You would have thought that Governor Jerry Brown was being sworn in for his third, fourth, or is it fifth term this past week?
Mariachis, a Korean drum circle and a student color guard all performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall which is home to the L.A. Philharmonic. The event was by invitation only and the price tag was a cool $50,000.
What was such an elaborate and special occasion you ask?
Los Angeles Democrat Kevin de Leon was being sworn in as California Senate leader! You might think that was no big deal and typically you would be right.
However, this time, de Leon wanted a huge party to celebrate the fact that he was the first Latino to hold that position since 1883.
De Leon, has been a member of the State Senate for the past eight years. Perhaps, he figured that his inauguration was worth the outlandish amount spent on it.
“This is a grand public building and the centerpiece of my district,” De Leon said. “Now I chose this venue because it is close to the working families who…put me in office.”
Unfortunately, many of those who voted for de Leon aren’t a part of “working” families anymore.
The unemployment rate in California is 7.4 percent which is 1.3 percent higher than the national average. Many of de Leon’s constituents are probably not even aware of the hefty cost of the event. It also does not appear that the public was invited to participate in the occasion.
However, Californians can breathe a sigh of relief because the money didn’t come from the taxpayers to pay for the party. Well, actually don’t relax just yet.
While it’s true the taxpayers didn’t pick up the tab, special interest groups indirectly did pay for de Leon’s celebration.
The money for the gala was provided by the California Latino Legislative Caucus Foundation who has recently received donations from oil companies, health and insurance firms, charter school groups, utilities and the cable TV industry, according to filings with the state ethics agency.
The pharmaceutical industry, Bayer and the Japanese drug-maker Eisai also each gave the foundation $10,000.
Still other donors included Verizon Wireless, Kraft Food Group, FedEx, the California Nurses Assn., the Western Growers Assn., the Assn. of California Life and Health Insurance Companies, the California Charter Schools Assn., Herbalife and Safeway.
Safeway was part of the coalition that lobbied for a bill signed into law and co-authored by De Leon, which allows grocery stores to charge up to 10 cents for alternative packaging, now that plastic bags will be banned throughout California beginning next July.
Should Californians be concerned about the appearance of impropriety due to special interest groups’ indirect involvement in paying for de Leon’s swearing in ceremony?
Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. thinks so. If the funding from major donors includes “industries subject to regulation by the Legislature, we think it just looks bad,” Coupal said. Although, he acknowledged that the funding was legal.
Democrat Peter Choi, who is running against de Leon in the November 2014 election concurred with Coupal in saying that the “coronation” showed the power of special interests in the Capitol.
“Clearly this event is not about installing the incoming Senate president as it is giving a seat to special interests closer to the center of power,” Choi said.
However, the Latino foundation spokesman Roger Salazar said the public had nothing to worry about.
“The Foundation has a broad cross-section of supporters, many with differing viewpoints and interests,” he said. “The one thing it seems they all have in common is a desire to improve California’s Latino community.”
Salazar’s words gave me no comfort that special interest groups weren’t donating and participating in the celebration in order to garner favor somewhere in the not too distant future from de Leon. If they weren’t looking for favors, it could still surely leave a bad taste in one’s mouth for California politics.
Furthermore, I’m all about improving communities but I’d like to see that equitably shared across the board and not focused on one particular group. California is a diverse state that owes it to its citizens to have “all” of California’s best interests in mind.
Also, a lavish party, thrown at a time when many families in California are struggling to make ends meet and find jobs seems, if nothing else, poorly timed.
De Leon seems to have taken a page right out of the Obama playbook that often calls for extravagant parties during a time when the economy is in a slump. Of course, the news out of the Democratic camp is that the economy is rebounding, so perhaps de Leon is just joining in the presidential economic cheering squad.
My guess is that most Californians in this predominantly blue state will not complain about the amount of money that was spent nor will they be suspicious of the special interest groups’ contributions.
Additionally, neither the GOP nor any other group will complain too loudly due to political correctness.
After all, a complaint against de Leon’s pricey party could be construed by some groups as a snub against a proud achievement in the Latino community because of de Leon’s historical accomplishment.
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