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FBI bribery probe at California statehouse roils Democratic ranks ahead of 2014 elections

FILE: Undated: California Democratic Sen. Ron Calderon in Sacramento, Calif.REUTERS

The federal investigation of a powerful California Democratic senator has roiled the state capital with accusations involving bribery, Hollywood and FBI dirty tricks that threaten to impact next year’s elections.

The six-year-long investigation was made public in June when FBI agents raided the offices of Sen. Ron Calderon. But the drama continues to unfold, with the Los Angeles-area lawmaker saying a few weeks ago that he was targeted for refusing to help ensnare fellow Democrats in the FBI sting.

Calderon was in fact targeted for taking $88,000 in bribes -- $28,000 from a Long Beach hospital executive and $60,000 from a FBI agent posing as a Los Angeles movie executive -- in exchange for supporting favorable legislation, according to a FBI affidavit obtained by Al Jazeera America and made public in October.

Calderon fired back last month in court documents in which he accuses the FBI of leaking the sealed affidavit because he refused to comply with agents’ request to wear a recording device and act as an informant against Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Sen. Kevin de Leon, fellow Democrats.

Calderon attorney Mark Geragos argues in the 161-page document that the agency “engaged in a campaign to smear the reputation of Sen. Calderon and convict him in the press and public." However, it doesn’t appear to provide specific evidence to support the claim.

Political analysts offer mixed opinions on whether the scandal will result in the kind of state-wide political outrage at polls next year that would cause Democrats to lose control of the statehouse.

However, de Leon is seeking re-election, and the on-going mess appears at least to be putting Democrats at further risk of losing their super majority in the Assembly and in the Senate, which gives it the power to raise taxes, pass emergency legislation, override gubernatorial vetoes and put constitutional amendments before voters without Republican support.

Calderon “has made a threat that politicians live in glass houses,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican political consultant in Sacramento. “What does he know about other members that at a minimum could serve as an embarrassment to them?”

Corey Cook, a University of San Francisco politics professor, told Fox News.com on Tuesday that he doesn’t think the issue will resonate much with voters.

“Or at least it’s hard to imagine it will in, say, the Central Valley,” he said.

Cook also downplayed the perception that California is so liberal that voters could never flip the Democrats' statehouse control, arguing the issue of late is “more about” weak Republican candidates and the GOP brand not appealing to voters.

“Still, Democrats’ super majority is not bullet proof,” he added.

Steinberg and Calderon, who has not been charged in the investigation, cannot seek re-election because of term limits.

De Leon, also a top candidate to succeed Steinberg as Senate leader, recently produced a letter from federal prosecutors stating he is considered a potential witness and is not a target of the investigation at this time.

Steinberg said through a spokesman that he has a similar letter but declined to release it. Steinberg and de Leon have recently declined to comment, though Steinberg said earlier that he thinks the political fallout will be limited.

Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia is the only state lawmaker so far to call for Calderon to resign.

But Steinberg has already taken away Calderon’s post on the state Film Commission and his committee assignments. Calderon has been removed, as well, from the board of the state’s influential Latino Legislative Caucus.

His actions and the swirling allegations "puts everyone under a horrible cloud," Garcia told L.A. Weekly.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

 

 

 

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