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Cedillo reports that his campaign donors bankroll lavish meals, travel and shopping

April 11, 2009|Michael Finnegan
  • State Sen. Gil Cedillo, a congressional candidate in the May 19 election, dropped $1,203 at Patina and $7,022 at Nordstrom.
State Sen. Gil Cedillo, a congressional candidate in the May 19 election,… (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)

Gil Cedillo, a Los Angeles state senator running for Congress, has spent more than $125,000 gathered from campaign donors over the last six years on shopping excursions, gourmet meals, entertainment and upscale hotels around the globe, public records show.

At Patina, the haute cuisine restaurant at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Cedillo paid $1,203 for dinner. He dropped $289 at Nic's Martini Lounge in Beverly Hills. At the Standard, a downtown hotel known for its hip rooftop bar and swimming pool, Cedillo and his staff spent $5,705 over the course of 26 visits.

In Mumbai, India, Cedillo's stay at the Four Seasons came to $829; his tab at the Bar des Arts in Sao Paulo, Brazil, $229; his hotel and dining charges on a jaunt to Rome and Florence, $1,969.

Cedillo, a former labor leader who made his name fighting to provide driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants, is not the only state lawmaker to tap campaign money for what many would consider lavish meals and travel. He often dines and attends retreats with fellow legislators.

But the scale of Cedillo's spending was on par with that of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, whose worldwide travel and shopping at retailers such as Louis Vuitton in Paris led the state to tighten campaign disclosure rules last summer.

Cedillo's spending, detailed in reports he filed with the secretary of state, contrasts with the frugal record of Judy Chu, his chief rival for the San Gabriel Valley congressional seat. A former Monterey Park assemblywoman elected to the state Board of Equalization in 2006, Chu has spent no campaign money on shopping or entertainment, and less than $5,000 on meals and travel over six years.

The two are vying in a May 19 election to fill the House seat vacated by U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

Cedillo's expenses include $7,022 at Nordstrom; $3,483 at Banana Republic; $1,418 at Ann Taylor; $498 at Bloomingdale's; $450 at Crate & Barrel; and $375 at Macy's.

"None of it's for me," Cedillo said in an interview this week at his campaign headquarters in El Monte.

All of the purchases were gifts for staff, legislators and "other people who are important to my campaign and my office," Cedillo said.

The same, he said, goes for the $483 spent at Andrew's Ties in Rome, $132 at the Louvre Museum in Paris and $117 at an unidentified Coach leather outlet.

State law bars candidates from using campaign money for personal expenses. Cedillo said he has always complied with the law, which requires campaign spending to serve "a political, legislative, or governmental purpose." He pointed to a state audit that found one of his committees had substantially complied with disclosure laws from 2003 to 2006, apart from failure to report some donations on time.

"Not one aberration has occurred," he said.

Regardless of legality, the nature of Cedillo's spending is troublesome, said Robert Stern, president of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies and a longtime advocate of campaign finance reform.

"It sounds like he is using campaign funds to supplement his lifestyle," Stern said.

Cedillo collected $116,208 in salary last year and $39,825 in tax-free per diem. The Senate bought a $53,436 black Lexus hybrid for Cedillo; he is charged $280 a month for its use. The state pays for his gas.

But Cedillo has relied on campaign donors to bankroll his shopping and travel, along with hundreds of restaurant meals and tickets for the Rose Bowl, Los Angeles Opera and Clippers basketball games.

Like many lawmakers, Cedillo collected contributions from a host of groups that lobby for favors: labor unions, Indian tribes, and the pharmaceutical, casino, telecommunications, insurance and banking industries, among others. Since 2003, Cedillo has collected $1.2 million, even with no viable election challengers. For the congressional race, he must raise money separately under federal rules that are stricter than the state's.

In California, Cedillo's campaign treasury has covered stays at Casa Madrona Hotel and Spa in Sausalito; the River Terrace Inn in Napa Valley; Portola Hotel and Spa at Monterey Bay; La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad; and the Handlery Hotel and Resort in San Diego.

Cedillo's reports leave unclear how much of his hotel spending was for rooms, and how much for meals. The reports also do not indicate the length of stay. Although staff members incurred some of the expenses, Cedillo spent the great majority, the reports say.

In San Francisco, Cedillo favors boutique hotels in the Union Square and Embarcadero districts. His finance reports say he spent $1,584 at the Monaco, $742 at the Rex, and $543 at the Vitale on the bay-front.

His committees have spent $751 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Marina del Rey and $631 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. In both cases, Cedillo said, it was probably for meetings or retreats, not rooms. Travel elsewhere in California, he said, was for meetings of Democratic lawmakers and the state Latino Legislative Caucus, which he chairs.

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