SACRAMENTO — Accusing state Senate Leader Don Perata of "unseemly" conduct, a ballot measure group asked the state's campaign finance watchdog Thursday to look into $602,000 in contributions Perata accepted from a prison guard union that's seeking pay raises.
The sponsors of Proposition 11, the measure that would hand the power of drawing legislative boundaries to an independent commission, asked the Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate whether a "quid pro quo" was offered by Perata in exchange for four donations since May 30. The fair practices panel does not comment on investigations, and it is unlikely that an investigation could be resolved by Election Day, Nov. 4.
The biggest offense, according to the group? The California Correctional Peace Officers Association donated the money to Perata's Leadership California account rather than directly to the No on 11 campaign — and in the midst of the bill-signing and budget season. Perata, an Oakland Democrat, is leading the "no" campaign.
"This appears to be pay-to-play at its worst," said Jeannine English, president of AARP California.
"The union has a lot at stake and are clearly trying to influence the outcome and garner huge raises for themselves with huge contributions to Perata. He should return every last dollar."
The donations appear to be an attempt to "hide where the money came from and engage in money laundering," said Derek Cressman, of California Common Cause. "Two, it appears to be an attempt to curry favor at the exact time the union is seeking a pay raise. We need to investigate any explicit agreement with the guards in exchange for the contribution for political favors."
A Perata spokesman said the charges were filled with "hypocrisy" and are the flailings of a flagging campaign, which has yet to break through with the public. In a survey released this week by Public Policy Institute of California, only 39 percent of voters said they would vote for Proposition 11, while 25 percent remain undecided.
"They're throwing mud because they can't sell their redistricting scheme on their merits," said Paul Hefner, Perata's campaign spokesman. "It's funny that their criticisms don't extend to the fundraiser the governor held on Monday."
Schwarzenegger held a "cigar smoker" reception near the Capitol for the Dream Team and Voters First accounts — his general campaign committee and the Proposition 11 ballot committee, respectively — charging donors as much as $25,000. That price tag purchased 12 tickets, six "photo ops" with the governor and 20 dinner tickets. Schwarzenegger has routinely transferred millions of dollars from his Dream Team account to Voters First.
Since the last reporting date, June 30, the Dream Team account has taken $313,000 in contributions, while Voters First has raised $1,869,185 — much of it from regular donors to Schwarzenegger.
Between the two accounts, Schwarzenegger has $3.3 million at his disposal for the campaign on redistricting.
So far, the No on 11 campaign has accepted only $25,000 in contributions; Perata is expected to use some of the $3 million in his Leadership California committee account to help the "no" cause.
Late Thursday, the peace officers' union wrote a $250,000 check to the "no" campaign, Citizens for Accountability, and a spokesman for the union said the union did it with no expectations of a payback.
"We don't even have a bill for our (contract)," Lance Corcoran said. "And there's no money to be had in the budget. Chances of getting a raise are slim to none, especially in the situation California finds itself in. Our main goal is to get job protection."
The union has been without a contract for two years and has rejected Schwarznegger's offer of a 5 percent raise because of concerns that it contains "givebacks" on certain work rules. A pay raise would require two-thirds approval, enough to override a certain veto by Schwarzenegger.
The union leadership agrees with Perata, Corcoran said, that the ballot measure is a power grab by Republicans, and he had no problem with Perata controlling the money.
"Our intent is to defeat Proposition 11," Corcoran said. "And we believe Senator Perata has a great plan to do that."
Union president Mike Jimenez signed the opposition argument on the ballot, so it "should be no surprise" that the union would donate money to defeat the measure, Corcoran said.
"Anything the governor supports we're more than likely to oppose," Corcoran said. "He's shown a total lack of leadership, specifically when it comes to dealing with unions."
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