Baca launches counterattack

Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) helped cement his position as chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) on Tuesday evening by winning a vote of confidence during an emergency meeting.

After the meeting, the embattled lawmaker boasted that he remained the chairman and told reporters that the meeting was a “step in the right direction.”

There would be “no change” in the present leadership structure, he said, and added in Spanish and English that he intended to focus on policy issues, such as immigration, housing, healthcare and jobs.

The CHC normally meets on Thursday, but the group called a special session after The Hill reported that a faction of the caucus planned to oust Baca.

CHC lawmakers declined to comment when asked what happened during the meeting. They stormed out, ignoring a scrum of reporters.

Baca’s allies released a letter defending the contribution practices of CHC’s political action committee, a matter that loomed large in caucus members’ concerns about Baca.

Baca’s fight to save his chairmanship stems, in part, from the decision by BOLDPAC to send money in 2006 to his sons’ campaigns for state office. This prompted some lawmakers to quit BOLDPAC.

Hoping to quell questions about the contributions, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a former House member, asked lawyers last week to evaluate whether Baca did anything illegal, said a Democratic aide.

A Democratic strategist hoped the letter, which exonerates Baca of any wrongdoing, would lead to more accurate news reports.

“[The] records of the committee demonstrate that the committee has followed its internal procedures in making contributions,” wrote Karl Sandstrom, a lawyer with the Perkins Coie law firm.

“Chairman Baca did not seek nor were these requests accorded special treatment by the committee. Chairman Baca did not assume or exercise special authority over these contributions. Moreover, Mr. Baca did not serve on the screening committee that recommended the contributions to his sons’ campaigns,” Sandstrom added.

Baca’s opponents argue that it is the manner in which the contributions were made, not their legality that was troubling.

As the CHC plotted its future, the Blue Dog Coalition held its weekly meeting. Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), a member of both coalitions, chose to join the Blue Dogs. Coincidentally, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), who quit the CHC last month because Baca allegedly called her a “whore,” also joined the Blue Dogs.

The fight between Baca and his primary opponents, California Democratic Reps. Hilda Solis, Linda Sanchez and Loretta Sanchez, stems as much from Baca’s alleged mistreatment of women as from the hypercompetitive nature of California politics, said a Baca supporter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. His allies believe women in the caucus are trying to use charges that he has mistreated women to oust him.

“The threat to leave the caucus is no longer working,” the source said.

The split in the caucus has deeply embarrassed Hispanic lawmakers and advocates. The CHC has not yet met during this Congress with Hispanic advocacy groups, said Manny Mirabel, the chairman of the Hispanic Association of Corporate Responsibility.

“I think that this is probably something that should have been done in an internal way,” he said, but “things have been settled and hopefully we can move forward together collectively.”