De Leon ‘slush fund’ tied to UFW lobby triad

California’s pay-to-play political establishment showed itself again.

Senator Kevin de Leon’s pushing through the nomination for UFW-backed Genevieve Shiroma to serve yet another term on the state agriculture board has a sleazy money angle.

UFW lobbyist Richie Ross – to whom Shiroma paid more than $120,000 in a political deal – was a subject of the appointee’s confirmation hearing before the June 20 Senate Rules Committee hearing that de Leon shared, but the senator did not reveal that he, too, had cash deals with Ross.

De Leon paid Ross at least $5,000 as “campaign consultants” in the 2011-12 electoral cycle, according to disclosures to the Office of the California Secretary of State. The money was from De Leon’s “Believing in a Better California Ballot Measure Committee.”

Ross is a former UFW strike organizer who hit it big in Sacramento as a lobbyist. He has won praise from the UFW as the union’s “best ally.”

The UFW lobbyist’s involvement with Shiroma and others prompted some lawmakers to question Shiroma’s ethics, with one assembly member calling for Shiroma to be removed from the ALRB for “unethical behavior.

‘Slush fund’

The San Jose Mercury-News recently called De Leon’s committee a “slush fund” designed to avoid “strict limits on political contributions” and allow powerful lawmakers to “continue to extract large sums from some of Sacramento’s most powerful special interests.”

The Senate Rules Committee Chairman did not recuse himself from chairing the Shiroma confirmation hearing when Ross became an issue. He did not even disclose his relationship with Ross.

De Leon denied translators for farmworkers critical of Shiroma

De Leon, a big backer of everything bilingual in California, made an exception during Shiroma’s confirmation hearing. He denied farmworkers critical of Shiroma to have their objections translated into English. A representative of the farmworkers wrote DeLeon that the senator’s filibuster was ironic, because “you had just got done lecturing the ALRB about the need to translate for all farm workers.”

Pick Justice was at the hearing, and confirmed that Shiroma’s performance was disastrous. The defensive Shiroma insisted to senators, “I am absolutely an honorable person.”

Criticism for trips

The Senate Rules Committee Chairman earned media criticism for his ballot initiative spending, which included at least four trips to Las Vegas to watch prize fights, in which De Leon handed out autographed boxing gloves to powerful Sacramento lobbyists.

“Sen. Kevin de León didn’t pay for the jet setting, hotels, entertainment and gloves out of his own pocket or his campaign treasury,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reported in 2013. “Instead, he tapped a separate account he established to support and oppose ballot measures — committees subject to less restrictive rules that are being used by some legislators to regain the freedom of old-time political hobnobbing.”

According to the Union-Tribune, “De León’s ‘Believing in a Better California’ committee raised $188,150 and spent $168,385 over the last two years. Just $35,400 — about 21 percent of the money spent — went to help pass or defeat ballot measures, according to a review by U-T Watchdog.

“Much of the remainder went to consultants, lawyers and toward tickets, airfare and hotels for the high-dollar fundraisers, including fights between boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Márquez, Timothy Bradley and Shane Mosley.”

Donors to the Believing in a Better California fund include AT&T, Walmart, Blue Shield of California and the California School Employees Association, according to the Union-Tribune, as well as Pala Band of Mission Indians, Barona Band of Mission Indians, and the Viejas Tribal Government.

Senator Kevin de Leon operates what the San Jose Mercury News calls a “slush fund” that hired UFW lobbyist Richie Ross.