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Congressional Hispanic Caucus' Private Squabble Goes Public

Newspaper prints letter from six lawmakers who ended ties to a PAC that gave campaign funds to its members' relatives.

March 16, 2006|James Gerstenzang | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In an unusual display of internal bickering meant to stay private, six members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have written to the chairman of the caucus' political action committee, Rep. Joe Baca (D-Rialto), withdrawing their connection to the PAC because of its contributions to political campaigns of caucus members' relatives -- including Baca's two sons.

The letter, raising questions about the conduct of the Building Our Leadership Diversity Political Action Committee, or BOLDPAC, was published Wednesday in The Hill, a newspaper devoted to coverage of Congress. It was signed by five California Democrats -- Reps. Linda T. Sanchez of Lakewood, Dennis Cardoza of Atwater, Hilda L. Solis of El Monte, Loretta Sanchez of Santa Ana and Jim Costa of Fresno -- and Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.).

"Over the past months, we have grown increasingly concerned about both the manner in which decisions within BOLDPAC have been made and the selection of certain non-federal candidates to receive contributions," said the letter, dated March 1 and not intended for publication. "Due to these concerns, we do not wish to be associated with such practices and are, therefore, ceasing our informal affiliation with BOLDPAC."

According to The Hill, the political action committee gave $3,300 to both Joe Baca Jr., a California assemblyman who is running for state Senate, and Jeremy Baca, who is seeking to succeed his brother in the Assembly.

The group also approved $3,000 for Martha Reyes, who lost a primary election for the Texas Legislature and is the sister-in-law of U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas). In addition, the newspaper said, the PAC approved a donation to Laura Hinojosa, who was elected district clerk in Hidalgo County, Texas. She is the daughter of U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas).

The letter reflects not only disagreement over whether contributions should be limited to candidates for Congress, but also a simmering dispute over Baca's role in the caucus, where he serves as first vice chairman.

In a telephone interview with The Times, Baca defended the contributions and said he had abstained on the decisions about his sons' campaigns.

"There should be no discrimination against those who follow family members into public service," he said.

The caucus, he said, should support not just candidates for the U.S. House and the Senate, but individuals seeking state and local offices.

"If there are positions open in the future, you need to have people at the local level who are qualified," Baca said.

An aide to a House member who signed the letter said the dispute over the PAC's contributions had been simmering for a year and came to a head when Baca's sons were recipients.

"Decisions were made ... that haven't sat well with a number of members. They didn't feel the process was very inclusive, and there were questions about the legitimacy of the actions," said the staff member, who spoke on the condition that he not be named because his boss did not want the issue to be made public.

The aide said that when critics of the spending "raised their questions, they weren't resolved before the checks were cut" for the campaigns. "It comes across as strange to the members that the only time we reach out to candidates below the congressional level is when they are family members," he said.

In addition, he said, if the PAC's goal is to help elect Latinos, its money could be better spent on those running against non-Latinos. Baca's older son is facing a Latina in next month's primary.

Of those who signed the letter, Solis had no comment, her spokeswoman Sonia Melendez said, because "she wants the letter to speak for itself." Michael Torra, Linda Sanchez' chief of staff, said the congresswoman "didn't want to make any public comment" on the dispute.

Cardoza's spokesman, John Bray, said the congressman signed the letter because "he feels there is no more important priority than taking back Congress in November" and the PAC's funds "should be directed to candidates for federal office, not non-federal candidates."

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