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Embattled senator removed from committees

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POSTED November 12, 2013 8:56 p.m.

SACRAMENTO (AP) — State Sen. Ron Calderon was stripped of his committee assignments Tuesday amid a federal investigation involving allegations that he accepted money in return for promoting certain bills.

The Senate Rules Committee voted unanimously to remove the Los Angeles-area Democrat from all committees. It's believed to be the first time the committee has taken such action against a senator. No charges have been filed against Calderon, who denies wrongdoing and said he was disappointed with the move.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said the committee was making no judgments about Calderon's alleged conduct and that the actions were temporary, pending the outcome of the FBI investigation.

Steinberg said lawmakers were acting in the interest of the institution.

"Our job here is not to determine whether or not there has been any violation of criminal law," said Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who is chairman of the Rules Committee. "Our job is to uphold the standard of conduct of the Senate."

Tuesday's actions come after Al Jazeera America reported that it had obtained a sealed FBI affidavit alleging Calderon accepted $88,000 in return for promoting bills.

Calderon issued a statement shortly after the vote saying he was "profoundly disappointed" in the action by the Rules Committee. His statement referenced the apparent leak of the affidavit, which remains under seal in federal court in Sacramento.

The FBI has said it is investigating the leak.

"While I am defending myself against false allegations and illegal acts committed by a federal agency, my commitment and resolve to continue providing the best legislative representation and the best services to my constituents remain firm. Removing me from my committee assignments sends a risky and unsuitable message regarding our fundamental constitutional rights and the Presumption of Innocence," Calderon wrote in the statement, his most extensive comments to date on the matter.

"I have not been charged or convicted with any unjust doing, yet I am being treated by this committee and some media outlets as if I had."

Tuesday's 4-0 votes removed Calderon from the Senate Insurance Committee, which he chaired, and four other committees: Banking and Financial Institutions, Environmental Quality, Governmental Organization, and Procurement.

The Rules Committee also voted to terminate the Senate Select Committee on Film and Television Industries. Calderon was chairman of the select committee, but it has not met since it was created earlier this year.

He previously was removed from the state film commission. Also Tuesday, Calderon was removed from the executive board of the California Latino Legislative Caucus.

The lawmaker, who is termed out of office after next year, retains his right to vote on bills when they come to the Senate floor.

Steinberg said the committee did not take its actions lightly, but said the allegations against Calderon are serious enough "to potentially cloud any interaction" the lawmaker might have in regard to the business of his committees.

"Nothing is more sacred to us as senators than public trust and the integrity of this great institution," he said.

The affidavit includes allegations that Calderon took $60,000 from an undercover FBI agent posing as the owner of a Los Angeles movie company in return for the senator's promotion of a bill expanding tax credits for the film industry. It also alleges that Calderon accepted $28,000 from a Long Beach hospital executive to promote favorable legislation.

The document includes an alleged conversation between Calderon and the agent in which the senator says his relationship with Steinberg was responsible for the Senate leader supporting the effort to lower the threshold for film industry tax credits. The bill ultimately failed.

The affidavit does not accuse Steinberg of any wrongdoing. It was used to obtain a search warrant for Calderon's two Sacramento offices in June.

U.S. Justice Department officials in Los Angeles, where the case is being investigated, and Sacramento, where the court documents are being filed, have not confirmed publicly that the affidavit is part of their case. But a government official with direct knowledge of the case who was not authorized to speak publicly and insisted on anonymity confirmed to The Associated Press that the affidavit was "one of our documents."

It shows that federal authorities have been investigating Calderon and his brother Tom, a former assemblyman who now works as a lobbyist, since 2007. The Calderons are part of a potent Southern California political family that has had a member in the Legislature for 30 years. Another brother, Charles, served in the Senate and Assembly. Charles' son, Ian, is an assemblyman.

Senators decided to delay an ethics investigation of Calderon after Sacramento attorney William Portanova, who was hired to advise the Senate, said he was told by the lead federal prosecutor in Los Angeles that the investigation is "at a sensitive time" and could be harmed by any outside inquiry.

 

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