[WoodyBay] Wooing Spouses Gives Big Donors Influence Over California Democrats

Woody Downing woodys57 at woodys57.com
Fri Jun 4 09:48:55 PDT 2021


Wooing Spouses Gives Big Donors Influence Over California Democrats. It’s Gross and Wrong


By The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board

June 03, 2021

Gov-elect Gavin Newsom and Jennifer Siebel Newsom address the audience during the California Rises benefit concert at the Golden 1 Center hosted by the California Fire Foundation to raise funds for survivors of recent California wildfires on Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019. Paul Kitagaki Jr.  <mailto:pkitagaki at Sacbee.Com> pkitagaki at Sacbee.Com

There’s a trend sweeping the California Democratic Party and the stink of this foul practice is getting worse. If corporations and special interests want a state official’s attention, all they have to do is donate to their partner’s nonprofit.

A new investigation by The Bee uncovered the surge of donations from corporations <https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article251851903.html>  that regularly lobby state government to The Representation Project, a nonprofit founded by First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom. In recent years, the nonprofit received more than $800,000 from companies like Pacific Gas & Electric Co., AT&T, Comcast and Kaiser Permanente. In 2015, the year Gavin Newsom announced his run for governor, contributions increased by 30% to nearly $1.6 million.

For seven years, the Rep Project paid Siebel Newsom a $290,000 annual salary for her leadership role and three social justice documentaries she filmed, tax returns showed. The $2.3 million she earned over those years accounted for over 20% of the $10.4 million the nonprofit received.

After her husband was elected governor in 2018, she stepped back as CEO and took over as chief creative officer, but records linked the nonprofit to her six-figure salary via her film company, Girls Club Entertainment.

As The Bee’s Sophia Bollag and investigative journalist Lance Williams pointed out, “the donations were not explicitly political, but they helped the companies deepen relationships with the most powerful man in California politics. Meanwhile, Representation Project donors also gave about $1.3 million to Newsom’s political committees, records show.”

Gov. Newsom isn’t the only California Democrat exploiting this glaring loophole. Earlier this year, The Bee investigated a similar pattern where companies with business before the Legislature dished out over $500,000 <https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article249343790.html>  in donations and event sponsorships to nonprofits tied to Annie Lam, wife of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.

Last year, CalMatters shed a light on then-Assemblyman Rob Bonta <https://calmatters.org/projects/california-political-legislative-nonprofits-rob-bonta-wife/>  who opened a nonprofit and moved $25,000 to another where his wife was the chief executive. He also used donations to fund various initiatives in his former Alameda-area district. Today, he’s California’s attorney general and his wife, Mia, is running for his old seat <https://www.mercurynews.com/2021/04/14/wife-of-east-bay-assemblyman-rob-bonta-announces-run-for-his-seat/> .

California Democrats have clearly found a regulatory gap in tax and political ethics laws. It’s become a breeding ground for conflicts of interest. Several of the companies The Bee linked to Siebel Newsom’s nonprofit lobbied the governor’s office on issues affecting their bottom line.

It’s not clear how many spouse’s of elected officials are accepting corporate donations in their nonprofits, but several have now been identified — and the Newsoms are benefiting the most.

Silicon Valley titans like Facebook, Google and YouTube contributed a record $226 million <https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-04-27/corporations-donate-226-million-toward-newsom-2020>  gave to government causes on behalf of Newsom last year under a practice called “behest payments.” A housing nonprofit funding his homelessness initiative, Project Homekey, received $45 million. His own office collected $43 million <https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-04-27/behested-payments-newsom-top-donors> . Many of those companies received massive no-bid contracts <https://www.capradio.org/articles/2021/02/16/investigation-big-newsom-donors-including-blue-shield-received-no-bid-contracts-during-covid-19-response/>  to help with COVID-19, including Blue Shield, who supported his campaign.

California’s political watchdog, the Fair Political Practices Commission, is trying to update regulations <https://calmatters.org/projects/california-politics-behests-nonprofits-fppc-sweet-charity/>  on behest payments. After the French Laundry fiasco <https://www.sfchronicle.com/politics/article/Newsom-attended-French-Laundry-party-with-more-15725393.php> , Newsom tightened ethics for his office and barred various forms of lobbying. However, he hasn’t addressed his wife’s nonprofit.

This is what happens in a state where one party enjoys total dominance. The only check on this gross imbalance is the law, and right now, it can’t keep up with such shrewd abuses of power.

Ambitious California lawmakers who believe in ethics and do not bend to corporations must step up and help pass laws to end this exploitation of charitable causes. Companies like PG&E, which is responsible for deadly wildfires <https://www.sacbee.com/news/california/fires/article251697733.html>  that have decimated our communities, cannot enjoy greater influence than the taxpaying citizens elected officials are sworn to serve. The lengths California Democrats are willing to go to benefit from public office is appalling. It must be stopped immediately.


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