The race for a local California State Assembly seat between Democrats Rudy Bermudez and Ian Calderon has literally turned into a steel cage match that now includes charges of money laundering, and hiding personal income sources, and the filing of complaints with state campaign regulators.
Did Assemblyman Tony Mendoza mastermind an elaborate money laundering scheme to skirt California campaign finance laws to help benefit the campaign of the candidate who is running to take his place in Sacramento?
Did assembly candidate Ian Calderon fail to report $60,000 in income to state officials?
State campaign reform officials have opened up an official inquiry to determine if Mendoza and Assembly candidate Rudy Bermudez worked in tandem to avoid campaign contribution limits after $50,000 in donations were allegedly transferred between at least a half dozen campaign committees involving at least four local elected officials.
Mendoza is a former Chairman of the controversial Latino Caucus that is comprised of elected officials in Sacramento who serve as members of the Assembly and State Senate.
This week Latino Caucus Chairman Assemblyman Ricardo Lara blasted Mendoza in a statement that has sent several political observers into a tailspin.
"Latino Caucus Chairman Assembly Member Tony Mendoza, acting on his own accord and without input from Members of the Latino Caucus, provided a recommendation to transfer $50,000 from Yes We Can, an Independent Expenditure Committee (IEC), to another IEC prior to his resignation as Chair of the Caucus," Lara said in a prepared statement to Los Cerritos Community Newspaper.
"The funds have since been transferred numerous times and have been used to support candidates who are not endorsed by the Latino Caucus. As the current Chair of the Latino Caucus, I do not condone or support his actions," Lara said.
Bermudez represented the current 56th Assembly District, which includes Cerritos, Artesia, Norwalk, and Buena Park, from 2002 until 2006. He was defeated by Ron Calderon in 2006 for a state senate seat. Mendoza succeeded Bermudez as the assemblyman for the district, and, now that Mendoza is termed out in November, Bermudez is seeking to return to the Assembly in the new 57the Assembly District and is engaged in a heated three way primary with La Mirada businessman Noel Jaimes and upstart candidate Ian Calderon.
LCCN was presented at least 100 pages of documents from Leslie Rodriguez, campaign manager for Ian Calderon's assembly campaign, that shows on March 13, a committee called "Residents for Good Government" gave $4,000 each to Richard Martinez, a school board member of Little Lake City School District; Jesus "Jesse" Urquidi, a school board member of the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District; and Jamison Power, a candidate running for board the Westminster School District.
Three days later, on March 16, all three of them gave $3,900 contributions to Bermudez's campaign - the maximum amount of money allowed under the law.
Martinez and Urquidi both were elected to their school boards in 2011 and both have endorsed Bermudez for Assembly. Bermudez, meanwhile, has endorsed Power for the Westminster school board.
Power once worked for Bermudez as a press secretary and legislative aide.
State records obtained by LCCN also show that on March 13, Residents for Good Government gave $10,000 to a committee called the Coalition for a Safer California. Late last year, that committee paid former Assemblyman Bruce Young several thousand dollars for consulting work. Residents for Good Government spent more than $13,000 on three different slate mailers that promotes Bermudez current campaign for assembly.
Young is a former resident of Cerritos and is a past member of the ABC Unified School District Board of Education as well as a past member of the California State Assembly back in the 1970's and 80's. Young has since become one of the most powerful lobbyists in Sacramento and is currently helping Bermudez in his campaign against Jaimes and Calderon.
Young blasted the claim as "Calderon-style politics."
"Rudy Bermudez has always supported full and complete campaign disclosure. As soon as the allegations were made available, the Bermudez campaign immediately returned the contributions in question," Young told LCCN in an interview on Wednesday.
"Remember these charges were filed by Ian Calderon's paid campaign manager so they are clearly politically motivated. Let's let the FPPC regulators do their job," Young said.
"It's important to note that the Fair Political Practices Commission is also investigating Ian Calderon for failure to Report nearly $60,000 in income and gifts as required by state law," Young said.
"Ian signed forms under penalty of perjury, which could ultimately result in a felony prosecution. Ian's complaint was filed by a voter in the 57th District," Young said.
Jaimes, the third candidate in the field told LCCN that "this campaign is about jobs, and getting people back to work, and nearly 25,000 homeowners in the 57th Assembly District have lost their homes due to foreclosure."
"I want to fix the mess people like Calderon and Bermudez are creating," Jaimes said.