On Thursday morning, a handful of Democratic Senators received terse, hand-delivered messages in their Capitol offices. They were personal notes straight from Senate Leader Don Perata.
"Dear Senator," the letters began. "Your chief of staff was a no-show at yesterday's off-campus meeting. The campaign staff reviewed the ‘demand list' of services needed between now and June 3. Please ask your chief of staff to contact (Perata staffer) Shanda Chaundhry at (her personal email account) ASAP. This is not an optional activity. Thank You."
The letter was signed, "Don Perata."
The off-campus meeting in question was a planning session held at a local union headquarters to line up troops who would be able to walk precincts in two upcoming June elections. It is common practice that Capitol staffers take vacation time during election season to work in contested races.
This year there are two such races – Carole Migden's reelection campaign, and the Perata-led effort to recall Republican Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced.
The tone of the letter angered a number of Democrats who received the letters, and their staffs. Though nobody would comment for the record, Capitol sources confirmed that Sens. Darrell Steinberg, Alex Padilla, Ron Calderon, Gloria Negrete McLeod and Lou Correa were among the Senators who received the notes.
Perata spokesman Jason Kinney said there was no mixing of state and political resources, noting that the letters were "produced by volunteers using their own time and their own resources. They were produced using an abundance of caution." Kinney added that Denham campaign spokesman Kevin Spillane was using the letters to mount a political attack against Perata.
"He gets paid a lot of money to make personal attacks against Senator Perata and deflect attention from the record of Senator Denham," Kinney said.
But Spillane questioned the legality of the letters.
"It is completely inappropriate and of questionable legality to try to intimidate state employees into mandatory political campaign work," Spillane said. " It is typical of Don Perata that he doesn't respect the law, the taxpayers, or his colleagues. This is just another example of Perata's arrogance and lack of ethical behavior."