California's Top Democrat Blames Bush (or Somebody) for His Likely Indictment

| Thu Jul. 10, 2008 6:04 PM PDT

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If California state Senate boss Don Perata gets indicted on federal corruption charges, it's the president's fault. Never mind that the feds have been investigating Perata for nearly five years, and muckraking reporters have dug up a treasure trove of dubious deeds on the part of the state's second most powerful pol (after The Governator). But Perata isn't ready to go quietly. He and his pals at the state Democratic Party, which just a week ago added $250,000 to the embattled senator's legal defense fund (the fund has spent more than $1.9 million to date), now are suggesting the White House is persecuting Perata.

On July 9, the East Bay Express, a weekly in Perata's Oakland district (disclosure: I used to be its managing editor), revealed that the lengthy probe of Perata and his associates was coming to a close, and that the senator would likely be indicted soon. Responding to the report today, Perata told a local TV reporter, "My own belief is nobody goes after a ranking Democrat in California unless permission has been given from on high."

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"That would be the president?" asked NBC11's Mike Leury.

"Somebody," Perata replied.

Also today, a state party spokesman defended the donation to Perata's defense fund, telling the San Francisco Chronicle, "This is a Bush-appointed U.S. attorney going after one of our elected leaders."

This is one conspiracy theory that simply isn't going to fly. Most local reporters I know, in fact, have periodically wondered why the feds have been so slow to indict.

Once a public school teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area town of Alameda, Perata has spent nearly a decade in the state Senate (he'll term out at year's end), where he's widely known as a kingmaker with the clout to put loyal minions in office and crush those pols who thwart his will. (Some history here.)

Key to his power is his deft manipulation of campaign funding. Running as a powerful Democrat in a safe district, Perata rarely had a serious challenger, and yet raked in millions for his re-election coffers and other campaign committees, spending vast sums to wine and dine his friends and top donors, not to mention elevate the wealth and status of one political consultant named Sandra Polka.

His past financial dealings, particularly those involving a local lobbyist named Lily Hu, Perata's buddy Tim Staples, and his son Nick Perata, have simply reeked of possible kickbacks (there's a good synapsis here), although that will be for the federal grand jury to decide. Big W is culpable for many things, but this sure ain't one of them.

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