With Election Day approaching, campaigns across the state have stocked up on scores of aides and advisers to walk precincts, staff phone banks and plot strategies to deliver a win.
Many of those workers aren't just political operatives. They also are employees of the state Legislature, logging hours and outside pay during election season by assisting their party's campaigns.
A Bee review of thousands of staff financial disclosure forms found that nearly 200 legislative aides reported earning income from an outside political source while working for the Legislature in 2010, the last statewide election year. Even in 2011, an election off-year, dozens had a paying side job in politics.
State law prohibits the use of public resources for campaigns. Many aides take vacation time and volunteer. But paid work on political races outside work hours or during personal leave time is legal and in some cases encouraged for legislative staff.
Some work on behalf of their bosses, others for a wide range of political candidates and causes. Some run their own consulting companies. All draw paychecks funded by political donors.
It's a practice defended by some as one that helps them understand their members' districts and sharpens political skills needed for everyday work at the Capitol.
Others question whether it contributes to political polarization in the Legislature and compromises the integrity of top legislative aides.
In 2010, 27 legislative chiefs of staff disclosed outside income from a political source. Overall, legislative employees reported receiving a total of more than $1.9 million in payments from consulting and other political endeavors on top of their state salaries that year. That figure includes both personal income and money paid to companies run by the staff.
"It totally blurs the line between campaigning and governing," said Phillip Ung, who pushes for more transparency and disclosure in politics as a policy advocate for California Common Cause.
What happens, he asked, when a campaign donor whose contribution helped fund your political work "offers a bill that they want your boss to sponsor in the Legislature next year?"
Ung wants to see the state enact stricter rules prohibiting high-level staff from making large amounts of money on the campaigns, much like those in Congress. Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate cap outside income for senior staff making more than $119,553 a year at $26,955.
The outside income in California includes small bonuses of $500 doled out as a thank-you to aides who gave up weekends and days off to help on a campaign. It also can amount to tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees.
Figures for 2012 will not be available until early next year, when staff file annual statement-of-economic-interest forms with the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Ung is especially concerned about the top aides who also serve in a political capacity.
"Chiefs of staffs should be focused on what's going on in the Capitol, what's going on with the member, not what's been going on with the campaign," he said.
Extra work, pay defended
Those doing the extra work and earning the extra pay have a different view.
"I think political skills make you a better chief of staff or a better staffer because you understand the impact that legislation has on people and you understand what motivates people and what is really important to them," said Mike Spence, chief of staff to Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills.
Spence netted at least $30,000 in 2010 as an adviser to various political causes and campaigns and National Right to Life, an anti-abortion group.
Rocky Rushing, who works as both chief of staff and a paid political adviser to Democratic Sen. Ron Calderon, said senior-level legislative staff have a unique perspective that can help their boss on the campaign trail.
He said it would be "Pollyanna-ish" to believe that "there is not a mingling of politics and policy that goes on every day" in the Capitol. Rushing, who was paid $5,000 by Calderon's campaign in 2010, said he refrains from consulting related to fundraising to avoid conflicts at his day job.
" If there indeed is a notion out there that there needs to be some kind of firewall between policy and politics and electoral politics, I think it's pretty hard to separate the three," he said.
Then there's the question of whether politicking cuts into regular work time.
Legislative officials say the current rules prohibiting campaign work on state time and using public resources are strong enough and closely followed by staff.
Both houses conduct ethics training. Assembly aides also must disclose all outside jobs to the Rules Committee to avoid conflicts of interest. A spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said the Senate believes the statements of economic interest filed annually with the FPPC are sufficient.
Many aides take steps to create distance between their work in the Capitol and on the campaign trail, including using vacation or unpaid leave to make time for the outside work.
Neither house, however, tracks how much personal leave is used for political activity.
"The structure is set up as an honor system, and some people have more honor than others," said Trent Hager, chief of staff to Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada-Flintridge. Hager said he went off the Assembly payroll for the entire month of October 2010. The Democratic Party paid him at least $10,000 for his campaign work that year.
Some top staffers involved
The number of legislative staff disclosing an outside job in politics represents less than 10 percent of the Capitol's workforce of roughly 2,000. The collection of aides moonlighting on the campaign trail includes some of the Legislature's top-paid staff and those closely connected to leaders.
One-fifth of the legislative aides who reported outside income in politics work for leadership or one of the party caucuses. Eighteen of those have jobs affiliated with the office of Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez. Seven worked for Steinberg or the Senate Democratic Caucus, and a total of nine worked for one of the GOP legislative caucuses.
Nearly 15 percent of the aides reporting outside political income 27 in all had an annual state salary set to be at least $100,000 before the 2010 election year began. Many say they give up weeks or months of state pay during the campaign season.
Mary-Lucille Kaems reported earning at least $10,000 for her work as a volunteer coordinator for the California Democratic Party. Kaems, who did not respond to a interview request, was scheduled to receive $116,000 in 2010 as a principal consultant for the Assembly Democratic Caucus.
Kaems was one of 27 legislative employees on the payroll of the state Democratic Party in 2010. Eight worked for the California Republican Party.
That means that even if the payments make up for loss of salary when they take time off to work on a campaign, their income is subsidized by some of the state's most powerful interest groups. Major donors to the parties include AT&T, the California Teachers Association and Mercury Insurance Group founder George Joseph.
Steve Davey, chief of staff to Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin, reported in 2010 receiving at least $21,000 from political consulting jobs for the California Republican Party, a Placer County Board of Supervisors candidate, and Gaines, who at the time served in the state Assembly. Davey's annual salary ahead of the 2010 year was set at $97,000.
"The most important thing is to keep your personal time and your state time separate and work very hard," he said of juggling both jobs.
Some staff set up their own political businesses on the side, in some cases taking on multiple clients during the campaign season.
David Lanier, a former Assembly consultant who now works for Gov. Jerry Brown, disclosed in 2010 his role as owner and partner of Priority Political. The firm earned between $10,001 and $100,000 that year, according to his statement of economic interest.
Lanier, whose annual salary in the Legislature was set to be $119,000 that year, also worked as the mail program director for Assembly Democrats, a job that paid at least $10,000 through the state Democratic Party.
Clients at the consulting shop run by David Reade, chief of staff to Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, in 2010 included then-state Senate candidate Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, and GOP gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman. The firm, DSR Enterprises, took in at least $30,000 from those campaigns. Reade, who scales back his Capitol work to part-time status during campaign season, said maintaining "very clear demarcations" between the two roles has "always been a tenet of any campaign participation."
Some lawmakers pay several members of their staff to aid their election.
Former Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont, hired at least four aides to work on his failed attorney general campaign in the June 2010 primary. Five members of Sen. Mark Wyland's roughly 10-person legislative staff were paid for work on the Solana Beach Republican's 2010 re-election effort.
Natalie Wood, a senior policy specialist at the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures' Center for Ethics in Government, said the overlap could become more common as statehouse leaders hire more of what she calls "partisan" staff, positions often affiliated with leadership or Democratic and Republican caucuses. That trend, she said, makes rules governing legislative staff and campaign work all the more important.
"I think it contributes to the overall highly charged partisan atmosphere that's out there anyway," she said. "It just adds another layer onto the dynamics that work in the state Capitol."
Bob Stern, an expert on California politics and campaign ethics, said paying aides for their work outside the Capitol and requiring disclosure of those payments is better than a situation in which aides feel pressured to volunteer their time without compensation. And he sees the draw for employees.
"These are political people, and they're working for a person who has to get re-elected," he said. "So the inclination is obviously to help your boss because it helps your job."
Still, Stern said that staff taking time off to work on races raises questions about whether the full-time jobs at the Capitol are really necessary.
"The chief of staff should be running the office, and shouldn't be taking time off to run the campaigns," he said.