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Nunez urged to return millions

Labor leaders fear the speaker's campaign account will be used for his benefit instead of aiding candidates.

April 09, 2008|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — A labor group representing millions of California workers wants Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez to return $4 million given to him by the state Democratic Party.

Leaders of the California Labor Federation said the money was supposed to be used to help elect Democrats, not as a personal "slush fund."

Nunez faced criticism last year after The Times reported that he had spent tens of thousands of dollars from his campaign account on overseas travel, wine and luxury goods with no obvious connection to political or governmental business. Most of the money in the account came from the state Democratic Party in 2006.

With Nunez in his final year in the Assembly, some union officials said they fear the Los Angeles Democrat would spend the money to his personal political benefit rather than on campaigns to help Assembly Democrats.

In a move decried by some union officials at the time, the state Democratic Party on Nov. 7, 2006, shifted $4 million to Nunez's Assembly campaign account, called "Friends of Fabian Nunez." State law limits most donations to legislators to $3,600, but donations to and from political parties are not capped.

At a meeting Monday in Los Angeles, the federation's executive council approved a resolution to ask Nunez to spend the money only on Assembly races and not for any other purpose.

Bob Balgenorth, a member of the executive council, said the group would like Nunez to return the money to the party so that his successor -- Assemblywoman Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) -- can use it to help candidates in the November election.

State law does not allow Nunez to use the money for non-governmental or non-political purposes. But union officials said they feared he could use the money to ingratiate himself with other political leaders to get another job, such as chairmanship of the state Democratic Party.

"As he's leaving office, he shouldn't take those funds and have a personal slush fund that he can use for whatever he wants to use for politically," said Balgenorth, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council.

"It wasn't money that was raised for him," said Balgenorth. "It was money that was raised to elect Democrats in tough, contested seats."

Nunez spokesman Steve Maviglio said that as speaker, Nunez raised all of the $4 million for the state party. He also said that Nunez intends to work in the private sector for at least a couple of years after leaving the Assembly and has no interest in another elected office or state party chairmanship.

"The speaker fully funded all of our campaign efforts," Maviglio said in an e-mail. "He raised enough money to elect 48 Democrats in 2004, defeat the governor's power-grab propositions during the unnecessary special election of 2005, and elect 48 Democrats in 2006.

"He doesn't question how the labor federation runs their operations," Maviglio said. "It is unfortunate that they don't offer the speaker the same respect."

State Democratic Party spokesman Roger Salazar said the party has not been informed of the California Labor Federation's request. He declined to comment further.

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nancy.vogel@latimes.com

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