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The Orange County Register (California)
Mar 18, 2005
by KIMBERLY KINDY, The Orange County Register
Some lawmakers invite trouble with fund-raiser notices;
Capitol Watchdog -- investigating state governmentSACRAMENTO -- Starting today, Register investigative reporter Kimberly Kindy shines the spotlight on the dark corners of the Statehouse. Capitol Watchdog will run every Friday.
It's that time of year when hundreds of invitations to fund- raisers jam lobbyists' mailboxes, keeping them busy schmoozing their way into the good graces of lawmakers -- often at $3,000 a pop.
An unwritten code in Sacramento says these invitations shouldn't emphasize what lawmakers can do for contributors in the Capitol. But this year, several crossed the line.
The Orange County Register reviewed more than 200 invitations -- all faxed or mailed to lobbyists over the past three months -- and found six that highlighted lawmakers' important committee assignments in the Senate or Assembly. The practice is unusual.
"You never publicize that there could be any policy involvement in your fund-raising,'' said Doug Heller, executive director of the nonprofit Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumers Rights. "It crosses the one line that everyone knows about."
One lawmaker has been reprimanded. Assemblyman Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, was ordered by the leader of that house -- Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuņez, D-Los Angeles -- to reword and reissue his invitation to a $3,200 wine-and-cheese event in January. The biggest problem was Calderon's prominent mention of his new job as chairman of the Assembly Banking and Commerce Committee.
Nuņez's public reprimand did not stop the practice.
The most blatant example came from Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, who previously served as a state assemblywoman. An invitation to her February fund-raiser said, in bold type, that Migden is "Chairwoman Senate Appropriations.'' Lobbyists know about 80 percent of all proposed laws must go through Migden's committee because they have a cost attached to them.
At the top of the invitation were mock lyrics, to the tune of Mack the Knife, that said: "Now the line forms to the right dear. Now the Miggy's back in town. You'd better watch the floor, cause she's the law."
Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, said the timing of the fund-raiser -- with entry fees that ranged from $1,000 to $3,300 -- is even more telling than the invitation.
"It's outrageous that she is asking for money 3 1/2 years before the election. This is a government access contribution,'' Stern said."This isn't a campaign contribution."
Also worth noting: It's illegal for lobbyists to give money to lawmakers. So why are they getting these invitations to fund-raisers in the first place? They're expected to persuade clients to write the checks.
About the author: Kimberly Kindy has been an investigative reporter in Sacramento for six years and has been a journalist for 16 years. Her stories have shut down a state agency, changed policies and led to new laws. Kindy, who is also the Register's Sacramento bureau chief, previously worked at the Los Angeles Daily News.
You can send watchdog tips to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at (916) 449-6685. Anonymous tips may be submitted online at www.ocregister.com - go to the Region & State link.
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