Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

December 5, 2013
FPPC asks Kevin de León about Latino Caucus contribution to Calderon group


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

Letter to de Leon

December 5, 2013
Feinstein: Railroads must install collision avoidance system


Noting similarities between a fatal weekend commuter train derailment in New York and an accident in California that killed 25 people five years ago, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Thursday that the nation's rail operators must install a collision avoidance system by the end of 2015.

"Sunday's crash was preventable," Feinstein wrote Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Feinstein wrote that the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 requires railroads to install the system, called Positive Train Control, which would automatically stop a train if the engineer fails to obey a signal or exceeds the posted speed.

Four rail systems — Metrolink, Amtrak, Alaska Railroad and BNSF — will meet the law's 2015 deadline. Other railroads have lobbied Congress for a five-year delay, something Feinstein opposes.

"Positive Train Control will save lives when it is deployed, and every day of delay leaves in place a 19th century signaling system dependent entirely on the attention of each train's lone engineer," she wrote Rockefeller.

Feinstein wrote the rail safety-improvement bill after a Metrolink commuter train collided head-on with a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, Calif., in 2008. Two-dozen passengers and the engineer died.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that the train's lone engineer had been texting and may have missed a red signal.

Four people died Sunday when a Metro-North train jumped the tracks on a sharp curve in the Bronx. The NTSB has already determined that the train hit the 30 mph curve at 82 mph.

PHOTO: A Metro-North passenger train lays on it's side after derailing in the Bronx borough of New York, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. The train derailed on a curved section of track in the Bronx on Sunday morning, coming to rest just inches from the water and causing multiple fatalities and dozens of injuries, authorities said. Associated Press/Mark Lennihan

December 5, 2013
Realtors give $500k to California Dems as short-sale dispute ends


The California Association of Realtors' political action committee gave $500,000 to the state Democratic Party the day before the Democrat-dominated Franchise Tax Board effectively resolved a months-long legislative fight over the state's tax treatment of short sales.

Tuesday's donation, reported Wednesday evening, matches the $500,000 the Realtors gave state Democrats in May. The group also gave the party $168,000 earlier in the year and more than $1 million in 2012. The 2013 contributions, by far the largest to the party in the current election cycle, will help Democratic attempts to keep their two-thirds legislative supermajorities in 2014.

Realtors spokeswoman Lotus Lou denied any connection between the two events. Wednesday's legal opinion from the Franchise Tax Board stemmed from a September clarification on the issue by the IRS, she said.

"The two did not have any relation to each other," Lou said.

December 5, 2013
This Christmas, give the gift of ... health insurance?


Forget the Xbox One, Ugg boots or that "Keep calm and kill zombies" hoodie.

California officials are urging you to consider gifting that special young adult in your life something a bit less tangible: Obamacare.

Covered California, the state health insurance exchange, on Thursday launched its "Give the Gift of Health" campaign aimed at families, principally mothers and grandmothers (for the latter, apparently a $5 bill no longer cuts it).

Officials estimate roughly 1.8 million residents aged 18 to 29 are eligible to obtain health insurance through the exchange or qualify for free or reduced Medi-Cal, the government program for the poor and disabled. About 2.6 million Californians - many of them under 30 - will qualify for a federal subsidy reducing their monthly premium.

The holiday campaign - Wednesday was the last night of Hanukkah - includes a website at, where one can "pledge" to cover the cost of insurance; e-cards containing information about covered options and tips for starting a discussion about the importance of getting insured.

Claire Lipschultz, the mother of two twenty-somethings, acknowledged parents can't force medical decisions on their adult children. But they can help get them affordable insurance, said Lipschultz, the state policy advocate for the National Council of Jewish Women-California.

"Young adults tend to think that nothing will harm them," she said. "Moms know you are healthy until you are not. So, be sure your loved ones are covered."

Editor's Note: Post updated at 3 p.m. to reflect the last day of Hanukkah.

PHOTO: Emanuel Jumatate of Chicago, hugs his new Xbox One after he purchased it at a Best Buy in Evanston, Ill on Nov. 22, 2013. Microsoft is billing the Xbox One, which includes an updated Kinect motion sensor, as an all-in-one entertainment system rather than just a gaming console. AP Photo/ Nam Y. Huh

December 5, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: San Bernardino's police salary increase makes no sense

Bankrupt San Bernardino is mandated by its city charter to raise police salaries by $1 million this year, a move that Dan says is dumb.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

December 5, 2013
AM Alert: High-speed rail authority grapples with legal setback

Thumbnail image for High Speed Rail.JPGCalifornia's proposed high-speed train was left in the lurch last week when a Sacramento Superior Court judge ordered the rail authority to rescind its original funding plan. The ruling halts state bond funding for the $68 billion project until a new plan is established and opens the door for the train's opponents to further challenge its financing.

Members of the California High-Speed Rail Authority will meet with counsel today at 9 a.m. in the Sacramento City Council Chambers for a closed session on this case and other pending litigation. Several groups have challenged the high-speed train project on financial and environmental grounds, making it increasingly difficult for construction to get started.

That discussion will be followed by a public meeting at 10 a.m., covering updates on the construction process and including an opportunity for public comment.

VIDEO: The city of San Bernardino is bankrupt, but it is still increasing police salaries this year, an act that Dan Walters calls "dumb conduct."

MR. POPULAR: As subscribers to the Capitol Alert Insider app learned last night, Gov. Jerry Brown's popularity is on the upswing. A new Field Poll reveals that approval of his job performance among California voters is up seven points since July, to 58 percent, with only 33 percent disapproving. Though he has not declared his intentions to run for a fourth term, Brown is also the overwhelming choice in a simulated primary gubernatorial race. Reporter David Siders has more on Brown's surging poll numbers.

Here are the statistical tabulations provided exclusively for Capitol Alert.

OPENING UP: Between budget deficits that threatened the closing of state parks and revelations of long-hidden cash surpluses, the California Department of Parks and Recreation had a rocky 2012. State Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, will be at McConnell State Recreation Area, one of the parks that faced cuts, today at 10 a.m. to announce new legislation aimed at increasing transparency in state agencies. He will be joined by members of Save Our River Parks, an organization that raised private funds to keep McConnell and Hatfield State Recreation Areas open during the 2012-13 fiscal year.

SCIENCE BREAK: Agricultural biotech has been a controversial topic, with public debate about genetically modified organisms becoming increasingly heated. Alan McHughen, who has served on several National Academy of Sciences panels investigating GMOs, will explore the environmental, health and public policy impacts of modern food production during a presentation today at noon at the University of California Center Sacramento on K Street.

PENSION CHAT: Sacramento Bee reporters Dale Kasler and Jon Ortiz will host a live online chat discuss how recent rulings on pensions may affect Californians. Join at at 11:30 a.m. Friday, December 6, to share your questions and comments.

PHOTO: A rendering of a high-speed train moving through a wind farm in the proposed high-speed rail network. Image courtesy of Newlands and Company Inc.


Capitol Alert Staff

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers California politics and edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. Twitter: @capitolalert

Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee.

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. Twitter: @ccadelago

Micaela Massimino Micaela Massimino edits Capitol Alert.

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. Twitter: @davidsiders

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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