SACRAMENTO – The California Senate is trying to repair its public image after three senators were accused of bribery, gun-running or other charges.
On Wednesday, Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg closed up shop and forced all the senators into ethics training. Thirty-five of the 37 remaining senators were at the training, which concentrated on money in politics.
"Money has a negative impact on politics," Steinberg said after the training.
He said the things senators Calderon, Yee and Wright are accused of are blatant ethics violations. It'ss the other gray areas, such as campaign financing and lobbyist money, that need extra attention.
"It's not the cash in the envelope, it's not the gun-running. That's obvious," Steinberg explained. "It's sometimes what can happen without intent."
The training lasted nearly four hours in the morning, and no cellphones were allowed inside to keep attention focused on the presentation.
Afterward, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, was asked if it's easy to be persuaded by large amounts of money.
"Hopefully not," she said. "But it's something that we have to deal with."
"We go through regular classes, but I don't think it hurts," Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, added.
Steinberg himself was recently warned by the Fair Political Practices Commission in February. He received a letter pointing out that a lobbyist's non-monetary campaign contributions hadn't been disclosed.
The letter went on to essentially say the mistake was minor, and Steinberg only received a warning.
Nevertheless, that scenario was one of a few discussed in Wednesday's training, which ultimately focused on separating campaigning from lawmaking.
"Number one, you have to be willing to disagree with your contributors," Steinberg said. "And number two, there can be no conversations or connections between the two parts of the job."
Legislative reforms are already underway to create a more ethical Legislature.
On Wednesday, the California Assembly passed a Senate bill, making it illegal to use campaign funds to pay for a lawmaker's defense attorney.