For months, political observers have questioned why state Senate boss Don Perata would have launched the ridiculous recall campaign against GOP Senator Jeff Denham. After all, it turned out to be a public relations nightmare for the Oakland Democrat. Before Perata pulled the plug on the campaign a few weeks ago, every newspaper in Denham’s sprawling Central Valley district had ripped the president pro tem to shreds for engaging in divisive politics. To date, there have been two reasons given for why Perata launched the recall — revenge and political gamesmanship. But newly released public records reveal a third possible motive — money for Perata’s closest confidante.
Campaign finance records show that Sandi Polka, the senator’s main political consultant, has pocketed at least $283,364 from political committees involved in the effort to unseat Denham. Most of the money was for “political consulting,” though it’s not clear from campaign records exactly what Polka did to earn such large payments. Overall, the campaigns that paid Polka also spent at least $1,985,958 trying to remove Denham from office.
In addition, after Perata announced last month that he was abandoning the recall campaign, one of his political committees, Leadership California, sent a check on May 14 to the official Denham recall committee for $110,000. Perata later told reporters that it was to pay bills. From the looks of things, it was actually to pay Polka. Campaign finance records show that one day after receiving the Perata check, the anti-Denham, campaign, We Deserve Better, Yes on the Recall, cut two $25,000 checks to Polka totaling $50,000.
As we reported in a 2007 investigative story, Perata has involved himself repeatedly in recent years in political campaigns in which he appears to have had no stake in the outcome — other than to make sure his gal gets paid. Polka has made more than $2.5 million in the past four years from campaigns run by or associated with the senator. Some Sacramento insiders believe that Polka has been secretly funneling some of that money to the senator’s son, Nick Perata, and his best friend, Timothy Staples, to allow both of them to avoid scrutiny. Polka has refused to comment, but it would not be illegal to pay the younger Perata and Staples as subcontractors and not report it on campaign disclosure forms.