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Calderon-FBI.jpgWell-known for fundraisers at out-of-state golf courses and plush resorts, state Sen. Ron Calderon has a new reason to solicit money from friends, family and the interest groups that do business in California's Capitol.

The Democrat from Montebello has established a legal defense fund to cover expenses related to his "public corruption investigation," according to a letter Calderon filed with the secretary of state this week.

"These funds will be only to pay the attorney's fees and other legal costs related to the defense of the candidate as well as administrative costs directly related to compliance with recordkeeping and reporting requirements," says the letter signed by Calderon and Yolanda Miranda, treasurer of Calderon's committee.

The FBI raided Calderon's Capitol offices on June 4, the same day the agency attempted to contact his brother, former Assemblyman Tom Calderon. Federal authorities removed several boxes from Ron Calderon's offices but have not said what they are investigating.

Calderon's new legal defense fund is not his first.

The state senator drew the attention of the state's political ethics agency in 2007 when he used a legal defense fund to raise more than $150,000 after his legal issue was resolved. Calderon's expenditures from the account included more than $10,000 at the Bandon Dunes golf course in Oregon, $11,000 at the Edgewood golf resort at Lake Tahoe and $400 on restaurant tabs in Hawaii.

The Fair Political Practices Committee ended up changing the rules regarding how politicians can spend money in their legal defense funds, restricting it to attorneys' fees and legal costs, and a few associated expenses.

But donations to legal defense funds remain free from the limits on how much individuals and interest groups can give to political campaigns. For example, donors to Calderon's 2014 campaign for state Assembly this year can give only $4,100 per election. The same donors, however, can give as much as they want to his legal defense fund.

"The fact they can give unlimited amounts to legal defense allows them to influence a legislator more than they would with a regular campaign contribution or a gift because you're talking about whether a legislator is going to be found guilty of a crime," said Phillip Ung of California Common Cause, a government watchdog group. "You're helping to keep that legislator out of jail."

John Jacobs, who handles fundraising for Ron Calderon, said he does not organize events for legal defense funds. As for other fundraising events for Calderon?

"We have no plans for fundraisers in the near future at all," Jacobs said.

If you receive an invitation for a Calderon fundraiser, please drop Capitol Alert a line.

PHOTO: Sen. Ron Calderon addresses the media on June 10, 2013, upon his return to the Capitol after the FBI search of his office. The Sacramento Bee/Manny Crisostomo



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