Major bribery corruption in California – Press Telegram
For Gov. Gavin Newsom and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, philanthropy starts at home.
The governor took advantage of California’s “bequested payments” law to solicit “charitable” contributions to the “California Partnership Project” founded by his wife. Over the past three years, the project has raised $1,671,680 at Governor Newsom’s “assignment.”
Campaign gifts and donations are strictly regulated in California, but “bequest payments” fall into a different category. Elected officials are free to solicit donations of any amount from any person or entity for any “legislative, governmental or charitable purpose.” There is no limit to how much can be requested or given. State law requires public reporting when payments from a single source are $5,000 or more in a calendar year.
Some reports describe the payments to the California Partnership Project as a “donation to a 501c4 organization dedicated to women’s leadership and the impact of media and technology on youth,” but that’s not entirely accurate. The California Partnership Project does not appear in Guidestar or Charity Navigator, the two databases that list nonprofits, and the most recent “payments ordered” reports do not mention the 501c4. They describe the payments as “To support the work of the California Partnership Project.”
However, the purpose of the payments is listed as “charitable” on the forms the governor filed, other options are “state” or “legislative,” and those are also imprecise.
Who is giving money to Mrs. Newsom’s project by order of the governor? In April, the Graton Rancheria Federated Indians wrote a check for $300,000. Silicon Valley Bank in Menlo Park wrote four checks for $25,000 each. Several foundations have made generous contributions.
It is not unusual for foundations, individuals or companies to support charitable causes. What makes this unusual is that the payments are “bequests” to influential elected officials. According to government regulators, payments are considered “ordered” if they are made “at the request, suggestion or solicitation of or made in cooperation, consultation, coordination or agreement with a government official.”
Charities that are true nonprofits file tax returns that are publicly available and list the compensation paid to officers, directors and senior staff. These documents do not appear to be available for the California Partnership Project.
However, Jennifer Ziebel Newsom has another organization that is a true non-profit, a 501c3 called The Representation Project. The 2020 IRS Form 990 shows income from contributions and grants totaling $823,427 and income from program services of $257,448. Expenses exceeded revenue by $220,963. Mrs. News was paid $150,000.
Last year, the Sacramento Bee reported that The Representation Project paid Ms. News $2.3 million in salary between 2011 and 2018. Much of that money came from organizations that have a vested interest in maintaining good relations with elected officials. For example, Pacific Gas & Electric committed $358,000 to The Representation Project between 2011 and 2019. AT&T has committed more than $185,000 between 2017 and 2020. Comcast wrote a check for $15,000. Kaiser Permanente contributed $20,000.
A report by The Bee found that donations to Mrs. Newsom’s nonprofit jumped 30% to nearly $16 million after her husband announced in 2015 that he would run for governor. Suddenly, huge companies lobbying the state government decided to simultaneously support “the transformative power of storytelling to raise awareness around harmful gender stereotypes and norms, change attitudes and behaviours, and transform culture”.
Here’s how The Representation Project describes its mission on IRS forms.
The Newsom family’s income is boosted by a six-figure salary paid to Mrs. Newsom by donations from publicly traded companies. As with pay-as-you-go, this particular blend of racketeering and influence-peddling is legal in California.
State campaign finance regulators could, if they wanted to, investigate whether ordered payments to the California Partnership Project crossed the lines of ensuring the governor’s personal gain. “A reportable payment that also provides a personal benefit to the official may be considered a gift to the official, even if the payment is not made for a personal purpose,” the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) says on its website. In that case, “the payment may require additional reporting as a gift and be subject to the gift limit.”
Don’t hold your breath waiting for the investigation.
So far this year, Newsom has “solicited” $23.7 million in payments from various organizations for various purposes. Last year, the total was $14.9 million, and in 2020, the governor’s executive order paid out a staggering $226.5 million to meet his goals. Having extraordinary authority over everyone’s affairs means you never have to take no for an answer.
You can see for yourself how much blood has been drawn from the veins of California companies at fppc.ca.gov/transparency/behested-payments.html, where you can search by elected official’s name, payer’s name, payee’s name, or any combination.
Reports of payments by local officials can be found on the websites of these jurisdictions. For example, in Los Angeles, a search at ethics.lacity.org/data/ethics/behested-payment-reports shows that Edison International and Snap Inc. were “invited” by Mayor Eric Garcetti earlier this year. $100,000 each for his Los Angeles Mayor’s Fund.
Obviously, these companies can make charitable contributions without going to the mayor, so it’s not about charity.
Legislators in Sacramento used the ordered payments to fund funds related to their legislatures. It’s legal for them to contact special interests and solicit donations right before a vote on heavily lobbied bills.
Since 2020, Maria Elena Duraza has “solicited” more than $1.4 million for the California Latino Legislative Fund, including $15,000 from Pfizer, $25,000 from Sutter Health and $125,000 from Altria. Beginning in 2021, Jesse Gabriel has “solicited” $660,000 for the California Jewish Legislative Leadership Fund from organizations including AT&T ($20,000) and the California Teachers Association ($50,000). This year, Evan Lowe “solicited” $145,000 for the California LGBT Legislative Fund, including $25,000 from the California Teachers Association PAC and $10,000 from the California Charter School Association. And Steven Bradford “bequeathed” $1,102,500 to the California Legislative Institute for Black Policy, including $55,000 from the prison guards union and $50,000 from Chevron.
In other states, these payments may be considered campaign contributions, gifts, lobbying expenses, bribery, extortion, selling influence, or buying influence.
They are considered “charitable” in California. This is a generous interpretation.
Email Susan@SusanShelley.com and follow her on Twitter @Susan_Shelley