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Does Corruption in California Have Coattails?

Does Corruption in California Have Coattails?

Scandal happens. 

Larry Craig, Anthony Weiner, Trey Radel, Vance McAllister–and on and on and on.

We know what happens to them, but what happens to the 20-30-something staffers who wake up one morning, suddenly out of a job?

When the firestorm has died down and the media cycle moves on, what’s left behind is a crop of talented, ambitious and newly-unemployed aides who thought they were on the right team and at the right time–and have now just had the rug pulled out from under their professional lives.

I remember when I first came to Washington in the summer of 2006. We had just finished a special election gauntlet precipitated by the resignation and imprisonment of corrupt Republican Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

As our new staff came in, excited and energetic, the people we were replacing were struggling. 

Other offices would grant them interviews, only to try and get the “scoop” on what really happened with Cunningham, and to find out who really knew what and when. These were interviews for the sake of gossip alone, and the reality for many of Cunningham’s team was that through association with their former boss’ illegal activities, they, too, were seen as tainted or toxic. 

One of his most senior legislative staffers ended up leaving D.C. and is now working in local government in California. 

The same stigma was left on a friend of mine who was working for a member of Congress who ended up resigning in a scandalous firestorm and ended up leaving Capitol Hill and Washington all together.

For staff, who live and die with the successes and failures of their bosses, the immediate aftermath of these scandals is complicated at best, but can oftentimes play out quietly, under-the-radar and out of the eye of the media.

But what happens when a politician you worked for becomes engulfed in scandal while you’re running for public office?

That’s the reality that current California State Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D) is now facing.

Before he was Assemblyman Cooley, he was Legislative Director for State Senator Ron Calderon and the principal consultant to the Senate’s insurance committee.

That’s the Ron Calderon who was recently indicted on 24 criminal charges by the FBI, which included allegations that he accepted almost $90,000 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent and businessman to influence legislation for film-industry tax credits and workers’ compensation laws.

Almost immediately, the president of the California State Senate, Darrell Steinberg, called on his fellow Democrat to resign.

A few weeks ago, Governor Jerry Brown released a statement saying: “Given the extraordinary circumstances of these cases–and today’s unprecedented suspensions–the best way to restore public confidence is for these Senators to resign.”

Cooley, however has seemingly embraced the embattled Calderon.

As of April 20, he still lists “Senator Ron Calderon” on his endorsements page for his re-election campaign in District 8.

Project Vote Smart shows that Cooley has accepted $7,800 from the Ron Calderon for Assembly 2014 account.

Given the serious corruption charges Calderon is facing, it’s quite frankly surprising that Cooley has continued to be so visibly supportive of his former boss, and has kept the contributions from Calderon’s campaign committee.

It seems like it’s only a matter of time before a firestorm of questions surrounds Cooley and his ongoing proximity to Calderon.

Calderon’s refusal to resign, and his choice to continue to receive a taxpayer-funded paycheck, all but guarantees Cooley will spend the rest of his campaign having to answer questions about Calderon and his knowledge of the alleged corruption.

Does he believe Calderon should resign?

What, if anything, did he know about the alleged transactions Calderon was involved in?

Does he believe Calderon should continue to receive a paycheck courtesy of California’s taxpayers?

Will he return the thousands of dollars in contributions he has received from Calderon?

These aren’t easy questions, but if they continue to go unanswered, they could be Cooley’s undoing. 

@kurtbardella is the Founder and President of Endeavor Strategic Communications and has worked for members of the California State Assembly, Senate and U.S. Congress

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