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Embattled California State Sen. Ron Calderon was removed late Thursday from the state’s film commission, a day after Al Jazeera America reported that he accepted $60,000 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent posing as a film producer.
On Wednesday, Oct. 30, the network aired an investigation, telling viewers that FBI agents, acting undercover as movie executives, asked Calderon to lower the state’s tax incentive amount. Calderon told the agents that he could influence the film industry legislation and asked them to help get jobs for his children, according to the report.
RELATED: FBI Says State Senator Took Bribes to Influence Film Tax Credit Legislation
In fact, city, state, industry and labor officials have spoken loudly of the urgent need to increase California’s $100 million state tax incentive program, in order to better compete with bigger-budget states such as New York, Georgia and Louisiana.
An aide to State Senate president pro tempore Darrell Steinberg told The Hollywood Reporter that the film commission has a meeting set for next Thursday in Los Angeles. Steinberg, the Democratic majority leader, worked with members of the Senate rules committee on Thursday afternoon to effect the removal of Calderon from the film commission.
One of the items on the agenda for the film commission when it meets Nov. 8 is a discussion of the tax credit program.
Calderon, according to documents Al Jazeera America cited in its report, also invoked Steinberg’s name, saying about their relationship, “I helped him, he helped me.”
“The appearance of impropriety dictates that the senator no longer sit on the commission,” Steinberg told reporters on Thursday evening in Sacramento.
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Steinberg denied any wrongdoing and noted he has cooperated with authorities, and that he never endorsed or introduced anything proposed by Calderon on this matter to the Senate. Steinberg said he wouldn’t comment on what he termed “off the wall” comments Calderon made in Al Jazeera America’s report.
Tom Sherak, who has been appointed by new L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti as his film czar with a mandate to promote and develop the extension of the tax incentive program, said on Friday that the Calderon case doesn’t change anything for him or the mayor.
“What we are going to do is to take an honest, transparent approach to helping people in our city and our state,” says Sherak. “This is a good cause.”
Sherak says he understands that some people who oppose the tax incentive program may use the Calderon case for political purposes. “If they are going to throw dirt, then they are going to throw dirt,” says Sherak, adding: “We’re not Calderon. We have a righteous cause. We’re going to fight for that righteous cause.”
But Ben Golombek, a spokesman for State Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, says he does not believe the Calderon investigation will hurt the chances for passage of an extension to the tax incentive program. “It’s unfortunate it’s tied in any way to what is going on,” he says. “This is a terribly important issue for the state of California, and whatever has gone on is totally to the side of what needs to be done.”
On the same day the Calderon story broke on Al Jazeera America, a campaign committee representing Steinberg disclosed a number of contributions to the senator from major Hollywood figures, according to The Sacramento Bee.
Those include donations to Steinberg’s 2018 campaign for lieutenant governor, equating to more than $27,000, from director Steven Spielberg and wife Kate Capshaw, and Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and wife Marilyn Katzenberg.
Calderon has not been pushed off any of the standing California Senate committees of which he is a member — yet. Because the Senate is not currently in session, there is no urgency to address his continued role there. No law or rule would force Calderon out unless he’s convicted of a crime. That is now up to the federal authorities, who are expected to follow up on the case. However, in 2006, a state senator under investigation by the federal authorities wound up with no charges filed against him.
Amy Lemisch, director of the state film commission, said on Friday that the board will meet as expected and without Calderon. She said that he has been on the board since 2007 and during that time has attended about half of the board meetings.
The spokesman for Steinberg said the majority leader will pick a person to replace Calderon on the 21-member commission. The Senate has the right to choose four members, one of whom must be a sitting senator — the role Calderon played. Whoever is appointed to replace Calderon must also be a member of the State Senate.
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