Early this year, a political fundraising committee connected to the Legislature's Latino Caucus gave $25,000 to a group run by Tom Calderon, the former assemblyman whose brother, Sen. Ron Calderon, had just concluded serving two years as the group's vice chairman.
The Jan. 2 contribution to "Californians for Diversity" came just a few weeks after Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, stood down from an earlier bid to become the caucus chairman -- and about five months before the FBI raided Ron Calderon's Capitol offices.
It was an unusual payment for the Yes We Can political action committee, a fundraising arm of the Latino Caucus that accepts donations from interest groups and gives money to support Latino candidates. The $25,000 contribution to Tom Calderon's nonprofit organization is the only "civic donation" listed on the committee's expenditures since it formed in 2011.
Chairmanship of the biggest caucus in California's Legislature was the source of some turmoil last year, with then-Assemblyman Tony Mendoza stepping down in February and Lara -- who was an assemblyman at the time -- taking his place.
Ron Calderon was vice chairman of the caucus at the time, putting him in line to become chairman of the caucus in December, when legislators began a new two-year session. Instead, lawmakers in the Latino caucus voted on Dec. 3 to keep Lara as their chair. The contribution to Tom Calderon's group followed just a few weeks later.
"That was a nonprofit we were trying to raise money for to heighten public awareness of the Latino caucus," Tom Calderon told The Bee. "We had just started fundraising. We haven't done very much."
The group's tax returns show Tom Calderon as president of Californians for Diversity, receiving $2,500 in compensation in 2011.
It's unclear why the Latino caucus would give Tom Calderon's group a donation. Sen. Ricardo Lara, the Bell Gardens Democrat who chairs the Latino caucus, and Ron Calderon, who had been in line to become the caucus chair during the last legislative session, declined to answer questions for this report.
John Valencia, who serves as treasurer for the Latino caucus's fundraising committees, did not directly answer The Bee's question about why the PAC contributed to Tom Calderon's group. He wrote in an email that Yes We Can is "organized to engage in a wide range of independent efforts to develop and elect Latino candidates in California state elections" and that the contribution to the Calderon nonprofit is "consistent with that mission and purpose."
Federal authorities have revealed nothing about the investigation related to the FBI's June 4 raid on Ron Calderon's office. But they appear to be looking into businesses that have ties to Tom Calderon. This year they subpoenaed the Central Basin Municipal Water District and raided the Pacific Hospital of Long Beach -- both businesses that have been clients of Tom Calderon's consulting practice.
Ron Calderon, meanwhile, has opened a legal defense fundraising committee to cover expenses related to his "public corruption investigation," and Tom Calderon recently pulled out of the race to replace his brother in the state Senate, leaving Tony Mendoza the front-runner in the race for the 32nd Senate District.
Earlier today, Al Jazeera America announced that it will air tonight an investigation that shows how the FBI "targeted one of California's most powerful lawmakers in an elaborate undercover sting operation." A press release from the cable news organization says that "agents posed as movie studio executives and allegedly made payoffs to the lawmaker." Ron Calderon is the focus of the Al Jazeera piece, multiple Capitol sources said.
Calderon carried bills in 2009 and 2012 to give tax breaks to the film industry. Last year he and then-Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes each carried the bills to extend the $100 million tax credit for film makers for two more years.
Ron Calderon has received at least $34,000 in campaign contributions from the film industry over the last decade, including donations from Fox, Paramount, Disney and NBC Universal. He's also received $7,800 from a film studio owner named Rocky Patel, who last year posted a photo on Twitter of himself on arm-in-arm with Ron Calderon, and a message saying, "Great having #CASenatorRonCalderon and his son Zach stop by the studio today."
Patel is not a huge political donor. Campaign finance reports show that his only other contributions have been to Tom Calderon, who ran unsuccessfully for Assembly last year, and Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles.
Days after the FBI raid on Calderon's office, De León announced that he had been subpoenaed in the case. His staff have said De León is not a target of the federal investigation.