| Don Perata has been cleared of wrongdoing in an ongoing corruption probe that lasted throughout the Bush Administration and was seen by many as politically motivated.
We have had many problems with Perata, mostly that his terrible leadership contributed to scaring Democrats out of challenging Abel Maldonado and botching the Jeff Denham recall. If we had a real leader who actually sought to win elections instead of making friends or idle threats, and who was successful on both of those fronts, we would have a 2/3 majority in the State Senate today. I'm very glad to have him out of the state legislature. But by and large, corruption issues never made their way into our critique of Perata, and I for one am pleased he has been cleared. You can read the extremely brief letter from the Acting US Attorney here and Perata's statement here.
What we did have a problem with was Perata transferring $1.5 million dollars from a campaign account intended to help elect Democrats and push party issues to his own legal defense fund, one day after the election. The move was not illegal but certainly unethical - if he needed legal defense money he could have raised it for that purpose, and instead he raised money for one ostensible purpose and then used it for himself. (NOTE: Perata also took $450,000 from the California Democratic Party for his legal defense fund as well.) I was quoted at the time:
David Dayen, an elected Democratic State Central Committee member from Santa Monica, blogged angrily this summer about his party's contribution to Perata's legal defense fund, contending the money would've been better spent on legislative races. The same goes for Leadership California's money, he said Wednesday; despite a Democratic presidential candidate carrying California by the largest margin since 1936, Democrats netted only three more Assembly seats and none in the state Senate.
"Every time I asked the California Democratic Party about getting more active and involved in local elections, they said the state Senate and the Assembly control those races ... and we don't have a lot of flexibility. So Perata, at that time, and Nunez or Bass had the authority to run those elections," Dayen said. "Now we see what happens when you vest power in these closed loops - suddenly self-interest becomes more important than the good of the party."
He believes this is why Perata didn't step aside as Pro Tem earlier, as Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez relinquished his post to Karen Bass in May: "Darrell Steinberg was sitting there ready to go ... and we were all like, 'What the hell is going on?'
"We speculated it had to be that he still needed the leverage to make the calls to raise money for himself."
So, now that this legal case has wrapped up, let me pose the question - Will Don Perata return the money left in his legal defense fund to accounts intended to elect Democrats? Both the membership of the California Democratic Party and scores of anonymous donors to Leadership California unwittingly seeded his legal campaign. If Perata used all $1.5 million between November and today, I'd like to see the receipts; no court case was ever filed, no depositions taken in the intervening 7 months, no movement whatsoever. Either some lawyers got rich on having donuts or there's a lot of money left over. What's more likely, of course is that Perata will now siphon that money from the legal defense fund into his campaign account for his run to be Oakland's next mayor. In the end, it's all about Don Perata.
That would be a betrayal, and a disservice to those who donated, expecting to help Hannah-Beth Jackson win in SD-19, or to help defeat Proposition 11, the redistricting measure. There's not much of a way to contact Don Perata anymore, though I'm assuming his Oakland Mayor campaign will ramp up soon. He needs to be asked about this pot of money, and why it cannot now be used toward its intended purpose.
UPDATE: Thanks to Josh Richman for updating this:
UPDATE @ 5:25 P.M.: David Dayen at Calitics wants to know if The Don will give back the $1.9 million he diverted from his Leadership California committee - ostensibly created to support Democratic campaigns and causes - into his legal defense fund late last year. (And hey, what about the $450,000 he got from the California Democratic Party?) Fat chance, David... looks as if it's all gone into lawyers' pockets by now. At least the Fair Political Practices Commission has now cracked down on these smelly transfers.
I can't believe he blew through all that money. Look out, City of Oakland Treasury! Clearly he was paying off years' worth of debts with that fund. Wow.