Capitol Alert

$25,000 check arrives on first day of Senate’s fundraising blackout

Campaign staff for the incoming leader of the California Senate accepted a $25,000 contribution on the first day of the Senate’s self-imposed fundraising blackout period that began Aug. 1.

The donation was made by the EdVoice education advocacy group to a ballot measure committee, “Believing in a Better California,” held by Sen. Kevin de León. It violated a rule de León wrote that bans state senators from accepting campaign contributions from groups that lobby the Legislature during the month of August, a period when lawmakers are deciding the fate of numerous controversial bills.

The Senate approved the rule, spelled out in Senate Resolution 44, in June in response to a spate of ethical crises this year that included federal prosecutors charging two senators with taking bribes. The rule says it will help ensure that senators, during the end-of-session crush, are “insulated from extraneous matters that may divert their attention from the legislative work before them.”

De León’s campaign lawyer took the blame for mishandling the $25,000 check from EdVoice, which he said arrived by mail at his Los Angeles office on Aug. 1.

“One of my staff members broke protocol and deposited this contribution without the knowledge of you and your staff,” attorney Stephen Kaufman wrote in a letter Friday to de León.

“As the owner of our firm, I take full responsibility for this error, and again offer you my sincerest apologies.”

Kaufman’s letter says the money was refunded to EdVoice as soon as de León’s staff alerted him of the timing problem.

De León, a Los Angeles Democrat, wrote a letter Friday to the Senate’s secretary, Greg Schmidt, about the violation and the refund.

“I have also admonished my attorney and his staff to more carefully follow the fundraising limitation rule going forward,” de León wrote.

“Nothing is more important to me than protecting the integrity of and public confidence in this Senate, which is why I advocated for (the fundraising blackout) and why I hold myself and every member of my staff – both State and external – to the high standard of closely and carefully adhering to both the letter and the spirit of this rule.”

While the fundraising blackout forbids senators from accepting contributions during the month of August from any groups registered to lobby at the Capitol, it does not completely stop them from raising campaign money during the end of the session.

State Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, received an Aug. 6 contribution of $2,000 from fellow state Sen. Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and an Aug. 1 check for $46,200 from the San Luis Obispo Republican Central Committee. That committee since Jan. 1 has raised more than $335,000 – most of it from PG&E, Sempra Energy and other entities with lobbyists in the Capitol.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee