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Jan 13, 2005
by Jim Sanders, Bee Capitol Bureau
Assemblyman regrets flier's wording;
Some see Calderon's invitation as targeting special interests.Even before Assemblyman Ron Calderon convenes his first meeting of the Assembly Banking and Finance Committee, his fund-raiser has sent a message to the state's financial industry: Send money.
Fliers promoting a $3,200-per-couple "banking and finance" reception for the newly appointed committee chairman sparked criticism that Calderon unethically was soliciting money by promoting his leadership of the committee.
About 300 invitations arrived at lobbyists' offices as lawmakers prepared to return to Sacramento for the new year and Assembly policy committees were gearing up to hold public hearings and ultimately decide the fate of major legislation.
Calderon, D-Montebello, said the flier's wording was a big mistake.
He hadn't reviewed and approved the invitation before it was sent, Calderon said.
"This will never happen again - I guarantee it," Calderon said. "I don't like being in this position."
The Assembly speaker's office, responding to an inquiry by The Bee, asked Calderon to recast the fund-raising flier Wednesday because of its "banking and finance" reference and because it erroneously claimed Speaker Fabian Nunez would attend the event.
Within hours, Calderon's office released a new version containing the following notation: "Any previous mention of a specific committee reference was erroneous."
Calderon's flier is one of more than two dozen fund-raising invitations from legislative and state officeholders that are flooding Capitol offices to retire campaign debt or restock coffers in preparation for 2006 races.
Most invitations simply name the legislator, describe the event and list ticket prices. Critics claim Calderon's reference to "banking and finance" essentially targeted one special-interest group and implied a connection to the Assembly Banking and Finance Committee.
For their $3,200, donors would receive "food, fun, friendship and premium wines" at the Firehouse Restaurant in Old Sacramento.
"The message is, 'If you want your bills heard in my committee, come visit me,' " said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. "And pay some money to do that. It just sends the wrong message."
Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said the flier "basically put a for-sale sign on the Banking and Finance Committee."
"This is probably the most blatant mixing of policy and politics that I've ever seen in an invitation," Court said.
Assemblyman Ray Haynes, R-Murrieta, called the flier "a little bit over the top."
"OK, so he's chairman of the Banking and Finance Committee," he said. "Everyone knows it. You don't have to broadcast it. If you wish to solicit the banking and finance industry for contributions, as the (committee) chair, you ought not be so blatant about it."
In asking Calderon's office to recast the flier, the Assembly speaker's office did not conclude that Calderon's intentions were improper but wants such invitations to avoid "even the appearance of impropriety," said Steve Maviglio, Nunez's deputy chief of staff.
Calderon said the flier was written by a newcomer to legislative fund-raising who did not realize that four simple words, "banking and finance reception," could stir such controversy.
"It's a nuance, but it's an important nuance. The problem (with the wording) is that there exists a firewall between the political side and the policy side of things," Calderon said.
He said the flier went to a wide variety of prospective donors, not simply those in the banking and finance industry.
The two-term Democrat said the term "banking and finance reception" referred to his fund-raiser's concept of bringing him, donors and members of his committee together for a friendly get-together that had nothing to do with committee votes.
Calderon said that he and the fund-raiser, John Jacobs, had agreed to hold a campaign event this month and "I just left it up to him to determine what the makeup would be."
Calderon, known at the Capitol as a prodigious fund-raiser who has billed campaign coffers for multiple trips to Las Vegas, said the recent flier neither intended nor implied that donors would get favorable legislative treatment.
"I've been on the (committee) for two years, and my votes speak for themselves," he said. "I'm always supportive of bills that are pro-consumer."
Jacobs, of Innovative Marketing Promotions Group (IMPG), said he sent the invitations out without waiting to sit down with Calderon because he wanted to get the event on donors' calendars.
"Basically, I sent out a flier without getting proper approval, and I did not do as much research as I should have," he said. "I did not mean to cause (Calderon) any challenges."
The Bee's Jim Sanders can be reached at (916) 326-5538 or email@example.com
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