Morain: Calderon corruption probe not done in a vacuum

Lately, some national news outlets have been pointing to California as a beacon of effective government for the rest of the country.

An NPR host opened an interview with Gov. Jerry Brown a few days ago by saying: "Not long ago, the state was in economic crisis . . . Now, many in the nation's capital are looking to the state — and its governor — for what lessons Washington might learn from Sacramento."

"California Democrats, an historically ineffectual bunch, are finally learning how to wield their majority power," a New Republic columnist wrote in July.

Yes, Brown and legislators have tamed the budget, for now, thanks to voter-approved initiatives to raise taxes by $6 billion a year and pass budgets by simple majorities.

But the Capitol has an underbelly, and it goes beyond Sen. Ron Calderon, the Los Angeles-area Democrat who is a target of an FBI investigation. The investigation isn't happening in a vacuum.

Take a look at recent Fair Political Practices Commission fines against Sacramento denizens who know better.

The FPPC, a part of state government that does work well, imposed a $60,000 fine on Democrat Dean Florez, a former Kern County legislator who has contemplated running for statewide office. Among his transgressions, he used $26,541 in leftover campaign funds to pay for personal expenses. Those included purchases at retailers including Wal-Mart, itself a violation of Democratic orthodoxy, plus gasoline and monthly parking passes, fireworks, a concert and a SiriusXM radio subscription.

It must be hard to pay for mundane expenses after getting them as perquisites of office for all those years.

Then there are "consultants" who avoid publicly registering as lobbyists.

Jason Kinney worked in Gov. Gray Davis' administration and for former state Sen. Don Perata before becoming a consultant who provides advice to President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Senate Democrats and private interests. The FPPC fined him $12,000 in September for failing to register as a lobbyist.

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