Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

The Calderon family and their friends gathered at a Montebello memorial service in January 2012 to mourn Marcella Calderon, the wife of former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, after her death from cancer. State Sen. Ron Calderon, left, talks with Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, while Tom Calderon talks with a friend.

Legislature veteran Tom Calderon turns to business consulting

Published: Sunday, Jun. 9, 2013 - 3:24 pm | Page 1A
Last Modified: Monday, Jun. 10, 2013 - 8:09 am

Even in an era of term limits, Tom Calderon didn't serve long in the California Assembly.

With four years under his belt, the Los Angeles County Democrat ran unsuccessfully for statewide office in 2002.

Calderon launched a business doing what many former politicians do: consulting for organizations that have business before the government. As a lawmaker, he had carried legislation friendly to some of the organizations that later became his clients.

The practice isn't uncommon for former lawmakers. Calderon, however, could offer clients an additional perk: Both his brothers, Ron and Charles, would serve in the Legislature.

"My view of Tom Calderon is that he's somebody who's made a career of being a former assemblyman and brother to power," said Doug Heller, who fought the Calderon brothers on various insurance bills when he was the executive director of Consumer Watchdog.

"That's where he seems to have thrived."

With a dynastic approach to politics – Charles Calderon's son Ian now holds an Assembly seat – and a long practice of spreading campaign funds among family members, the Calderons have for years been a conversation piece around the Capitol.

Last week, they captured new attention, as FBI agents on Tuesday searched the Capitol offices of Sen. Ron Calderon and attempted to contact Tom Calderon, who lives in Montebello.

The agency has not disclosed anything about its investigation or what it hopes to learn from the Calderons.

Attorneys for Ron and Tom Calderon have each said their clients have not broken the law.

Tom Calderon's lawyer also said his client has not used his family relationships to sway policy decisions.

"There won't be any evidence that would show that he ever influenced his brother Ron's vote on any piece of legislation," said Shepard Kopp, whose father, Quentin Kopp, served in the state Senate with Charles Calderon in the 1990s.

Tom Calderon lost his 2002 bid for insurance commissioner after opponents hammered him for close ties to the insurance industry, forged while he served on the Assembly's Insurance Committee, and cemented as the industry bankrolled half his campaign.

That year, his younger brother Ron was elected to represent the Montebello area in the state Assembly. A few years later, Ron Calderon advanced to the Senate and their older brother Charles returned to the Assembly, where he had previously served.

Never registered as lobbyist

Tom Calderon has never registered as a lobbyist, making him part of a cadre of former politicians who represent private-sector clients before government with no transparency to the public.

Advocates are supposed to register with the secretary of state if they spend at least 30 percent of their work time trying to influence state government officials. Once registered, lobbyists must disclose all their clients and how much they're paid.

Tom Calderon's client list became public last year when he filed a statement of economic interests during an unsuccessful run for the Assembly. His disclosure form showed clients that include health care companies specializing in workers' compensation cases, as well as a few water agencies.

One consulting contract, with the Central Basin Municipal Water District, brought him nearly $140,000 a year. The arrangement ended earlier this year.

"Tom is not a lobbyist, he's a consultant. He's not roaming the halls of the Legislature buttonholing senators and assemblymen. He's more of a strategic person," Kopp said.

"He may facilitate meetings between clients and members' staff, but he's not lobbying."

Legislative staff members say they have seen Tom Calderon around the Capitol, pushing for bills that benefit the organizations he represents – and arguing against bills that would harm them.

A review of legislation affecting the Central Basin Municipal Water District and the workers' comp surgery centers that Tom Calderon represents shows some votes from his brothers favorable to his clients.

Last year, in the midst of a war between Central Basin and a rival water agency, then-Sen. Alan Lowenthal authored a bill to limit the district's authority.

The bill passed, but not without significant resistance from Ron Calderon, who gave a lengthy speech against it on the Senate floor.

"They fought me tooth and nail," Lowenthal, now a congressman, told The Bee.

In earlier years, Ron and Charles Calderon both introduced bills to help Central Basin in its battles with neighboring water agencies.

A spokesman for Central Basin said last week that the district has not been contacted by the FBI. But a man who runs a water company that did not get a contract it sought from Central Basin said he's been questioned by the FBI twice in the last six months. The contract instead went to a foundation called Steelworkers OldTimers, where Tom Calderon was president of the board in 2010.

"I've been around the block a few times. It wouldn't be the first time I've seen cronyism to influence contracts," said Michael Franchek, a former vice president with Ecogreen Services.

George Cole, a former city councilman from Bell, was the CEO of OldTimers when Tom Calderon served as its president, a 2010 tax filing shows. He also served on the water district board.

Cole was convicted in March of misappropriating public funds in a federal prosecution of corruption in the Los Angeles County town.

In April, the FBI raided two medical businesses Tom Calderon represents that specialize in caring for patients going through the state's workers' compensation program.

One of them, called Pacific Hospital of Long Beach, stood to make more money from a bill state Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, introduced two years ago. It would have allowed hospitals treating injured workers to be paid up to two times the Medicare rate for spinal surgery involving implanting medical hardware.

The bill didn't advance far and never became law.

The next year De León carried a bill that had the opposite impact on Calderon's hospital client. Senate Bill 863 made major changes to the workers' compensation system, including eliminating an extra payment hospitals had been allowed to get for doing spinal surgery with implants.

It was signed into law last year, after receiving just a handful of opposing votes in the Legislature. Charles and Ron Calderon both voted against it.

De León announced last week that the U.S. attorney's office has subpoenaed him, a move that his aides said they believe to be related to the FBI's search of the offices Sen. Ron Calderon.

De León's office has been told he is not a target, and Senate leaders expect others to be questioned.

Brother eyes sibling's seat

The Calderon family ties are also evident in campaign financial reports filed over the years, which show Tom Calderon and his consulting business have received a total of $157,000 from the campaign accounts of his brother Ron.

Tom Calderon became a widower last year when his wife, Marcella, died of cancer. As he ran for the state Assembly last year, he paid $22,100 to his son Cameron for campaign work and $15,000 to support three candidates for the Central Basin water district.

He lost his bid for Assembly to Cristina Garcia, who ran on a platform opposing corruption in the city of Bell.

Now he has a campaign committee to raise money for a state Senate run, seeking to replace Ron Calderon after he is termed out.

The campaign has sent Sacramento lobbying firms an invitation to a June 20 fundraiser at Morton's steakhouse on Capitol Mall – an event billed as a family affair.

"Please join Senator Ron Calderon and Assemblymember Ian Calderon in support of Tom Calderon, 32nd Senate District Candidate" the invitation says. "For a special luncheon."

Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @laurelrosenhall. The Bee's Melody Gutierrez contributed to this report.

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