Politics & Government

California ethics agency won’t probe de León, aims at Latino Caucus PAC

California’s political watchdog agency has decided not to open an investigation of state Sen. Kevin de León and will instead investigate the political action committee that made a $25,000 contribution to a nonprofit group run by the brother of state Sen. Ron Calderon, who is under federal investigation for alleged bribery.

“We opened an investigation into ... the transaction itself and not against anyone specifically,” said Gary Winuk, chief of enforcement for the Fair Political Practices Commission.

“We are not targeting Senator de León.”

Yes We Can, a political action committee run by the Latino Legislative Caucus, made the contribution early this year after a fight over leadership of the Latino caucus. Calderon, D-Montebello, was in line to become chairman of the influential caucus, but state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, did not want to give up the post.

A few weeks after the caucus voted to keep Lara as chairman, the PAC gave $25,000 to Californians for Diversity, a nonprofit group run by Calderon’s brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon.

An FBI affidavit published by Al-Jazeera America in October alleges that de León, D-Los Angeles, brokered a deal between Calderon and Lara to settle the leadership dispute with the $25,000 payment. The affidavit quotes a conversation between Ron Calderon and an undercover FBI agent, in which the senator says he and his brother planned to draw income from the nonprofit group.

No charges have been filed in the federal investigation.

But based on allegations in the affidavit, the FPPC earlier this month sent de León a letter saying it wanted more information about the contribution. The FPPC wanted to know whether it constituted a payment made at the behest of a government official, which has to be reported under California law.

De León maintained that he helped mediate the chairmanship fight but was not involved in any financial transactions.

“Senator De León did not request the contribution, did not recommend the contribution, and was not part of any vote or decision to make the contribution,” the senator’s lawyer, Stephen Kaufman, wrote in a letter to the FPPC.

Winuk said the FPPC found no evidence that de León directed the payment, but that he wants to open a broader investigation to see who directed that the money be moved from the Latino caucus’s political fundraising account to Calderon’s nonprofit.

“Was it someone who needed to report it?” Winuk said. “And if so, did they report it?”

De León said in an email that he is happy with the outcome.

“I had nothing to do with the contribution and am pleased that after reviewing the evidence the FPPC quickly closed this matter,” his email said.