UPDATED WITH MORE DETAILS ABOUT FUNDING, INCLUDING A SECOND SUPER PAC THAT POURED MONEY AT THE LAST MINUTE INTO BOCANEGRA’S CAMPAIGN TO OPPOSE ALARCON AND INTO REPUBLICAN RICARDO BENITEZ’S CAMPAIGN TO SUPPRESS THE COUNCILMAN’S VOTE.
A lot of people took delight from the look on felonious LA City Councilman Richard Alarcon’s face election night when he was whipped badly in the 39th Assembly District race by Raul Bocanegra, described in LA Weekly’s report as a “charming CSU instructor.”
He is that part-time perhaps but he works full time as chief of staff to the man he hopes to succeed in November, Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes — exposed as the prime example of Sacramento’s pay-to-play corruption that allows special interests to buy favorable legislation.
In a cover story 18 months ago, the LA Weekly called Fuentes “The Worst Legislator in California,” an example of “lawmakers (who) don’t actually make laws. They make deals.”
The north San Fernando Valley’s Assembly rep is a standout example of how lawmaking in Sacramento has devolved into something quite apart from lawmaking as people normally understand it.
The 39-year-old Democrat who represents Sylmar, Pacoima, Lakeview Terrace and Arleta in the California Assembly was listed as the “author” of 24 proposed bills in the 2007-08 legislative sessions. Yet despite all his bustle, Fuentes could easily win a nomination as the worst legislator in California — quite an achievement in a 120-member body with a 10 percent approval rating — because 10 of his laws were ghostwritten by special-interest groups.
The Weekly’s cover story was based a San Jose Mercury News series of articles a few months earlier that revealed 39 percent of the bills introduced in the California Legislature in 2007 were “sponsored” — written by corporations, unions and other special interests who contributed heavily to the Assembly and Senate members who carried their legislation. The first paragraphs of Part Two of the San Jose series begin:
Like all newly elected lawmakers, Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes arrived in Sacramento needing two things to ensure his success: legislative achievements and campaign money.
If he established himself as a political force, the Los Angeles-area Democrat might breeze to re-election in two years and rise up the legislative ranks. And sure enough, there were folks who could help him along — the throng of lobbyists offering bill ideas on behalf of their corporate clients.
In his first term in office, beginning in 2007, Fuentes introduced 10 bills that had been crafted and pushed by those lobbyists — one of the highest totals of any legislator in a session where much special interest legislation was passed while many statewide problems went unaddressed. And in the years since, he has reaped tens of thousands of dollars in campaign money from bill sponsors, won re-election and snagged plum appointments to Assembly committees.
Both article are rich in detail of how Fuentes — who is an odds-on favorite to join the City Council next year in Alarcon’s seat — walked into committee hearings with lobbyists for bills they wrote for him and tried to influence, often successfully, other legislators to support the measures.
Make no mistake, he did not invent this form of corruption. He learned it as chief of staff to then Council President Alex Padilla who certainly is no slouch at the pay-to-play game, with 60 percent bills he introduced as a freshman state senator in 2007 having “outside sponsors,” according to the Mercury-News.
Looking at the campaign finance records on Cal-Access, it is clear that the “charming” CSUN instructor Raul Bocanegra is a good student of how to get money from special interests with the promise to provide favors.
Bocanegra was the biggest single recipient — more than $350,000 — in independent expenditures from a phony slush fund, a Super Pac, called the Alliance for California’s Tomorrow which channels special interest money into legislative campaigns.
It is the brainchild of Sacramento Republican consultant Jim Nygren, who raised $698,000 so far this year to successfully influence the outcomes of three races, all of them to help candidates endorsed by the Democratic Party. In my Sunday column, I reported how Nygren’s money and attack mailings helped Pasadena Councilman Chris Holden keep wealthy auto dealer Victoria Rusnak from making the runoff and protect state Sen. Rod Wright who faced trouble in the redrawn South Bay’s 35th District.
The money for Alliance for California’s Tomorrow’s independent expenditures — most of it thrown at the accused perjurer Alarcon along with Democratic Party and Federation of Labor — came at the last minute from dentists and eye surgeons, Blue Shield, the Farm Bureau, the Personal Insurance Federation, real estate and developer interests, apartment owners, even a labor union — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Many of those same interests along with a host of others gave Bocanegra’s own campaign far more money this his opponents, providing him with enough money to spend $419,660.35 more on his campaign.
And then there’s another Super Pac called the California Alliance for Progress and Education which a week before the election reported spending more than $130,000 to put a stake in Alarcon’s political campaign as well as more than $60,000 to support another candidate in the race, Republican Ricardo Benitez, a community activist who was able to raise very little other money but finished a strong third with 16 percent of the vote.
It’s noteworthy that this phony group spent only $23,855 until the last week of the campaign and had only $9,215.82 on hand as of May 19 when suddenly money starting pouring in from Farmers Insurance (you know about Farmers Field, I’m sure), dentists and real estate interests — the same ones who funded the Alliance for California’s Tomorrow.
It’s noteworthy that in 2008 the California Alliance for Progress ranked 9th and the Alliance for California’s Tomorrow ranked 18th in Common Cause’s 2008 report entitled: “Independent Expenditures: The Giant Gorilla in Campaign Finance.”
And that was before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that American democracy could be sold to the highest bidders, the corporations, unions and individuals with most money and the greatest motivation to get what they want.
In total, Bocanegra had well over three times as much as Alarcon’s $256,170.88 helping him. None of Alarcon’s money came from Super Pacs, although he certainly got a lot of corrupting labor and business special interest money as well.
You can be sure most of the special interests will keep on flowing in the same direction in the runoff to make sure Bocanegra, who beat Alarcon 36 percent to 27 percent, fills his boss’ seat in Sacramento.
And Fuentes and Padilla will be right there, giving him all the support he needs as their games with political money and political musical chairs makes a mockery of democracy.
Of course, none of this is against the law in California unless you are dumb enough to openly state in front of witnesses or recording devices that you doing the quid in exchange for the quo.
That’s the kind of laws you get when it’s the crooks who write the laws.