The California Senate paused its normal routine of committee hearings today for a special training on the ethics of two essential duties that politicians are not supposed to mix: making laws and raising money.
The conversation comes in the wake of two senators being charged in FBI corruption stings, another being convicted of perjury and a record-setting FPPC fine of a prominent lobbyist that involved warning letters to dozens of politicians who had held fundraisers at his house.
Senators and their chiefs of staff participated in separate ethics trainings led by Scott Raecker, CEO of the Josephson Institute of Ethics in Los Angeles. They also heard from a panel of political lawyers: Lance Olson of Olson & Hagel; Charles H. Bell, Sr. of Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk, LLP; and John Panneton, former Assistant U.S. Attorney.
"While there is no ethics class, as I've said many times, that teaches the dangers of gun running or taking money in envelope, that's not really what this session was about.
It was about the more subtle and sometimes insidious impacts of all the money that exists in politics," Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said afterwards.
"The takeaway is very clear... Regardless of who supports you in your campaigns, if you disagree with them, then you vote against them."
The Sacramento Democrat said he will soon introduce proposals to change some fundraising practices, beyond those laid out in bills now moving through the Legislature.
Though most of the scandals have involved Democrats, Senate Republican leader Bob Huff said responding to them requires bipartisan cooperation.
"We all get painted with the same broad brush of integrity when members struggle and lapse," Huff said.
The role of money in politics has come to the fore as the Capitol responds to an unusual spate of problems. Sens. Leland Yee of San Francisco and Ron Calderon of Montebello have been charged with corruption in federal court in separate cases. Sen. Roderick Wright of Baldwin Hills was found guilty by a Los Angeles jury of lying about where he lived during his election. All three of them are Democrats. The Senate took the unprecedented step last month of suspending them with pay.
In addition to the criminal charges, the Capitol is also responding to recent cases pursued by California's Fair Political Practices Commission. Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, is fighting a judge's recommended order that he pay $40,000 in an FPPC campaign money laundering case. High-profile lobbyist Kevin Sloat paid a record-setting $133,500 fine in February for hosting elaborate political fundraisers at his home including expensive cigars and liquors that amounted to forbidden campaign contributions. And last fall, three partners of California Strategies, a well-known public affairs firm, were fined for working to sway state government without registering as lobbyists. One of them, Jason Kinney, is also a political consultant to the Senate Democrat caucus.
In this video, Steinberg talks about today's ethics training and what he calls the "corrosive effect" of money in politics:
PHOTO: Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, left, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg discuss ethics training on Wednesday April 23, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.