Ad Watch: Mailer hits Richard Pan for residency questions

A photo shows a mailer sent by an independent committee attacking Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, on Friday.
A photo shows a mailer sent by an independent committee attacking Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, on Friday. lrosenhall@sacbee.com

A committee backed by trial lawyers, environmentalists and nurses has sent out a mailer to voters in the 6th Senate District that blasts Assemblyman Richard Pan for taking taxpayer money to cover his living expenses at a second home when Pan ran for an Assembly seat on the south side of Sacramento while maintaining his family house in Natomas. The group is supporting Assemblyman Roger Dickinson in the race to replace Sen. Darrell Steinberg in the California Senate. Pan and Dickinson are both Sacramento Democrats, and advertising by outside interest groups has made their race the most expensive same-party legislative contest in the state this year.

Following are some excerpts from the ad and an analysis by Laurel Rosenhall of The Bee Capitol Bureau.

Text: Turns out, taxpayers paid $142 a day – or $10 a mile – for Assemblymember Richard Pan to drive to and from the Capitol to the home he said he lived in – seven miles away. Most Sacramento area legislators refuse to take this per diem money, because it’s designed to pay for food and lodging for out-of-town legislators – not a short commute home. During his first few years in the Assembly, Richard Pan said he lived in a condo he bought in the district – yet his wife never moved out of their out-of-district home. ... Was Pan taking taxpayer money to commute to and from a home outside his district? In the last two years, Pan shamelessly took $28,000 in 2012 and $24,000 in 2013 in taxpayer-funded per diem money. His excuse? Pan claims he needed to take the per diem because he had to pay for two residences – one in the district and one outside of the district ...

Analysis: The assertions in the ad are true, though the imagery – including a pile of $100 bills and a hand stuffing cash into a coat pocket – could suggest that Pan acted illegally. He has never been charged with a crime.

In 2010, Pan was elected to the Assembly to represent the area surrounding the Natomas home he shared with his wife and children. But the redistricting process was underway, and by the time Pan ran for re-election in 2012, the lines of his district had been redrawn. To avoid facing off against a fellow Democrat – Dickinson – to represent the new Assembly district that covered the north side of Sacramento, Pan bought a condo in the Pocket and successfully ran for a district covering Sacramento’s south side.

Pan took legislative per diem payments, in amounts the ad accurately states, during the time he owned the condo near Kennedy High School. In 2013, The Sacramento Bee paid several visits to Pan’s two homes during nights and early mornings, and always found him in Natomas. Neighbors in his Pocket condominium complex said there was no sign he lived there. Pan stopped taking per diem payments in July 2013, when he put the condo up for sale.

California law requires that legislative candidates live in the districts they seek to represent, and Pan said he met all requirements to consider the Pocket condo his legal “domicile.” It’s an area of the law that some people have complained is vague and unevenly applied. Though two Los Angeles politicians were sentenced to jail this year for lying about where they lived, Sacramento prosecutors never charged Pan with a crime. In fact, Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully has endorsed Pan in this race.