Dems vs. Dems Over Pro Tem Help

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A nasty war of words is raging among Democrats over the state party's recent -- and hefty -- contribution to the legal defense fund of Senate President pro Tem Don Perata.

Less than two weeks ago, the California Democratic Party gave $250,000 to help defray the legal bills of the Oakland Democrat for an FBI investigation into his business dealings. It was the second big donation from the party in less than a year, bringing the total to $450,000.

Perata's legal defense fund reported 2008 expenses as of mid May of $290,000 and very few contributions; outstanding debts were reported at just about $250,000. Other than the Democratic Party contribution, the Senate leader's defense fund received a $25,000 check from the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians in June.

But the donation of Dem party cash has ignited some furor among party activists. On the grassroots blog Calitics this morning, Democratic activist Bob Brigham took aim at party chairman Art Torres for approving of the donation, calling for the veteran leader's resignation:

"[Democrats] have every right to expect that contributors' money will be pumped into districts where Democrats are locked in tough election fights with Republicans, or into struggles with the GOP over the budget. Instead, it's paying the legal bills for Perata..."

Perata was asked about the donation yesterday after a news conference on the state budget. He disagreed with those who said he shouldn't be getting financial help from the party. "I believe Democrats respond to defend Democrats," he said.

And, though he was asked only about the controversial cash assistance from the party, Perata appeared to take a swipe at the FBI investigation itself, even as one Bay Area newspaper reported yesterday that something new may be brewing in the case.

"I believe this is a partisan attack," Perata said. "It's no mistake who's in the White House and when this started... I'm the leading Democrat in the state of California."

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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