The California Senate’s curb on end-of-session fundraising has sharply cut into the flow of political cash to senators’ campaign accounts, even as some in the upper house run afoul of a rule that bans contributions from donors that have Capitol lobbyists.
The Senate adopted the fundraising blackout in June, after a string of ethics scandals. Two Senate Democrats, Leland Yee and Ron Calderon, face corruption charges, and a third, Rod Wright, was convicted of lying about where he lived when he ran for the Senate in 2008. All three have been suspended from the 40-member house, with pay.
Lawmakers said the new rule is meant to ensure that senators are “insulated from extraneous matters that may divert their attention from the legislative work before them.” If so, senators these days should be focused on their legislative work as never before: senators received about $75,000 from Aug. 4 through Tuesday – about 6 percent of the $1.3 million they took in during the final month of the 2013 legislative year, records show.
The Assembly’s 79 members, meanwhile, continue to rake in the end-of-session money, with almost $2.6 million collected through Tuesday, state records show. That compares to more than $3 million in contributions to then-Assembly members during the final month of 2013, records show.
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The Senate restrictions have tripped up some senators. The re-election campaign of state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, received a $1,000 contribution Aug. 15 from construction company A. Teichert and Sons Inc., which has a Capitol lobbyist. After The Sacramento Bee asked about the contribution, Cannella’s campaign said it did not know that Teichert employed a Capitol lobbyist and refunded the money.
On Aug. 6, the ballot measure committee of state Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, received $3,000 from Abbott Park, Ill.-based pharmaceuticals company Abbott Laboratories, which has a Capitol lobbyist.
“I was notified today that a contribution was received on August 6th by my treasurer for an issues-based committee that I am involved with,” Hernandez said in a statement after The Bee asked about the donation. “This contribution is in violation of newly adopted Senate Rule 56. Unfortunately, it was accepted and deposited in error. We will be returning the funds to the contributor immediately.”
Earlier this month, state Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, returned a $25,000 contribution from education advocacy group EdVoice after a campaign staffer deposited it on the first day of the fundraising blackout. On Aug. 8, state Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, received a $1,000 contribution from the Association for Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriffs Political Action Committee, but quickly refunded it.
Jessica Levinson, a campaign finance and ethics expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said she expects senators’ fundraising to be back to normal as soon as the session ends.
“I think the purpose of the prohibition isn’t to limit the total amount of money,” Levinson said of the Senate end-of-session restrictions. “It’s because there’s something so unseemly about money being raised so close in time to votes.”