The indictment Wednesday of state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) on money laundering and weapons trafficking charges throws a major wrench into his campaign for Secretary of State, and gives an unexpected advantage to the front-runner, state Sen. Alex Padilla of Pacoima.
During a raucous state Democratic party convention early this month in Los Angeles, Padilla fell one point short of the 60 percent of delegate votes needed to secure the party's endorsement.
"Today's news is another blow to the institution of the California State Senate," Padilla said in a statement issued by his Senate office. "It is a sad day for state government, but it does not reflect the body as a whole."
Yee, who is termed out this year from his Senate seat, had spent more than $600,000 in campaign funds since January, mostly on commercial production and cable fees, according to campaign reports filed this week. Padilla spent nearly as much in the same period, and has more than $600,000 in available campaign cash.
The other candidates in the eight-way Secretary of State race have nowhere near as much campaign money as Padilla and Yee. The top two finishers will appear on the November general election ballot.
Independent candidate Dan Schnur, who once headed the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, wants legislators to be barred from collecting campaign donations during the legislative session.
In a statement emailed to reporters, Schnur said Yee's indictment is another reason why Californians "have so little trust in their elected officials. My hope is that this will prompt the legislature to take much more aggressive and meaningful action to fix a broken political system than they have been willing to do to date."
(Schnur's ballot designation as a "Political Reform Advocate" is being challenged in court by the vice-chairman of the state Democratic party. Schnur is running without a party designation.)
In social media posts, political observers seemed mostly surprised that Yee — best known for politically progressive legislation — would get caught up in a public corruption investigation.
In a year-end message on his website, Yee touted eight bills he sponsored that were passed into law in 2013. They include extending plug-in hybrid vehicles' access to carpool lanes for three more years, and a requirement that all state websites link to the Secretary of State website, to increase the public's engagement with that office.
Yee, 65, was elected to the Senate in 2006, having served in the Assembly since 2002. He is a former San Francisco city-county supervisor and served on the local school board. He also ran for mayor in 2011.