Reporting from Sacramento — Darius Anderson is a well-known player in the high-powered and often overlapping worlds of California business, lobbying and politics.
No stranger to campaign finance, he's raised millions of dollars for candidates over the years, mostly Democrats. Citing that expertise, state Fair Political Practices Commission Chairman Dan Schnur appointed Anderson this week to a prestigious panel that will examine overhauling state campaign finance disclosure laws.
Anderson, 45, brings a "valuable perspective" to the panel because of his "professional work as a practitioner" and as a fundraiser and lobbyist, Schnur said.
Others aren't so sure it was a good choice.
Anderson and his lobbying firm, Platinum Advisors in Sacramento, recently paid $500,000 to resolve claims by New York Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo stemming from a yearlong investigation into so-called pay-to-play practices in city and state pension fund investment partnerships.
And federal and California law enforcement officials also have been looking into Anderson's role as a broker of public pension deals, though he has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
"The appointment certainly raised my eyebrows, and upon hearing further details it raises questions in my mind," said Derek Cressman, the western regional director for Common Cause. "I think we need to pay close attention to the role he plays on this commission."
Anderson through a spokesman declined to comment either on a reported probe by state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown or on his appointment to the 25-member task force formed by the Fair Political Practices Commission.
Schnur said he was "aware of the investigation" in New York and inquiries about Anderson made by lawyers from the California attorney general's office. Anderson, he noted, has not been charged with any wrongdoing in either state. He said the goal of the selection process was "to establish a task force that was balanced between those who had devoted their time as political reformers and those who had worked in the field of practical politics."
Anderson's influence is felt in political, business and philanthropic circles in Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
He chairs the National Advisory Board of the Institute for Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley. In 2007, he and his wife contributed $250,000 to the political think tank.
According to a biography on the institute's website, Anderson "is widely recognized as one of California's most effective political strategists and fundraisers" and "continues to advise many of California's highest-ranking political and business leaders," including Brown, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Los Angeles corporate executives Ron Burkle and Eli Broad.
Anderson's real estate development projects include Treasure Island in San Francisco and the Marketplace at Anaheim.
In the private-equity field, Anderson brokers pension fund investment deals using two companies, Platinum in Sacramento and Gold Bridge Capital in San Francisco. The firms have served as so-called placement agents.
Such financial intermediaries often earn big commissions by helping investment managers tap into millions of dollars of capital held by public pension funds including the $200-billion California Public Employees' Retirement System.
According to disclosures filed with CalPERS, Anderson's companies collected $787,500 in placement agent fees from investment managers who did business with the pension fund from 2003 to 2005.
Anderson served in a similar role for private equity funds that made deals with retirement systems in New York and other states, earning at least $5.2 million in commissions.
The scandal, which includes payments and gifts to public officials as well as fat commissions for placement agents, erupted in New York two years ago and has since spread to California and other states.
Cuomo alleged that Anderson and Platinum acted as an unlicensed broker in 2004 to win investments for a Los Angeles private equity fund. Neither Anderson nor Platinum admitted any wrongdoing. As part of the settlement, Anderson agreed to submit to a code of conduct that bans the use of hired go-betweens in seeking investment management agreements with public pension funds.
In May, Brown sued Alfred J.R. Villalobos, a former CalPERS board member and current placement agent, on fraud allegations tied to his receipt of more than $40 million in commissions from investment partnerships for deals at CalPERS. The suit also named as a defendant Federico Buenrostro Jr., a former CalPERS chief executive.
Meanwhile, the CalPERS board, the state controller and the state treasurer are backing legislation that would limit gifts to state pension officials and require placement agents be regulated as lobbyists by the FPPC.