New penalties eyed in bribe cases

Lawmakers who seek or receive bribes face a boosted level of fines and penalties, under a plan that is getting renewed attention because of the scandals rocking the Senate.

The proposal by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, a Bell Gardens Democrat, also bars the use of campaign funds to pay restitution fines in bribery convictions.

Her bill, AB 1666, increases fines of restitution in cases where no bribe actually was received from the current $10,000 maximum to $20,000, and sets a minimum fine of $4,000. In instances where bribes changed hands, the penalty is up to double the amount of the bribe or $20,000, whichever is greater.

In the Senate, Sens. Ronald Calderon, D-Montebello, and Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, have been suspended from the house amid federal corruption allegations that they took payments for official favors. A third senator, Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, also was suspended. Wright was convicted in January of eight counts of perjury and voter fraud for lying about his residence when voting and running for office.

Calderon faces a 24-count indictment handed down in February accusing him of conspiracy, taking bribes, money laundering, wire fraud and other charges. The allegations stem from a federal undercover probe that also netted his brother Tom, a political consultant and former legislator, on several related charges.

The case against Yee, accused of six corruption charges and a gun-running allegation, came to light last week with the unveiling of a 137-page complaint targeting more than two dozen figures in a federal undercover investigation into Chinatown-linked criminal activities, including Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a well-known local figure.

Garcia’s bill, AB 1666, also applies to any member of a city, county or special district legislative body. It requires the Fair Political Practices Commission, which enforces the state’s campaign finance laws, to revise the level of the fines every two years to reflect increases  — or decreases – in the Consumer Price Index.

Garcia’s bill is one of several proposals to tighten campaign finance rules before the Assembly elections committee.

Another, by Committee Chair Paul Fong, D-San Jose, would prevent a spouse or domestic partner of a candidate for elected office from being paid from campaign funds for any services. Currently, under a 2009 law, only fund-raising services are barred. Fong’s bill, AB 2320, would tighten that restriction.


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