At least 58 parties, including Sacramento-area local governments, have filed more than a dozen lawsuits challenging various aspects of the project in recent years. If it becomes law, Calvert’s provision would make moot many existing legal challenges to the project. And it would prevent future lawsuits challenging environmental determinations. -- Cadei, Sabalow, Sacramento Bee, May 16, 2018
— Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Corona) is an experienced investor in Riverside County's booming real estate market, so he's used to seeing prices change quickly. Last year, he and a partner paid $550,000 for a dusty four-acre parcel just south of March Air Reserve Base. Less than a year later, without even cutting the weeds or carting off old septic tank parts that littered the ground, they sold the land for almost $1 million.
Even for a speculator like Calvert, it was an unusually good deal.
During the time he owned the land, Calvert used the legislative process known as earmarking to secure $8 million for a planned freeway interchange 16 miles from the property, and an additional $1.5 million to support commercial development of the area around the airfield... -- Tom Hamburger, Lance Pugmire and Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2006
Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, the 10th richest member of the 55=member California congressional deligation, is a Riverside County real estate investor whose fundamental relationship to government is rightwing parasitic. So, it is not accident that he has included in larger funding bill a small provision that would bar lawsuits against the Environmental Impact Report for the WaterFix or Twin-Tunnel Project or the Neo-Peripheral Canal. Politicians and developers, Calvert is both, loathe environmental law cases because they often involve the letter of the law and often cannot control the courts as well as they can the transactions of bribery and gratuity that govern so much government. -- blj
Ban on Delta tunnels lawsuits slips into federal spending plan
BY EMILY CADEI AND RYAN SABALOW
With the California Delta tunnels proposal facing an uncertain future, one of the state’s Republican congressmen has come up with a way to help the multibillionwater project, known formally as California WaterFix, reach completion: ban environmental lawsuits.
On Tuesday, veteran Rep. Ken Calvert of Riverside County released a 142-page draft spending bill for fiscal year 2019 for the Interior Department and related agencies.
Tucked into the bill, onpage 141, is a brief provision that would prohibit state or federal lawsuits against “the Final Environmental Impact Report/Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan/California Water Fix ... and any resulting agency decision, record of decision, or similar determination.” Calvert is the chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.
“After more than a decade of studies and more than 50,000 pages of environmental documents, all of the project’s stakeholders have had a plethora of opportunities to express their thoughts and concerns,” Calvert said in a statement. “The tough decisions about the California Water Fix have been made by Gov. Brown, Democrat and Republican legislators, and a host of water officials, and now we must move forward with the project. It’s long past time to give Californians the reliable water system they deserve.”
California environmental groups immediately cried foul. Eric Wesselman, executive director of Friends of the River, said the Republican-controlled Congress is attempting to silence opposition to the Delta tunnels. He and other local leaders warned this could become a pattern.
“Regardless of how anyone feels about the Delta tunnels, this piece of legislation sets a dangerous precedent for California,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, a tunnels opponent. “It’s an end run around due process and really upends states’ rights.”
The controversial infrastructure proposal, championed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, would construct two tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to connect freshwater from the river to aqueducts conveying water south.
The Brown administration argues that will improve how water courses through the estuary and help protect endangered species of fish, while also ensuring more reliable water flows from the north of the state to farms in the Central Valley and water users in the Bay Area, the arid San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.
The project has powerful boosters among agriculture interests and municipal water districts. In April, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the state’s largest water district, agreed to contribute $10.8 billion to help pay for construction of the two tunnels.
But many environmental groups are opposed, while some policymakers question the project’s feasibility, not to mention the hefty $17 billion price tag.
At least 58 parties, including Sacramento-area local governments, have filed more than a dozen lawsuits challenging various aspects of the project in recent years. If it becomes law, Calvert’s provision would make moot many existing legal challenges to the project. And it would prevent future lawsuits challenging environmental determinations.
First, however, the legislation has to advance through Congress. It is likely to face resistance from Democrats, who could stall it in the Senate. Congressional Republicans could, however, try to tack the language onto a future omnibus spending package, which would put the onus on Democrats to strip it out during negotiations.
Legal challenges can certainly slow the project’s advance in the meantime. But the tunnels’ foes face an uphill climb as they pursue lawsuits on environmental grounds. California judges rarely issue injunctions outright blocking projects from moving forward. Instead, judges tend to order revisions to environmental documents as building continues. State and federal environmental agencies have already approved the project.
The bigger threat to WaterFix is likely to be political. With Brown retiring at the end of 2018, the project loses its major champion. None of the leading candidates for governor this year support building both tunnels.
Women charged in UN bribery case were donors to Rep. Calvert
Two women arrested Tuesday morningand charged in federal court with laundering money from Chinese businessmen each tried to give a California GOP lawmaker the maximum contributions allowed by law last year, Federal Election Commission records show.
Jason Gagnon, communications director for Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), whose campaign and leadership PAC received the checks, said the $10,200 the congressman’s committees ultimately received will be donated to a charity organization after OpenSecrets Blog inquired about the donors on Wednesday.
The women, Heidi Piao and Shiwei Yan, are charged in connection with an alleged bribery scheme involving a former president of the United Nations General Assembly and Ng Lap Seng, a Macau-based billionaire who himself was arrested in Queens, N.Y. on Sept. 19. In that case, Ng and an assistant allegedly agreed to lie to federal customs agents about the true purpose of $4.5 million dollars in cash they’d carried into the U.S. since 2013.
If some of this sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because Ng played a key role in the campaign finance scandal surrounding the 1996 presidential election. According to investigators, Ng was the source of more than $1 million sent to a central figure in the scandal, Charlie Trie, who gave much of the money to the Democratic National Committee. Ng has also been linked to organized crime in Macau, including its infamous triads, as well as to casino billionaire and Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson.
Piao and Yan — both U.S. citizens who reside in China, according to the complaint — made six contributions to Calvert on May 30, 2014, records show. The two used different aliases and two different sets of addresses, employers and occupations. They split the $20,400 in reported donations between Calvert’s campaign committee and leadership PAC, Eureka PAC. Yan had also given Calvert $5,300 since 2002, federal records show.
Yan’s checks in May 2014, however, didn’t clear, according to Gagnon. The campaign and PAC ultimately received $10,200 from sPiao that day, he said.
One of the women’s employers closely matches the description of a nonprofit mentioned, but not by name, in the complaint. That nonprofit, according to the complaint, began paying roughly $20,000 per month to the former U.N. General Assembly president, John Ashe, in August 2013 for his services as the group’s “honorary chairman.” In return, prosecutors allege, Ashe helped a Chinese security company sign a lucrative memorandum of understanding with officials in Antigua, his home country, and facilitated their business elsewhere.
There was no mention of the contributions to Calvert in the complaint. But the press release about the case detailed the pair’s involvement in the alleged U.N. bribery scheme: Along with Ng and two others, Piao and Yan “arranged for the transmission and laundering of over $1 million of bribery money from sources in China,” according to the press release. Ashe, the U.N. official, allegedly “received $800,000 in bribes from various Chinese businessmen arranged through Yan and Piao,” the release reads.
Yan and Piao were intermediaries between Ashe and the business interests in China, according to a detailed summary of their activities in the complaint. Once, Ashe emailed Yan a request for $100,000 to finance a holiday party for his staff.
“Thanks…and lots of love,” Ashe allegedly wrote to Yan, who replied a week later to say the money was on its way.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York — which declined to comment on the contributions to Calvert — is prosecuting both the case against the women as well as the one against Ng and his associate.
Piao and Yan have given only to Calvert at the federal level, a review of Federal Election Commission records by OpenSecrets Blog shows.
Calvert, who has served in Congress since 1993, is a Southern California real estate investor who in 2006 steered federal financing to highway projects near property he owned, thereby enhancing its value, according to the Los Angeles Times. In one case, the property nearly doubled in value in less than a year, according to the Times; Calvert denied that the federal funds he obtained through a legislative tactic known as earmarking had anything to do with his properties.
Calvert’s aide pointed to a local newspaper editorial that stated the claims were unfounded.
A lawyer representing Ng did not reply to a request for comment; Piao, Yan, Ashe and the lawyers representing them could not be reached by press time.
Los Angeles Times
Rep. Calvert's Land of Plenty
He has earmarked funds for Riverside County projects near properties he sold for a profit.
Tom Hamburger, Lance Pugmire and Richard Simon | Times Staff Writers
WASHINGTON — Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Corona) is an experienced investor in Riverside County's booming real estate market, so he's used to seeing prices change quickly. Last year, he and a partner paid $550,000 for a dusty four-acre parcel just south of March Air Reserve Base. Less than a year later, without even cutting the weeds or carting off old septic tank parts that littered the ground, they sold the land for almost $1 million.
Even for a speculator like Calvert, it was an unusually good deal.
During the time he owned the land, Calvert used the legislative process known as earmarking to secure $8 million for a planned freeway interchange 16 miles from the property, and an additional $1.5 million to support commercial development of the area around the airfield.
A map of Calvert's recent real estate holdings and those of his partner shows many of them near the transportation projects he has supported with federal appropriations. And improvements to the transportation infrastructure have contributed to the area's explosive growth, according to development experts.
Calvert said he had used earmarking solely to benefit his district. Those appropriations, he said, have had nothing to do with his investments or financial gains...
"Because of the political atmosphere in Washington, D.C., people are trying to manufacture controversy, even where there isn't any," Calvert said. Noting that property values have climbed throughout the Inland Empire, he added: "They haven't passed a law against investing yet.
"All my life in public service, I've never done anything to enrich myself, using the position I hold," he said.
The projects he helped fund, Calvert said, were requested by local officials. Those officials agree. Referring to the effort to commercialize the area around March airfield, Riverside County Supervisor Bob Buster said Calvert had been "very active for a number of years, and in a variety of ways."
What sets Calvert's actions apart from the traditional efforts of lawmakers to bring federal dollars home to their districts is that some of the spending has gone for improvements near his private real estate ventures, and he has used earmarking to secure the tax dollars.
Earmarking is a practice in which some members of Congress -- primarily those in leadership positions, those on appropriations and transportation committees, and other insiders -- are allowed to insert into federal spending bills provisions that allot tax dollars for particular projects without going through the normal legislative and budgetary reviews.
Not every lawmaker is equal when it comes to being able to earmark appropriations. What counts is where members stand in the power structure, and how much favor they cultivate with more influential colleagues. Some lawmakers are allowed to insert scores of earmarks into spending bills each year. Others get few, if any.
And the process traditionally occurs behind closed doors, without public notice or hearings. Spokespeople for the House Appropriations and Transportation committees, for instance, refuse to provide information on lawmakers' earmark requests or their justifications for projects. As a result, an individual lawmaker quietly can obtain funding to help constituents, interest groups, lobbyists or even themselves.
The number of earmarks has sharply increased in recent years. Earmarks such as the $223-million "bridge to nowhere" -- connecting the town of Ketchikan, Alaska, to an island with an airport and about 50 inhabitants -- that was included in last year's highway bill have generated demands for reform.
To shed more light on the process, the nonpartisan watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense has worked to identify and analyze earmarks in recent spending bills. During the 2005-06 congressional session, Calvert put 69 earmarks into spending bills, the group reported; Calvert said he was the lead advocate for 53.
Such special funding is often decried as "pork" by spending hawks and good-government groups, but many members of Congress counter that the practice serves their constituents.
In extreme cases, manipulation of federal spending has been linked to corruption. Former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Rancho Santa Fe) admitted taking bribes in exchange for such legislative favors. And Rep. Alan B. Mollohan of West Virginia recently stepped down as the top Democrat on the House Ethics Committee amid allegations that he steered federal money to nonprofit groups in his district -- organizations run by business associates who helped make him wealthy.
Earmarks also figured into the political corruption scandal centered on former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
In addition to earmarking funds for infrastructure, Calvert has directed money toward such things as education, university research and agriculture.