Corruption costs Democrats their California supermajority

Ever since the 2012 election, California Democrats have been able to pass any legislation they wish without Republican support, thanks to enjoying 2/3 majorities in both houses of the legislature. But as of today, no more. Two Democrat state senators have taken paid leaves owing to corruption charges.

First to take a paid leave was Sen. Rod Wright, convicted on 8 felony counts of lying about his residence. A total of 8 felonies is not enough to merit expulsion or even an unpaid leave in the eyes of California Democrats.

But the critical lost vote belongs to Senator Ron Calderon, who was charged with taking almost $100,000 in bribes and other inducements in return for supporting legislative actions, in an FBI sting.

The case against Calderon centers on two alleged pay-to-play legislative transactions. After an undercover FBI agent posing as a film executive approached Calderon about altering the state’s film tax credit, according to a federal indictment, Calderon accepted thousands of dollars in payments to his daughter.

Federal authorities also say Calderon accepted bribes from a former hospital CEO who wanted to preserve a lucrative worker’s compensation rule allowing him to charge extra for spinal surgeries. Michael Drobot has already pleaded guilty to inflating the cost of procedures, with California’s compensation system often reimbursing the higher price, and to directing business to his hospital by paying kickbacks.

Calderon and his brother Tom Calderon, a former assemblyman, also face charges alleging that they took steps to conceal the scheme.

Calderon was a major player in the California legislature, but the biggest fish of all is State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. Speculation abounds on whether or not the FBI may be able to push Calderon into implicating Steinberg and other Senate Dems in other instances of corruption, or whether Calderon will be a stand-up guy and take a long prison sentence in silence.  Of course, there is a theoretical possibility that Calderon knows nothing about any corruption involving Steinberg.

But given the level of corruption endemic in a state that spends more than $100 billion a year with little scrutiny, a safe assumption would be that there is a lot more dirt that Calderon can expose in return for a lighter sentence, should his taped transactions result in convictions on multiple counts.

Stay tuned.