Capitol Alert

California ethics watchdog proposes $57,000 fine against Sen. Tony Mendoza

Sen. Tony Mendoza, seen here as an assemblyman in 2010, could face a $57,000 fine after the Fair Political Practices Commission accused the Democrat of breaking California’s campaign finance laws in 2012.
Sen. Tony Mendoza, seen here as an assemblyman in 2010, could face a $57,000 fine after the Fair Political Practices Commission accused the Democrat of breaking California’s campaign finance laws in 2012. Sacramento Bee file

The state political ethics watchdog has proposed a $57,000 fine against Sen. Tony Mendoza and others over allegations they broke campaign-finance laws to keep money out of the hands of the Calderon family in Mendoza’s final days as chairman of the California Latino Legislative Caucus.

Mendoza, an Artesia Democrat, led the caucus from December 2010 to March 2012. About a month before he resigned as chairman, the caucus voted to endorse candidates in the 2012 primary election. Former Sen. Ron Calderon, then vice chairman of the caucus, took issue with the fact that his brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, didn’t initially get the nod in the 58th Assembly District race against Luis Marquez, Mendoza’s longtime friend, according to the documents related to the Fair Political Practices Commission’s investigation.

At the time, Mendoza said he didn’t want Tom Calderon to win the race because he knew Tom Calderon later intended to run against Mendoza in the 32nd Senate District, according to the FPPC. Mendoza later won the Senate seat, which covers most of southeastern Los Angeles County, in 2014.

Following the drama over the endorsement, Mendoza heard that the Calderons, his political rivals, were planning to remove him as chairman and use money from a committee, dubbed “Yes We Can,” that he formed in the early days of his leadership to fund their own political campaigns and oppose Mendoza and his allies. Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, later succeeded Mendoza as chairman of the caucus.

Mendoza “wanted to move the money out of Yes We Can so the Calderons could not use the money,” the FPPC said. In his final days as chairman, he moved the money through various committees before it eventually trickled down to three state candidates running for office in 2012: Rudy Bermudez, who ran against Assemblyman Ian Calderon (Ron and Tom’s nephew) in the 57th Assembly District; Marquez, in the 58th Assembly District, won by Cristina Garcia; and Rudy Ramirez, who lost in the 79th Assembly District race to Shirley Weber.

Along the way, the FPPC said Mendoza, his brother and the committees they controlled violated state laws on 12 counts for controlling Tony Mendoza’s own campaign committee and two independent expenditure committees that supported other candidates at the same time, failing to disclose his control of the committees, making and accepting over-the-limit contributions and failing to submit timely and accurate state filings.

Mendoza could not be reached for comment. The FPPC does not comment on pending cases or open investigations.

The complaint was initially filed by Leslie Rodriguez, who worked for former Assemblyman Charles Calderon for years and served as campaign manager to his son, Ian Calderon, in the 2012 race.

In an unrelated case, Ron Calderon was sentenced to 3½ years in federal prison last month for accepting bribes in exchange for supporting legislation. In September, Tom Calderon was sentenced to a year for laundering the bribes to his brother.

The five-member FPPC will vote on the $57,000 fine against Mendoza at its meeting on Nov. 17.

Mendoza, his committee and John Valencia, who served as treasurer of one of Mendoza’s committees, face an additional $6,000 fine in a separate stipulation related to the same case. The agency also levied $30,000 in fines against Bermudez, his committees and David Gould, a committee treasurer.

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna

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