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Editorial: Ron Calderon should be stripped of his committee assignments

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg should strip fellow Democratic Sen. Ron Calderon of his committee chairmanship and his committee assignments.

Calderon is a focus of an FBI investigation, as detailed Wednesday when the cable news outlet Al Jazeera America reported on contents of a 124-page affidavit used to justify a search of Calderon’s Capitol office in June.

As The Sacramento Bee’s Laurel Rosenhall reported, the affidavit, posted on the news channel’s website, describes how the Montebello Democrat accepted about $88,000 from an undercover FBI agent posing as a film studio owner and from a Southern California hospital executive.

The faux studio owner sought Calderon’s help winning a film tax credit. The hospital executive sought Calderon’s help blocking legislation that would have curbed his ability to run up exorbitant charges for spinal implant surgery.

Calderon’s attorney says the senator has done nothing wrong and that the only crime involved the release of the sealed affidavit. But unless the affidavit is utter fiction, clearly there is plenty of cause for concern.

In a statement, Steinberg said: “Nothing is more sacred to us as senators than the public’s trust in the integrity of this institution.” In an interview with The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board, he called the allegations “very disturbing and very serious.” Harsh words are hardly sufficient.

It’s probably too much to ask that Calderon quit his Senate seat, at least not until he is indicted, if he is indicted. But there are many steps short of that.

The Senate should review Calderon legislation that became law to determine whether any measures give undue benefits to his donors. Allegations in the affidavit that Calderon traded the Latino Caucus chairmanship for a promise of a future job and a $25,000 donation should prompt an inquiry, too.

On Thursday, Steinberg said he would take steps to remove Calderon from the California Film Commission. That’s a good first step. Calderon had tried to ingratiate himself with Hollywood by trading on his status and claiming he could push the film tax credit through the Legislature.

Calderon is chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee, and sits on the banking and financial institutions, environmental quality and government organization committees. He’s also chairman of three select committees – on film and television; on international business; and on economic development. He also sits on a committee that deals with the wine industry.

Steinberg, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, has the power to assign and revoke committee memberships. He needs to do more than say the right thing. He must take action by removing Calderon from any post from which he can exert any influence.