Senator under FBI investigation traveled to Cuba with lobbyist

August 1, 2013 - By John Hrabe

State Senator Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, whose offices were raided by FBI agents in June, traveled to Cuba during the legislature’s spring break with Sacramento’s “best connected” lobbyist, state campaign finance disclosure reports have revealed. Calderon was one of eight state legislators that secretly traveled to Havana with Darius Anderson, the founder and president of the powerhouse lobbying firm Platinum Advisors.

AHavana post cardssemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, another Cuba trip participant, told the San Luis Obispo Tribune that the trip included a tour of a castle, afternoon salsa lessons and rooftop cocktails, among other activities.

According to the most recent campaign finance report for his state Senate officeholder committee, Calderon spent $6,159 on the March trip, including more than $2,500 on an upgraded Virgin America flight. Within days of returning from Cuba, Pfizer, one of Anderson’s lobbying clients, contributed $1,500 to the same Calderon committee that paid for his trip expenses. In May, just days before Calderon’s offices were raided by the FBI, another Anderson client, AT&T, made a $1,600 contribution to the same Calderon committee.

Under the Calfiornia Political Reform Act, legislators and their staff cannot accept gifts worth more than $10 per month from a registered lobbyist. However, campaign accounts provide legislators with an easy vehicle for circumventing these strict limits on lobbyist gifts. Lobbyists can direct their clients to donate to a member’s campaign account. Then, the member can use the campaign account to pay for personal expenses, including foreign travel.

Since 2011, Calderon’s various campaign committees have collected $12,100 from Anderson’s past or current clients, including the American Council of Life Insurers California, Anthem Blue Cross, AT&T, Conoco Phillips, DirectTV, Dish Network, Pfizer and Phillips 66 Company.

Skinner on Cuba junket

Calderon wasn’t the only legislator to be identified through the most recent campaign disclosure reports. Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, also joined the lobbyist-organized trip to Cuba during the Legislature’s spring break. She reported $2,400 in Cuba trip expenses, according to her most recent campaign finance report.

Skinner has accepted $12,900 in campaign contributions from Anderson’s clients since 2011. According to state campaign lobbying reports, Anderson’s firm is the lobbyist of record for AT&T, DirectTV, Entertainment Software Association, Pfizer, SKS Investments, LLC and the United Food and Commercial Workers, all of whom made campaign contributions to Skinner.

Campaign watchdog groups have criticized the practice of using campaign funds for personal expenses, such as travel junkets.

“Unfortunately, paying for travel and other non-campaign expenses through campaign funds is a growing trend among public officials,” Phillip Ung, a policy advocate for California Common Cause, told CalWatchdog.com earlier this year. “The simple, common sense fix to this problem is to limit campaign funds to campaign related spending.”

6 of 8 legislators identified

As of July 31, CalWatchdog.com has identified six of the eight-member legislative delegation to Cuba. Other attendees include: Achadjian, Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins, D-San Diego; Assemblymember Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles; and State Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston.

In order to comply with the U.S. State Department’s ban on travel to Cuba, the trip was arranged by Californians Building Bridges, a non-profit organization controlled by Anderson. In 2011, the only year for which the organization filed a tax return, it spent $94,586 on travel-related expenses of $136,476 in overall expenses. The organization’s mission also listed as a priority, making “one-time financial grants and donations of supplies and materials to charitable organizations that lack their own resources or do not qualify for assistance through existing agencies and organizations in their region.” Yet, it paid out $0 in domestic and foreign grants, according to the group’s tax return.

Anderson and his firm agreed in 2010 to pay out half-a-million dollars to settle pay-to-play allegations, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Tags: , , , ,

Comments(5)
  1. Let It Collapse says:

    Campaign financing in this country really needs a complete overhaul. Unfortunately, since today’s lawmakers benefit from the status quo – don’t EVER expect that to happen. I mean it’s so blatant ridiculous on it’s face. Laughable. How are we really any different from Mexico? Seriously?

    It’s so stupid to make Cuba legally off limits to Americans. I thought we were the land of the free? Freedom also means freedom to travel. In fact, freedom to travel is the hallmark of freedom. If you don’t have freedom to travel to whereever you want – you’re really not free at all. But what’s even more absurd is that the lawmakers who are sworn under oath to uphold the laws are the first ones to get exemptions from these travel restrictions. If I wanted to go to Cuba (which I don’t, btw) and asked the gov for permission there’s a 99% chance they’d tell me to pound sand.

    Today I learned that Snowden left the Moscow airport and apparently now has legal residence in Russia. Seems that Russia has turned into us and we have turned into Russia. Funny how that all works. And we spent how many trillions to dismantle the Soviet Union? Putin must be looking like the Cheshire cat. Of course if NSA wanted to fire Edward that’s their perogative and legal right. But espionage charges for alerting we Americans that our 4th Amendment rights were being violated? I think that’s a little over the line. Just my opinion FWIW.

    Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?

  2. Dyspeptic says:

    I don’t understand how this trip complies with the foolish State Dept. travel ban to Cuba. Is there some exemption for groups doing “humanitarian” work there? Anyway, it sounds like Californians Building Bridges is a front group that provides cover for Anderson’s influence peddling. What legitimate reason would these legislators have for visiting Commie Island anyway? Maybe they are planning on using it as a role model for California.

  3. The Ted Steele Conceptual Abstraction Unit says:

    Can we please find a way to blame this on president Obama?

  4. admin says:

    Ted: OK. Obama should lift the ban on travel to Cuba.

    — John Seiler

  5. Let It Collapse says:

    Obama used his ‘civil rights law professorship’ as a prop. Something to fool us with. Something to garner more votes. I can’t count on both hands how many times the US Constitution has been violated under his watch, at times with his full complicity. He cares about as much about ‘civil rights’ or ‘human rights’ as I do about lawn croquet. The whole thing is a con game. And Obama is the ringmaster. IMO he is the biggest flim-flam man since Elmer Gantry. In fact, Elmer would probably be embarrassed by his behavior!

News Archive

Archive By Categories
  • Budget and Finance
  • Education
  • Health care
  • Infrastructure
  • Inside Government
  • Life in California
  • Politics and Elections
  • Regulations
  • Rights and Liberties
  • Waste, Fraud and Abuse