Diversity PAC: Ron Calderon’s slush fund for luxury
A shadowy political action committee cited in the FBI’s case against state Senator Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on private jets, five-star hotels, elite golf courses and extravagant meals at the country’s finest restaurants, a CalWatchdog.com analysis of campaign finance reports has found.
But the biggest questions might be over nearly half-a-million dollars in mysterious payments funneled to a professional political fundraiser, who promises on his website to “put the FUN in fundraising!”
According to the FBI affidavit that was obtained by Al Jazeera America, “Californians for Diversity is a charitable arm of the Diversity Political Action Committee.” In its five year history, Diversity PAC, according to campaign finance reports, has raised more than $1.2 million. More than two-thirds of those funds, $813,766, has been spent on payments to hotels, golf courses, resorts and professional fundraisers.
Half-million paid to Capitol fundraiser
By far the largest recipient of Diversity PAC funds has been John Jacobs and his professional fundraising company, Capitol Alliance. Diversity PAC has paid Capitol Alliance and John Jacobs more than $462,750 in combined payments for consulting fees and fundraising expenses. Jacobs did not respond to CalWatchdog.com’s email request for comment.
“The Capitol Alliance is a broad-based professional political consulting and fundraising services company,” the company states on its website. “We have the experience and know how to creating long lasting mutually beneficial relations for our clients.”
Among the questions raised by Diversity PAC’s campaign finance report is why the organization split expenditures, of approximate value, between John Jacobs and Jacobs’ company, Capitol Alliance. As an individual, John Jacobs received more than $175,000 in campaign funds from Diversity PAC. Over the same period, the PAC disbursed $237,000 to The Capitol Alliance with another $50,000 listed on campaign reports under a third category, “John Jacobs, DBA — The Capitol Alliance.”
While little is known about the payments to the Sacramento fundraiser, even less is known about the PAC itself. The Capitol Alliance website maintained the only public information about Diversity PAC. Since Al Jazeera America’s bombshell report, Capitol Alliance has scrubbed any reference to Diversity PAC from its website. However, CalWatchdog.com archived copies of the website in September.
“The Diversity PAC was founded in December 2007, at the suggestion of concerned private citizens nad [sic] business interests; and with the financial support of key founding members, all with diverse backgrounds, education and experience,” the archived version of the website explained of Diversity PAC. “Since then, ‘DPAC’ developed, created and implemented strategic grass rooots [sic] election campaigns that directly resulted in the election of intelligent and thoughful [sic] candidates who were concerned, focused, and committed to addressing the critical business issues facing California in the 21st Century.”
Rather than focus on the “critical business issues facing California,” Diversity PAC relied on its fundraiser to deliver luxurious meetings, events and conferences. According to the Capitol Alliance website, the fundraising company boasts as its motto, “We put the FUN in fundraising!”
Diversity PAC’s fun included nearly $220,000 spent at Bandon Dunes, Pebble Beach, Indian Wells and the American Club — with $32,000 in expenditures at these luxurious resorts incurred after the FBI’s June 6 raid on Calderon’s offices.
Topping the list of the organization’s favorite destinations with more than $104,000 in expenditures is the Bandon Dunes Resort. Described by Golf Odyssey as “the single best place to play golf in the world,” the exclusive Oregon golf resort served as the venue for Diversity PAC’s 2013 Fall Policy Conference. It scheduled a “Winter Policy Conference” at the golf resort next month.
“Picture a cross between Pebble Beach and Carnoustie — with a pinch of Pine Valley for good measure — and you have Bandon Dunes,” Golfweek’s Dave Seanor explains of the resort.
But beneficiaries of Diversity PAC didn’t need to imagine Pebble Beach. In September, the organization spent $9,000 in expenditures at Pebble Beach.
The committee’s golf junkets spanned the state. Earlier this year, the organization rang up more than $57,000 in two trips to the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells. According to the Capitol Alliance website prior to its removal, DPAC chose Indian Wells for a Winter Conference in January and its Spring Break Leadership Conference in March.
Not content to enjoy the West Coast’s luxury resorts, Diversity PAC also accumulated more than $33,500 at the American Club, Wisconsin’s first and only five-star hotel. “A place untouched by neon lights, fast food and the cares of cable news,” the American Club promises guests on its website that it’s a place where “you can focus on the things that really matter to you.”
Chartered jets and limousine rentals
To reach these five-star resorts, Diversity PAC relied on chartered flights and limousine rentals charging more than $56,000 in luxury travel. The committee selected charter companies that specialize in providing privacy to “a discriminating list of clients.”
“Our seasoned pilot crews fly you in luxury, privacy and security to one of hundreds of airports not served by commercial airlines,” Axis Jet, which received $10,800 in Diversity PAC funds last November, explains its brochure. “Today, we serve as an aviation partner to a discriminating list of clients who enjoy all the benefits and value that aircraft ownership has to offer.”
Diversity PAC also accrued nearly $26,000 in expenses with Trans Global Travel, $10,100 in expenses to Byron McCluskey Aviation Services, $8,753 in expenses with Tower Aviation Services, LLC, and $180 in expenses with American Limousine and Transportation.
PAC payments to Ron and Thomas Calderon
Ron, and his brother Thomas, also accepted thousands of dollars directly from Diversity PAC. The Calderon Group Inc., a political consulting company owned by Thomas, received $13,607 from Diversity PAC in addition to $1,183 in reimbursements paid directly to Thomas. Meanwhile, Ron’s officeholder account accepted $1,562 in campaign funds directed from the PAC.
Ron and Thomas also benefited, according to the FBI’s affidavit, from more than $10,000 in campaign funds transferred from Diversity PAC to Californians for Diversity.
“We have this nonprofit. It is called Californians for Diversity,” Ron Calderon told an undercover FBI agent, according to an affidavit obtained by Al Jazeera America. “So, we are gonna build this thing up and … then, Tom and I down the road, we build that up, we can pay ourselves. Just kind of make, you know, part of a living.”
On July 16, after the FBI had already raided the State Senator’s offices based on evidence that he had used Californians for Diversity as a slush fund, the committee transferred $13,607 from the PAC to Californians for Diversity.
In recent years, Diversity PAC has provided minimal support to political candidates and campaign committees. On the Capitol Alliance website, Diversity PAC listed past support for State Senator Rod Wright, Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price; and Rep. Juan Vargas, D-El Centro. In 2010, the committee transferred $150,000 to the “Put California Back to Work” committee, which spent heavily to elect Vargas to the state Senate.
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