Brilliant Stewards of Money

In yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, David Pierson wrote about the re-election campaign of Assemblyman Ron Calderon, a first-term Democrat representing southeast Los Angeles County, including some of my old stomping grounds. Calderon apparently has interesting notions on how to spend his campaign money, something my fellow Angelenos should consider at the voting booth:

California Assemblyman Ron Calderon has obliterated his campaign war chest months before he faces an opponent in November, spending the money on Las Vegas hotels, restaurants and cigars, according to campaign spending reports. Calderon, whose 58th Assembly District encompasses southeast Los Angeles County communities, including Whittier, Downey and East L.A., raised $342,600 last year in contributions and spent $427,300, according to financial records filed with the California secretary of state.

Having been born, raised, and lived most of my life in that general area, I’m not too sure about how relevant Las Vegas hotels are to East LA County. Of course, the gaming industry has made inroads in places like Bell and Hawaiian Gardens, although the article doesn’t mention anything specific about that. Vegas junkets for his staff weren’t the only drain on Calderon’s campaign budget. Other expenses:
* $20,000 to his sister-in-law’s campaign for Montebello USD in November
* $60,000 in consultant fees to his brother in 2002
* $6,100 to Celebrity Connection, a celebrity look-alike entertainment agency
Calderon’s contributors don’t understand what’s happened to the money they intended for an actual political campaign. Paul Smith, VP of the California Grocers’ Association, expressed dismay at Calderon’s failure to build a war chest, saying, “I was hoping he would be stockpiling his money.” No one talks of pulling their support yet, but now Calderon faces debt of almost $100,000, and it will take a whole heap of donations to make it back to zero, let alone build war chests.
Of course, Calderon is running unopposed in the primary and faces a rookie Republican in a district where Democrats outnumber the GOP 2-1, again demonstrating the political trainwreck that reapportionment has become for Californians. Calderon’s family has held this seat in the Assembly for 16 of the last 22 years, and it’s so safe that the Democrats don’t bother to groom better candidates for the general election. Building safe districts only creates terrible candidates and officeholders, and Calderon is just one example of many.
With free-spending incumbents like these, is it really any mystery why California has a $15-billion deficit and has increased its budget by 43% over the past five years?