While Gov. Jerry Brown prepares to act on hundreds of bills sent to him by the Legislature in its end-of-session rush, the California Democratic Party has offered prospective donors to Brown’s political causes access to a series of small dinners with him.
The fourth-term Democrat is raising money for his ballot measure to make certain nonviolent felons eligible for early parole and to oppose a measure that would require public approval before the state can issue revenue bonds for public works projects costing more than $2 billion.
The timing of the fundraising – while not illegal – comes as Brown deliberates on legislation affecting a range of business, environmental, labor and other interests.
In an Aug. 9 email obtained by The Sacramento Bee, Angie Tate, the state Democratic Party’s chief financial officer, encouraged donors to give to the ballot measure campaigns that Brown is supporting – or to the party, which is helping on them.
“The governor will be hosting a series of small dinners in August and September to thank those that are able to help on his priorities,” she wrote.
No such dinner occurred in August and Brown has not yet scheduled one for this month, an adviser said. But on the day Tate wrote the email, the campaign committee opposing Proposition 53, the revenue bond measure, received $250,000 from the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Trust. Donors including the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, Sempra Energy and the International Union of Operating Engineers donated another $320,000 in the following two weeks.
“This is called access for donors, and it gives them time to perhaps plead their case, or at least make the governor aware of who they are,” said Robert Stern, who co-authored California’s Political Reform Act.
If the fundraising dinners occur before the end of this month – the end of Brown’s bill-signing period – Stern said it would be legal but “inappropriate.”
“It certainly would be better not during the period when he’s considering bills,” Stern said. “That is probably the worst time to have it, in terms of the perception.”
Dan Newman, a spokesman for Brown, said in an email that criticism of the fundraising’s timing is “beyond ridiculous,” with the November election approaching.
“Unless the election is postponed,” he said, “now is when initiative fundraising needs to happen.”
Brown holds more than $19 million in a campaign account. But it is unclear how much he will have to spend supporting his prison and parole measure and opposing the revenue bond initiative.
Opponents of the bond initiative have reserved more than $8 million in television advertising space statewide for the final three weeks of the campaign, in October and November, though it is not yet clear if they will spend that amount.
The bond measure, financed by Dean “Dino” Cortopassi, a wealthy Stockton-area farmer and food processor, could undermine Brown’s $15.5 billion plan to build two tunnels to divert water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the south.