On September 29th, California State Legislators unanimously approved Senate Bill 1439 to close a pay-to-play loophole for local officials that bars them from accepting or soliciting contributions of over $250 from contractors with pending projects.
From January 1, 2023, it applies to contributions from anyone affiliated with a group that has a pending license, permit, or contract — or 12 months after a final decision on it. A contractor or anyone going before the local agency with such a request will also have to disclose during the proceeding if they made contributions over $250 within the past 12 months.
Jonathan Mehta Stein, Executive Director of California Common Cause said it should help ensure local elected officials are accountable to the public interest, not special interests and major donors.
Senate District 07 Democratic Senator Steve Glazer, who proposed the bill, said, “It will break the link between … campaign fundraising and most decisions by local elected officials. Developers, contractors, license applicants, and others will not be able to use campaign contributions to influence government decisions, and these same parties can also use this reform to turn down unwanted solicitations from politicians. Unfortunately, the #scandals in this space are far and wide throughout California.”
Kudos to the legislators for closing this loophole. However, it sidesteps the elephant in the room, covered by Tim Svendsen in the Pasadena Star News on October 23, 2022. Svendsen reports on millions of dollars of behested payments made in association with Governor Newsom’s wife.
He explains, “this particular mix of protection racket and influence buying is legal in California. State campaign finance regulators could, if they wished, investigate whether the requested payments … exceed the limit in order to provide the governor with a personal benefit. ‘A reportable intentional payment that also results in a personal benefit for the official may be considered a gift…, even if the payment is not primarily for personal gain,’ the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) explains on its website. In this case, ‘payment may require additional reporting as a gift and is subject to the gift limit.’ Don’t hold your breath and wait for the [investigation].”