Tech companies spend millions on California political gifts

Sacramento, Calif. (Associated Press) — Governor Gavin Newsom has requested donations totaling nearly $227 million from Facebook, Google, Blue Shield and other California businesses and foundations to combat the coronavirus pandemic and help manage parts of his administration, according to a report on Monday. Thursday by the State Political Oversight Agency.

“Payments Receivable” are contributions that an elected official is required to make to another individual or organization. They are less structured than campaign contributions, and have grown 10-fold from 2019, Newsom’s first year in office, and 2020, when the pandemic arrived.

Facebook has contributed about $27 million to the Democratic governor’s cases, mostly for gift cards for nursing home workers. Blue Shield of California has provided $20 million for homeless programs. The Commission for Fair Political Practices, which oversees campaign finance and California’s political ethics laws, said those two companies were the largest donors.

Listed beneficiaries include the Governor’s Office for $42.5 million and the Governor’s Office for Emergency Services for $26 million. There was also money to support the California Alzheimer’s Task Force, California Climate Action Task Force initiatives, California Climate Action Day, and advisory services for the Administration’s Master Plan on Aging.

While California limits the amount of gifts and campaign contributions for politicians, there are no restrictions on the payments required. It can only be reported if it is made at the suggestion of a public official of another person for a legislative, governmental or charitable purpose, and only if payments from one source reach $5,000 in a calendar year.

“Unprecedented times, call for an unprecedented response,” Newsom spokesman Daniel Lopez said in a statement.

He said the governor is “committed to tapping into the innovative spirit of our private sector” and “leveraging that strength to help improve the lives of all Californians.”

There is no indication that Newsom or his donors behaved inappropriately. But critics say that while the payments do not directly benefit the politician, they can indirectly win support.

For example, former Governor Jerry Brown has repeatedly sought contributions from casinos, labor unions, wineries, insurance companies and major corporations for the Oakland Military School he founded in 2001 when he was the city’s mayor.

Despite the nature of those payments, Lopez said hundreds of companies including Facebook and Blue Shield contacted the governor’s office, not the other way around.

Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor, Jessica Levinson, former chair of the Los Angeles Ethics Committee, said campaign monitors are splitting into two camps based on which payments are required.

Some believe such contributions “are the work of the devil, and it’s clearly a loophole around the limits of contribution and people give them just to win the favor of elected officials,” she said.

It tends to fall into the second camp, and money will inevitably flow through politics or else it will go to campaign accounts or independent spending committees.

“If people are going to try to win the hearts of elected officials, which they will, let’s at least go that money to a good cause,” she said.

The big issue, she said, is to disclose payments transparently, so that voters can make informed decisions about donations and outcomes.

“Not every payment requested is outrageous, but every payment requested is worth scrutinizing,” said Jonathan Mehta Stein, executive director at California Common Causes Good Government Group. “The recent explosion of co-ordered payments is certainly creating a perception in the public that companies and players in state policies are using this as a way to get around pay-to-play rules.”

Blue Shield and Facebook, now Meta, said they are proud to help Californians during an unprecedented pandemic.

Apart from the governor, required payments can be made on behalf of many local and state officials, including state legislators and office holders.

Several other states including Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, New Mexico and New York limit or prohibit such petitions for the benefit of third parties, according to the California Ethics Committee.

Newsom mentioned some of his contributors at his near-daily press conferences in the early stages of the pandemic, where he provided publicity for some donors.

Ethics Committee spokesman Jay Weringa said requests for donations can take many different forms and do not have to come from the governor himself. They can begin with an occasional request from one of his assistants at an event or with a formal letter of invitation, the nature of this request does not need to be disclosed, only the outcome.

Payments made at Brown’s behest exceeded less than $11 million in 2018, his last year in office, and Newsom’s payments of nearly $12 million in 2019 when he took office and sought funds to pay for the governor’s inauguration ceremonies and various task forces.

Newsom launched these donations in an entirely new form in 2020.

In 2019, there was one contribution that exceeded $1 million. The following year there were 50. Contributions ranging from $500,000 to $1 million jumped from three to 18.

The total amount of payments imposed by the state in 2020 was 30 times higher than the amount in 2016. The commission said significant increases also occurred in reports at the local level.

Committee Chairman Richard Maidic said the increased use shows “the continuing importance of transparency in making sure that our elected officials are accountable for the enormous sums that are being raised, even if they are making a worthwhile effort.”

So the commission is now asking administrators to disclose any links they may have with the nonprofit that receives the funds, and if the person making the payment is involved in an action before the official’s agency.

Mehta Stein said the increased disclosure is a good move, but said the legislature should categorically ban applications that benefit the incumbent’s wife or other relative.

Among other donors, Google provided $10 million for a California public health awareness campaign on COVID-19, while Fox, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, Snapchat, Spotify, Netflix, Pandora, Comcast, ABC, and NBC were among those who contributed. in lower amounts.

$20 million has been allocated from Blue Shield to support the Homekey Project, Newsom’s program to use hotels, motels and other unused real estate as permanent supportive housing for residents who have nowhere to live.

Tens of millions from the Kaiser Foundation, IKEA Community Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and individual donors Reed Hastings and Tom Steyer have all gone to California’s COVID-19 Response Fund.

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