Expense reports filed over a decade of the Calderon family's engagement in the California Legislature sheds light on the variety of ways political funds can be spent.
The expenses include $1 million spent at golf resorts, $220,000 on steak dinners, $4,000 for cigars, and $325 for a set of false eyelashes. The filings also show $1.3 million charged on credit cards, where expenses are not itemized and the monthly bill sometimes topped $27,000.
The reports, filed with the California secretary of State's office, cover 23 political accounts active since 2000 for former Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon, his brothers Sen. Ron Calderon and former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, and Charles' son Assemblyman Ian Calderon. All hail from the Los Angeles County town of Montebello and have represented districts in or near there.
The reports detail extended stays in spa resorts and hideaways in such settings as Las Vegas, Hawaii, Tahoe and Palm Springs. The getaways are sometimes listed as fundraisers, but also as conferences, retreats and “holiday” events.
The expenses include more than $135,000 spent on trips to Vegas, $115,000 on events at the Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon, and $101,000 for trips to Hawaii during which Calderon family members sometimes also accepted "gifts" to attend conferences at those locations at the same time, staged by two California foundations that don’t reveal their funding sources or publish public agendas.
Gifts can be a big part of public office. The more than $27,000 the Calderons spent giving away money from campaign contributions includes gift certificates for contributors and staff members, and also more than $4,000 in gifts from one Calderon to another. Those include a $325 certificate for Calderon sister-in-law and campaign manager Leslie Rodriguez at Longmi Lashes, a Beverly Hills eyelash extension salon that touts its celebrity clientele. The “appreciation” gift came from the Assembly campaign of Charles Calderon, who married Rodriguez’s sister and listed Leslie Rodriguez as a campaign consultant.
California campaign finance laws generally give politicians wide latitude on how they can spend campaign funds. Fair Political Practices Commission records show few enforcement actions against Calderon family members. Charles Calderon, fined in 1995 and again in 1998 for misusing campaign funds for family birthdays and vacations, in 2009 was found to have failed to report all gifts, but the commission accepted his explanation and took no action. The commission in 2009 dismissed a complaint that Ron Calderon used three of his campaign funds for personal expenses with a warning that crossing the line between personal and political benefit in the future "could result in an enforcement action."