California's political watchdog agency is asking state Sen. Kevin de León for more information about a $25,000 contribution the Legislature's Latino Caucus made to a nonprofit group run by former Assemblyman Tom Calderon.
A political action committee run by the caucus, called Yes We Can, made the contribution early this year after a fight over leadership of the Latino caucus. Calderon's brother, state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, was in line to become chairman of the influential caucus, but state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, did not want to give up the post.
A few weeks after the caucus voted to keep Lara as chairman, the PAC gave $25,000 to Californians for Diversity, the nonprofit run by Tom Calderon.
An FBI affidavit published by Al Jazeera America in October alleges that de León, D-Los Angeles, brokered a deal between Calderon and Lara to settle the leadership dispute with the $25,000 payment.
The state's Fair Political Practices Commission today sent de León a letter saying it may initiate an investigation into the contribution. The FPPC is exploring whether it constituted a payment made at the behest of a government official, which has to be reported under California law.
De León's chief of staff said the senator helped mediate the chairmanship fight but was not involved in any financial transactions.
"Last year, Senator de León helped resolve a leadership dispute within the Latino Caucus," said an email from Dan Reeves.
"He did not ask that any contribution be made, nor did he recommend that a contribution be made to any Calderon-related organization as part of that resolution. We are confident that the FPPC inquiry will be resolved once they gather the facts."
No charges have been filed in the federal investigation.
The FBI affidavit quotes a conversation between Ron Calderon and an undercover FBI agent, in which the senator says he and his brother planned to draw money from the nonprofit group.
"We have this non-profit. It is called Californians for Diversity," Calderon says, according to the affidavit. "Tom and I down the road, we build that up, we can pay ourselves. Just kind of make, you know, part of living."
PHOTO: State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, at left, Sen. Ron Calderon, center, and Sen. Kevin de León, right, in the Senate chambers on September 12, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Renee C. Byer