Fallout from the arrest last week of Sen. Leland Yee on charges of corruption and conspiracy to traffic weapons continued to rattle the Capitol on Tuesday, as the FBI returned to search another office and Senate Democrats canceled their biggest fundraiser of the year.
FBI agents searched Room 549 of the Legislative Office Building on N Street, accompanied by the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms, Tony Beard.
The office is occasionally used by a staff member of Yee’s who normally works in his district office, said Mark Hedlund, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. After Yee’s arrest and the FBI raid on the Capitol last week, the Senate informed federal authorities that Yee had an additional office in the Legislative Office Building, Hedlund said.
“So they came back this morning with a warrant to check that office (because) it wasn’t part of their investigation before,” Hedlund said Tuesday.
Agents spent a couple hours looking through a computer, desk and boxes in the office before leaving, Hedlund said.
A 137-page FBI affidavit released last week alleges that Yee, of San Francisco, took campaign contributions in exchange for political favors. It was the latest in a string of misconduct cases to surface at the Capitol. Last month, Sen. Ron Calderon of Montebello, was indicted on corruption and money laundering charges. In January, a Los Angeles jury found Sen. Rod Wright of Baldwin Hills, guilty of perjury for lying about where he lived when he ran for the Senate in 2008. All of them are Democrats.
The Senate took the unprecedented step of suspending the three senators last week, but the flow of legal action has hurt morale in the upper house and cost Democrats their supermajority.
In addition to the problems in the Senate, the Capitol’s “third house” has also come under fire in recent months as the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission slapped record-setting fines on a handful of lobbyists who violated California’s Political Reform Act. Lobbyist Kevin Sloat paid a fine of $133,500 in February, acknowledging that he hosted opulent political fundraisers at his home that went beyond the limits lobbyists may give to a campaign. In September, California Strategies partners Jason Kinney, Rusty Areias and Winston Hickox and their firm paid a combined fine of $40,500 for working to influence government decisions without registering as lobbyists.
Kinney is a political consultant to the Senate Democratic caucus.
Reeling from the spate of scandals and eager to separate themselves from the exchange of money, Senate Democratic leaders on Tuesday canceled the Pro Tem Cup, a major fundraiser scheduled for this Friday where lobbyists typically mingle with legislators at the Torrey Pines Golf Course near San Diego to raise money for the California Democratic Party.
“These are unprecedented times and they demand that we take a step back and take stock of how we all do the people’s business and balance it against the demands of running for office,” said a joint statement from Steinberg and Sen. Kevin de León, the Los Angeles Democrat in line to become the next Senate leader.
“While the Legislature as a whole cannot be held responsible for the bad acts of three individual members, we do bear a high and profound responsibility to do all we can to repair the excruciating breach of public confidence they left behind.”
Steinberg said that the Democratic Party will not return money it has already collected from donors who gave expecting to attend the Pro Tem Cup. One lobbyist who was invited said donors were asked to give $65,000 to send four people to spend two nights at the golf resort.
Meanwhile in San Francisco, jailed Yee consultant Keith Jackson appeared in federal court, where his lawyer argued the FBI’s allegations against him are baseless.
James Brosnahan, a lawyer with the Morrison and Foerster law firm, has been appointed by the court to represent Jackson, who remains in custody on charges that he helped arrange a murder-for-hire, schemed with Yee to defraud citizens of honest services and conspired with Yee to illegally import guns.
“There was no murder. There were no guns in the Philippines. It’s all make-believe,” Brosnahan said. “He is not guilty. He’s going to plead not guilty.”