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Sen. Roderick Wright raises almost $300,000 for his legal defense

The bulk of the funds collected by the senator, who is accused of lying about where he lives, comes from interests with business before the Legislature.

July 14, 2013|By Jean Merl
  • State Sen. Rod Wright is part of a bloc of moderate, business-friendly Democrats who have kept more liberal colleagues from imposing stringent regulations on industry.
State Sen. Rod Wright is part of a bloc of moderate, business-friendly Democrats… (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated…)

As Democratic state Sen. Roderick Wright prepares for his often-delayed trial on perjury and voting fraud charges this fall, he has raised nearly $300,000 for his legal defense fund, fed largely by large interests with business before the Legislature.

Records he filed with the state show Wright has collected the money since forming the fund in late 2009, shortly after investigators with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office searched two of his properties. The searches were the first public sign that Wright was under scrutiny about where he lived when he ran in the Inglewood-based district he represents.

He has pleaded not guilty to all eight felony counts.

Wright has reported raising $292,000, but donations of less than $5,000 made this year do not have to be disclosed until July 31.

DATABASE: Donors to state Sen. Roderick Wright's legal defense fund

The biggest donation to his fund came from JobsPAC, A Bipartisan Coalition of California Employers, a group backed by the California Chamber of Commerce and other large business interests, which donated $55,000. The second largest was from the California Real Estate Political Action Committee, with $25,000.

Other contributors were PG&E Corp.($15,000, plus $5,000 as Pacific Gas and Electric Co.), Blue Shield of California ($10,000), the lobbying arm of tobacco conglomerate Altria ($10,000); AT&T California's Employee PAC ($5,000); and the Apartment Assn. of Southern California ($2,500).

Wright has been part of a bloc of moderate, business-friendly Democrats who have kept more liberal colleagues from imposing stringent regulations on industry. The senator also chairs the Legislature's Governmental Organization Committee, which oversees horse racing, gambling, alcoholic beverages and public safety emergency response, among other matters.

Young's Market Co., a Los Angeles wine and spirits distributor, gave him $7,500, and four area casinos contributed as well: Hollywood Park in Inglewood, the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, the Commerce Club in Commerce and Hawaiian Gardens Casino in Hawaiian Gardens. Hollywood Park donated $5,956; the others gave $2,000 each.

There are no limits on such contributions.

When Wright and his fellow lawmakers return from their summer recess next month, they will finalize action on a crush of bills before adjourning in mid-September.

Phillip Ung, policy advocate for California Common Cause, said he was struck by the presence of "so many who are giving that are being regulated by Wright."

"These interests are not in the business of wasting money," Ung said.

Such donations are typically made as an investment, he said. While there may be no direct link between a donation and a lawmaker's vote, it may be "something they take into account" when weighing the merits of a bill, Ung said.

None of the major donors returned calls from The Times.

Wright said he has followed all state laws regarding the receipt, reporting and spending of contributions.

"The law says you can raise money to campaign or to have a legal defense fund and that you must report those contributions, and that is what I'm doing," Wright said.

"Everybody who has ever run for office has raised money," and there is nothing corrupt about that, Wright said.

People of all political stripes make choices all the time about what candidates to support, often based on who is most aligned with them philosophically, Wright added. "That's the system we have."

Wright seeded the defense fund with a $20,000 loan from his Senate campaign account, which has been repaid, records show. Several individuals also have donated to the fund, most in amounts of $100 to $500, typically smaller than the contributions by interest groups.

Most of the money from the fund has gone to lawyers, the records show. Winston Kevin McKesson, a noted criminal defense attorney, was paid $97,500 through the end of last year, and the firm of Fredric D. Woocher, an elections law expert, received $40,000. The fund contained $63,468 at the close of the year.

Also paid from the fund was the chief of staff of Wright's Senate office, Cine Ivery, who received $29,500. Wright said her work on his defense was done on her own time, as the law requires. The law prohibits the use of state resources for political or personal purposes.

McKesson said Ivery spent many hours assisting with the legal case, "going above and beyond" her normal workload. Paying her for the extra work is "the only proper thing to do," he said.

Wright was indicted by a criminal grand jury in September 2010 after prosecutors alleged that he lived in a Baldwin Hills house outside the district he now represents rather than in an Inglewood apartment complex he has owned for decades, as he stated on voter registration and candidate forms.

Appeals and requests for delays, mainly from the defense, have repeatedly delayed a trial, which has tentatively been set for Nov. 4.

jean.merl@latimes.com

Times staff writer Maloy Moore contributed to this report.

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