Sacramento’s Sickness: A Pervasive Pay-to-Play Culture
By The Times editorial board
March 28, 2014
If it is true that state Sen. Leland Yee consorted with criminals and did them political favors in return for campaign cash, it is indeed “sickening,” as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said. But this newest scandal, along with the indictment of Sen. Ronald S. Calderon on bribery and corruption charges in February, is merely an extreme example of the long-standing and pervasive pay-to-play culture that permeates the Capitol.
Yee, a San Francisco Democrat, was swept up in an FBI sting targeting a gangster known as “Shrimp Boy” and faces federal charges related to public corruption and conspiracy to illegally import firearms. Court documents portray Yee as aggressively trying to raise money to pay off $70,000 in debt from his unsuccessful run for San Francisco mayor in 2011 so that he could begin building a war chest for his campaign to be secretary of state (which he abandoned Thursday). Starting in 2011, undercover FBI agents posing as donors met with Yee to negotiate contributions in exchange for specific political acts, such as urging a Department of Public Health manager to support a contract for the donor’s client or introducing a donor to legislators involved with writing medical marijuana bills.
According to the affidavit, Yee made some minimal efforts to draw a line between out-and-out bribery and the normal way of doing business, complaining when the undercover agent openly discussed how much he would pay for specific political favors. Yet perhaps because he was desperate for money, Yee “never walked away from quid pro quo requests.”