Perata accused of using state workers in Denham recall campaign

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata illegally used state employees and resources in his attempt to recall Sen. Jeff Denham, the targeted lawmaker's campaign charged Saturday, citing an e-mail and a letter as evidence.

The Democratic leader is trying to unseat Denham, R-Atwater, who angered Perata during last year's 53-day state budget stalemate when he joined his GOP colleagues in voting against the spending plan.

Denham's campaign said Perata's political consulting firm asked an interpreter for the state Senate to translate a telephone bank campaign script.

Perata also sent a letter to several senators, making it clear he expected their chiefs of staff to engage in campaign activity.

Denham spokesman Kevin Spillane said the actions are "worthy of a (civil) action and even a criminal complaint," adding the campaign may request that the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office and state attorney general's office look into the matter.

Perata spokesman Jason Kinney said "any insinuation" Perata violated state law "is wrong and, frankly, sounds like the last desperate plea of a political dead man."

"If I were Jeff Denham, I'd spend a lot more time paying attention to his constituents and less time attacking his colleague and campaign staff," Kinney said.

Fortuna Clark, who serves as an interpreter in the Senate, sent an e-mail Friday to Denham's receptionist, telling her that Renee Sankus from Polka Consulting requested Clark translate a telephone bank campaign script.

Polka Consulting is owned by Sandi Polka, Perata's political consultant, and received $300,000 from committees associated with Perata to gather signatures to place the recall on the ballot.

"You know, I can't make any translations dealing with the campaign since it may constitute a conflict of interest," wrote Clark, who included the script as an attachment.

Kevin Spillane, Denham's campaign spokesman, said Denham's receptionist asked Clark to send her the script after receiving a phone call from Clark, who mistakenly believed Denham's office had asked her to do the translation.

The script tells voters that Denham "uses campaign funds for trips to Las Vegas and Sedona while the Senate is in session, held up the state budget for two months and after promising not to take a pay raise … went behind our back and raised his pay by 20 percent in the middle of a budget crisis." Denham's campaign has called the charges misleading and baseless.

Kinney acknowledged that Sankus asked the Senate employee to do the translation.

"This was a one-time, inadvertent mistake by a well-intentioned campaign staffer who thought she was contacting someone in their capacity as a part-time volunteer," Kinney said.

Kinney said Perata has a "long-standing and unequivocal" policy "that any campaign activity performed by a state worker must be done voluntarily, on personal time, with personal resources."

"In this case, the system worked and the state employee (Clark) responded appropriately," Kinney said.

In the letter, dated Thursday with Perata's name printed at the bottom, the Democratic leader admonished senators whose chiefs of staff did not attend a planning meeting for the upcoming legislative races.

The letter said that "the campaign staff reviewed the 'demand list' of services needed between now and June 3rd."

It told the senators to ask their chiefs of staff to contact one of Perata's legislative aides "ASAP," adding "this is not an optional activity."

While legislative aides routinely work on political campaigns on their own time, state law bars government workers from doing so while on the job or using state resources.

"There's nothing wrong with asking someone to volunteer on a campaign," Spillane said. "But Perata's letter to the senators goes beyond that in that it uses the terminology 'list of demands' and also says this is not an option."

Kinney acknowledged the letter was sent by Perata, but said he does not comment on internal Democratic Caucus correspondence.

"I will say that political activity (on the Dump Denham campaign) is voluntary and there never has been, or will be, a connection between state employment and performing off-hour activity," Kinney said.

Spillane said Perata's letter "crossed the line" and demonstrated state employees are being "coerced" into working on political campaigns.

If Denham is recalled in the June 3 election, Democrats would move to within one member of being able to pass a budget and raise taxes without needing a vote from a Republican. They currently hold a 25-15 advantage in the Senate.