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PEGGY.JPGWhether any wrongdoing is proved or not, the FBI's search of Sen. Ron Calderon's offices is a sobering reminder that California lawmakers are sent to Sacramento to represent voters, not special interests, according to a statewide advocacy group holding a Capitol news conference Thursday.

Officials of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment emphasized that they have no knowledge of Calderon's guilt or innocence in whatever the FBI is investigating. The law enforcement agency, which served a sealed search warrant Tuesday, has not disclosed the nature of its probe.

"We're saying to all our elected officials that either you work with the people or you work against them," said Peggy Mears, an organizer of the statewide group that advocates on behalf of low- and moderate-income Californians on taxes, health care, mortgages and other issues.

"Just like we put you in office, we'll take you out," she said.

Mears added, as an aside to the FBI: "If you're going to investigate, let's do it across the board."

Organizer Peter Kuhns said that about 60 members of the group were in Sacramento for a lobby day Thursday and decided to take their message to the media, too, in the wake of Tuesday's FBI raid.

Criticizing legislators generally - and Calderon specifically -- for getting too cozy with special interests, Mears called for a crackdown on gift-giving by groups that do business at the Capitol.

"What we're saying is that we want all special gifts to stop," she said.

Calderon, D-Montebello, has accepted more $40,000 in gifts since the year 2000 from groups that hire lobbyists to press their interests at the Capitol, a Bee review of disclosure reports show. State law allows legislators to accept such gifts, subject to annual dollar limits from any single source.

Abdullah Muhammad, a member of the ACCE nonprofit group and a resident of Calderon's Senate district, said that lavish gift-giving to legislators prompts voters to lose faith in government.

"We don't need Christmas year round," he said. "We don't need your birthday year round. The people of the state pay you a salary, they give you benefits for yourself and your family. That should be enough."

PHOTO: Organizer Peggy Mears, of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, held a Capitol press conference Thursday to focus attention on legislative ethics and Capitol gift-giving. Jim Sanders/Sacramento Bee



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