at the Capitol.
The groups backing the heightened regulations say their aggressive approach counters the large sums of money financial institutions shell out to play in California politics about $134 million to candidates and committees since 2008, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Unions representing both public and private employees spent $161 million during that same period, according to institute figures.
The union-backed Courage Campaign made the three-minute video, distributed it to members and the media, and posted it on the Internet.
It shows banking lobbyist Gene Erbin going in and out of an Assembly meeting area on April 16 while one of Fuentes' San Fernando Valley constituents struggling to make his mortgage payments, Alberto Gutierrez, waits 90 minutes to talk to Fuentes about the Harris legislation.
As Fuentes leaves, Gutierrez trails behind, asking to talk with the assemblyman. The pair descend a flight of stairs before Fuentes says he'll talk with the camera off.
The picture fades to black, then Gutierrez returns and assesses the conversation: "It was pretty disheartening. I don't think that most of these policymakers really get it."
The video ends with a caption, "Tell Assm. Fuentes and the rest of Sacramento to stop selling out their constituents."
Fuentes said he has told the Courage Campaign that he is "disappointed that they misconstrued and outright lied" with the video.
"This sort of thing actually hurts their position," he said.
Gutierrez didn't have an appointment that day, but he and Fuentes went back to Fuentes' office and talked. Fuentes was on the Assembly floor and in meetings, he said, and didn't meet with Erbin. And the video said he voted against the Harris bills, when the bills were actually pulled off the agenda.
Rick Jacobs, founder and chairman of the Courage Campaign, said his organization took down the video, but posted it again after Fuentes didn't say whether he'll vote for the regulatory changes.
"I don't see what there is for him to hide," Jacobs said.
Labor also drew a bead on Assemblyman Henry Perea with a mailer attacking the Fresno Democrat for "helping big banks not Valley families."
Steve Smith, spokesman for the California Labor Federation, said the organization sent out the mailer because Perea "told us he was going to be a 'no' vote" on the homeowner legislation.
Perea, through a spokeswoman, issued a statement: "It's really unfortunate that this important discussion about how we can help families struggling with foreclosure has been hijacked and taken into the political arena. This issue affects many of our neighbors, and they deserve better than that."
Last week, Democratic Sen. Juan Vargas of San Diego, asked to get off the six-member conference committee that will consider the mortgage issue. Vargas, facing a primary battle for a congressional seat against former Democratic lawmaker Denise Ducheny, asked off "to attend to other legislative duties," according to a spokesman for the Senate Democrats.
Perhaps no group is more involved with state mortgage reform than the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, which was formerly the California chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN.
The group made the Fuentes video, and hooted and shouted during a recent hearing when lawmakers used procedural tactics to shelve Harris' mortgage bills and stifle public comment.
A week ago, more than 150 alliance members, dressed in their trademark yellow T-shirts, marched from the California Bankers Association offices in downtown Sacramento to the Capitol's east steps.
The group rallied until a Highway Patrol officer told them they had to leave. Several jeered him before they retreated to an upper room at the nearby Westminster Presbyterian Church for a training session on how to lobby lawmakers.
Activist Joe Stringer opened the session with an emotional call to arms.
"Bankers are buying that house (the Legislature). They've got the money. We don't have any. But we are right. You know why? Because we are the 99 percent!" he shouted.
The group shouted back, "The 99 percent!"