SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — One state senator faces federal bribery charges, while another has been convicted of voter fraud.
Both have more in common than just being state senators—they’re still being paid by California taxpayers.
State Sens. Ron Calderon and Roderick Wright have both been sent home and are no longer officially in office, yet both Democrats continue to be paid their full salaries.
Calderon was slapped with federal corruption charges in February, accused of receiving $100,000 in bribes. Wright is still awaiting sentencing for voter fraud.
The two are being paid nearly $8,000 a month to stay home—money that comes from taxpayers.
“In this situation where you have had someone forced to leave office, he is no longer doing the people’s business,” said Jon Cupal with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “I think there is an open question on whether or not they should continue to get their paychecks.”
Leslie Gielow Jacobs, a professor at McGeorge Law School, says the state must be careful taking away pay too early in the legal process.
“I think you do need to make the point,” he said. “You could also look bad kicking people out before they are convicted.”
But Cupal argues there ought to be tougher standards.
“Elected officials should always be held to a higher standard,” he said. “They are acting on the public’s behalf.”
Steinberg’s office contends it doesn’t have the power to take away the senators’ salaries, citing a legal opinion it received from the Office of Legislative Counsel. The opinion says the Senate doesn’t have constitutional power to withhold a salary, as salaries fall under the California Citizens Compensation Commission—a body created by a 1990 constitutional amendment.
However, the Senate has withheld the per diem allowance of $163 per day from both senators, something that is within its power, said Steinberg spokesman Rhys Williams.
“Consistently the legislative bodies tend to handle it, that they don’t actually expel a member has been proven guilty,” Jacobs said. “So until a member is expelled they are still treated as if they are on the job.”
The last time a senator was expelled was 109 years ago, and it is a system that does not seem likely to change anytime soon.
Calderon maintains his innocence and says he hopes to be back in office by September.
With Calderon and Wright no longer actively holding office, the Democrats have lost their supermajority in the senate, meaning they need Republican approval before passing any tax measures.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been modified to include details about the California Citizens Compensation Commission’s role in determining legislators’ salaries.