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Ian Lind • Online daily from Kaaawa, Hawaii

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Don’t miss Al Jazeera’s reporting on California political corruption case

November 13th, 2013 · 1 Comment · Crime, Legislature, lobbyists, Politics

Speaking of lobbying and lobbyists, there’s been quite a bit of interesting stuff coming out recently.

For example, if you haven’t dug into Al Jazeera America’s coverage of the latest FBI corruption sting in California, you’ve been missing out (“Exclusive: Hollywood sting/FBI investigation of a California political dynasty uncovers alleged bribery and corruption in the shadows of Tinseltown“).

The basics of the story are drawn from a sealed FBI affidavit, obtained by Al Jazeera, which was used to support a search warrant for the offices of State Senator Ron Calderon who represents a suburban Los Angeles district. It is quite a tale.

The document lays out a sordid tale of alleged bribery and corruption. Undercover FBI agents posed as independent movie executives interested in taking advantage of a program in which films with budgets of $1 million or more are eligible for special tax credits. The agents, focusing on Calderon, asked the senator to help lower the budget threshold to $500,000. Calderon, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on California’s Film and Television Industries, agreed to help lower it to $750,000 but wanted financial assistance provided to his grown children, the affidavit says.

On June 21, 2012, for instance, in a restaurant in Pico Rivera, Calif., outside Los Angeles, Calderon said he could lower the budget threshold if the movie executive would hire his daughter, Jessica.

“There might be a play, you know, to lower the tax credit.” He went on: “Any help you could do for my kids is — you know, that’s diamonds for me.”

The agent agreed to hire Calderon’s daughter for $3,000 a month if the senator could help reduce the movie budget threshold “sooner rather than later.”

They had a deal. Calderon’s wife, Ana, would draw up an employment agreement for Jessica and the movie executive. That written agreement, Calderon said, was “to keep it legit.” The FBI summarized his thinking in the court document: “You never take money directly from people and you have to be careful about a tit-for-tat relationship.”

It goes on from there. It’s definitely a cautionary tale of what can happen behind the scenes in the centers of political power.

But, according to Al Jazeera, there’s more (“FBI: California state senator aided alleged multimillion-dollar fraud“).

State Sen. Ronald Calderon accepted bribes from a Southern California hospital executive who ran an alleged workers’ compensation scheme that brought the executive tens of millions of dollars, according to a sealed FBI affidavit obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit.

In exchange for payments to family members, Calderon, a Democrat who represents a suburban district here, protected the interests in Sacramento of Michael Drobot, who ran a busy spinal surgery clinic in Long Beach, Calif., the affidavit says. The document says Calderon ensured that changes to state law would not injure Drobot’s lucrative business of providing spinal fusion surgery, which joins two or more vertebrae.

An overview of Al Jazeera’s reporting can be found here. And also check out this column from the Sacremento Bee by Dan Morain, “The investigation into Ron Calderon isn’t happening in a vacuum.

But for a different view of lobbying, check out the list of “rules for successful lobbying” laid out by lobbyist George Platt in Broward County, Florida, and reported by the Sun Sentinel.

There are currently 33 rules on the growing list, beginning with “Always tell the truth,” and ending with, ” Be careful what you say in casual conversation unless you want to read it in a blog.”

There’s a whole lot of substance in between.

Let us know what you think.

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