The California Democratic Party has contributed another $250,000 to state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata's legal fund, reinvigorating his defense against a years-long FBI corruption probe.
Until last week, the fund had collected only $60,000 in 2008 — $25,000 each from the Pechanga Band of Mission Indians and from San Diego Padres owner John J. Moores, and $10,000 from Manhattan Beach homemaker Jennifer Sizemore. But the Democratic State Central Committee of California followed up its December contribution of $200,000 with another $250,000 last week, records show.
The once-robust fund — buoyed not only by contributions from developers, labor unions and other longtime Perata supporters, but also by transfers from a Perata campaign committee totaling $555,000 since late 2005 — had dipped to a low of $273 in May before the Pechanga Band and the Democratic party ponied up.
Party political consultant Roger Salazar characterized the contribution Tuesday as repayment of the party's debt of gratitude to Perata, D-Oakland.
"One of the reasons that we are successful as a party and have the resources we need to win elections in hotly contested contests is because of the work our leaders do in raising money for those candidates "... and at the same time, when Democrats come under attack, we ought to be there to defend them," Salazar said. "Senator Perata is the Senate President Pro Tem ... and he has been one of the reasons we've been as successful as we have been in winning seats up and down the state."
Some Democrats don't share that view, including bloggers at the liberal Democratic Web site Calitics.com.
"(I)t's an excellent indication that the CDP is interested in protecting their own rather than moving the state forward," Santa Monica activist David Dayen blogged. "How many regional organizers throughout the state for the fall would $250,000 buy? How many pieces of direct mail? How many registration drives? How many door-hangers? How many Google ads going after California Republicans?"
Perata spokesman Jason Kinney declined to comment on the party's contribution except to say it will be used "to pay for legal expenses that were accrued over the last couple of quarters."
"This has been a seemingly endless investigation "... which seems to be going nowhere. However, as long as it continues, Senator Perata will unfortunately and unfairly continue to incur legal expenses," Kinney said.
No charges have been filed since news of the Perata probe broke in November 2004, as businesses and public agencies were subpoenaed for documents related to Perata, his children, his political and business associates and his former aides. Subpoenas and sources indicated investigators sought to determine whether any of those people or their businesses entities funneled money to Perata illegally; federal agents searched his home and that of his son, Nick, in December 2004, carting away boxes, computers and other items. Records show the businesses of Perata's son and daughter have been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by political committees under his direct control, even as Nick Perata and his businesses were involved in real estate rentals and sales with his father.
State Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, is scheduled to replace Perata at the chamber's helm in August. Perata will be term-limited out of office at 2008's end.