Politics & Government

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg acts to remove Ron Calderon from film commission

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Thursday he has taken steps to remove Sen. Ron Calderon, accused of accepting more than $60,000 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent posing as a film studio owner, as a member of the California Film Commission.

“If for no other reason, the appearance of impropriety dictates that the senator no longer sit on that commission,” Steinberg said.

Calderon, D-Montebello, may also lose his posts on the remainder of his committees, including his chairmanship of the Senate Insurance Committee, Steinberg said.

“I certainly have my doubts,” Steinberg said when asked whether Calderon should continue to serve in public office. “This is serious stuff.”

The Sacramento Democrat himself was mentioned on several pages of the 124-page affidavit obtained by Al Jazeera America.

Steinberg said he has cooperated with authorities but is not a target of the investigation. He said he was reluctant to dignify any of the more “off-the-wall” claims attributed to Calderon.

Calderon, the document says, told an agent posing as the film studio owner that he could influence film industry tax legislation that would lower the production-cost threshold for movie-makers to qualify for a tax break. Earlier, Calderon had asked the undercover agent to secure jobs for his children.

Calderon invoked his personal relationship with Steinberg during the discussion, saying that the Senate’s most powerful Democrat supported the bill, according to the FBI affidavit.

“Just the fact that (Steinberg) is behind pushing lowering the threshold, is huge. It’s huge. And he did it because of our relationship,” the FBI alleged. “And, I helped him, he helped me.”

Steinberg said Thursday the film measure was never heard in committee and “neither I nor the Senate Democratic Caucus supported Senator Calderon’s film tax credit proposal.”

Calderon also told the undercover agent that he had given Steinberg two VIP tickets to a San Francisco Giants baseball game and two tickets to oil industry executives so they could meet the senator at the game and support his campaign, the document says.

Steinberg said that he disclosed the tickets on legally required gift reports and that they had cost $37.50 each. (High-end seats at AT&T Park run $250 or more.) “I attended with a personal friend, and at no point did I talk to or interact with anyone about any of the issues that were made in his ... claims,” he said.

Steinberg spokesman Rhys Williams said members of the Senate Rules Committee convened Thursday afternoon and took action to remove Calderon from the film commission.

Steinberg said he hasn’t talked to Calderon about the FBI investigation since June and doesn’t know what might happen next. He said the allegation that any of his elected peers would take money in exchange for an official action was “obviously beyond the pale.”

But, he added, he only knows what he’s read.

“People have the right to their due process, and ultimately due process in at least the criminal context is through a court and before a jury of your peers,” he said. “And, yet, I do want more information even before that might come to pass regarding what’s in this affidavit and if it in fact is true.”