Joined by Common Cause, Consumer Watchdog for media briefing on “what’s at stake if big money wins lawsuit to terminate anti-corruption law”
On Monday, March 6, 2023, a coalition of policy experts, including representatives from Common Cause and Consumer Watchdog, joined State Senator Steve Glazer (SD7, D-Contra Costa) held a briefing on the special interest lawsuit to terminate SB 1439, what they refer to as “a common sense anti-corruption law that would help end the cycle of scandals caused by special interests’ massive campaign contributions to the local officials they have business before.”
Authored by Contra Costa State Senator Steve Glazer and signed into last year, SB1439 prohibits a local elected official from voting on a matter if they have received a contribution from the party to the matter or their agent of more than $250 during the 12 months prior to the date a final decision is made on the matter. It also prohibits local officials from receiving a contribution of more than $250 in the 12 months after the proceeding from party to the matter or the party’s agent. But the bill also allows an official to return a contribution to avoid violating the new law and still vote on the matter.
According to Common Cause which proposed the bill, California law prohibited anyone seeking a contract, permit, or license from the government from making a campaign contribution of more than $250 to the officials responsible for decisions about that contract, permit, or license. The limitation applied while the contract, permit, or license was pending and for three months after. But local elected officials were exempted from the law. The bill extended the prohibitions from three to 12 months and included local elected officials.
The panel of policy and democracy experts warned the public of the high-stakes consequences of the special interest lawsuit, by eight trade associations and two Sacramento area local elected officials, to terminate SB 1439 at a virtual press conference. The legislation, signed into law last year, is a common-sense, anti-corruption law that would help end the cycle of scandals caused by special interests’ massive campaign contributions to local officials they have business before.
The panel discussed the urgent need to uphold the lawful, long-overdue legislation that holds local leaders accountable to the people they serve, not to special interests. Local stakeholders illustrated how special interests meddling in local politics hinders democracy and harms our communities.
“We have become numb to the legal corruption that has enveloped our democracy. Pay-to-play is antithetical to an honest and ethical government, and it should be rooted out and killed like a cancer that has affected the body politic,” said Glazer.
Regarding the importance of expanding our anti-corruption laws:
“California’s local governments have been plagued by scandals in which special interest entities pump campaign cash to the local government officials who determine their fate on licenses, permits, and contracts. The examples are endless – SB 1439 is a common sense, narrowly tailored solution to an acute and documented problem to protect our communities,” said Jonathan Mehta Stein, Executive Director of California Common Cause. “It has been tried in other states and in a long list of California cities, and it has never been knocked down because of legal challenges. We trust SB 1439 will succeed in the courts.”
Regarding how SB 1439 expands the Political Reform Act:
“SB 1439 is one of the most significant pieces of legislation in the last 10 years. It gets right to the heart of the corruption problem – people think that elected officials are acting in the best interest of their contributors, not in the public interest. This law expands the purposes of the Political Reform Act and is a major effort to correct this problem and public perception, thus the law should be upheld by the courts,” said Bob Stern, policy expert and principal co-author of the Political Reform Act of 1974.
Regarding how big money in our local politics hurts our communities:
“Supporting SB 1439 as a bill was an easy choice for us – we see and feel regularly the impact of corporate money in the Inland Empire. Increasingly, it’s felt that regardless of how loudly residents and voters push back against certain kinds of local projects, developer money will always drown out our voice,” said Sky Allen, Executive Director of Inland Empire United. “Over the past 20 years, the Inland Empire has become the largest logistics hub in the world – so instead of green space and local businesses, we’re surrounded by massive warehouses and, as a result, we breathe some of the worst air and are offered fewer quality jobs. Laws like AB 1439 give us hope that moving forward, the scales will be more balanced.”
Regarding how big money in our local politics hurts consumers:
“Local politicians have tremendous influence and direct impact on the policies that impact consumers the most, like zoning laws, environmental regulations, and business licensing. When corporations and wealthy individuals use their financial resources to influence local elections and create favor with local elected officials, they successfully steer public policy in ways that are sympathetic to their own interests at the expense of consumers as a whole,” said Ben Powell, Staff Attorney for Consumer Watchdog. “Laws like SB 1439 address this by ensuring that local politicians are working in favor of the public interest, not bids for re-election or trading favors with wealthy donors.”
“It’s imperative that we ensure local elections stay equitable for everyone. When big money comes into play, socioeconomic barriers are strengthened and the community is ultimately the one who loses,” said Emmanuel Estrada, Mayor of Baldwin Park. “In Baldwin Park, we enacted a local ordinance barring city contractors from directly donating to candidates and adding stricter contribution limits. When we sent it to the voters to reinforce the ordinance, over 80 percent were in favor, illustrating the massive desire to remove the influence of big money from our local politics.”
California Fair Political Practices Commission Chair, Richard C. Miadich, who was unable to attend the briefing said, “We’re disappointed to learn a lawsuit has been filed regarding SB 1439 after the Commission voted unanimously to support it and months after it unanimously passed the legislature and was signed by the Governor.”
“It also comes months after we’ve begun issuing guidance, gathering public input and crafting regulations to implement the law. We’ll continue doing just that and will continue to enforce the law unless and until a court ruling says otherwise,” he added.
To watch the full briefing, click here.
Allen D. Payton contributed to this report.