Capitol Alert

Senators collect $346,000 after lifting end-of-session fundraising ban

Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, speaks at a rally at the Capitol on May 16, 2016. He reported raising the most money during the end of the legislative session this year.
Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, speaks at a rally at the Capitol on May 16, 2016. He reported raising the most money during the end of the legislative session this year. The Associated Press

Without an end-of-session fundraising ban for the first time in three years, state senators collected at least $345,900 from lobbyist employers and their political action committees during lawmakers’ last month at the Capitol, according to state campaign finance filings.

The total is almost certainly higher: Most lawmakers in the 40-member house will not have to disclose their fundraising for the period until January. These figures encompass 10 senators running for re-election in November – who were required to report donations within 24 hours, starting 90 days before the election on Aug. 10 – and seven others who received contributions larger than $5,000, which must be reported within 10 days.

For the past two years, senators have not been allowed to raise money from lobbyist employers during final budget negotiations or the last month of session, when they are typically voting on hundreds of bills that affect the wealthy interests who fund their campaigns.

The self-imposed blackout period was implemented in early 2014, following a tumultuous period in which two senators were indicted on federal charges of taking bribes and a prominent Sacramento lobbyist received a record fine for hosting fundraisers at his home that exceeded state spending limits. But a broader bill that would have encompassed the entire Legislature fell short.

In May, with at least one vulnerable Democrat facing a serious re-election challenge, the Senate voted to reverse the rule. At the time, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said it was unfair to “force our members to unilaterally disarm and play by a different set of rules” than the Assembly, which does not have a similar policy in place, and special interest groups, who are “threatening to drown out the candidates themselves” with “unprecedented millions of dollars pouring into our political system.”

Senate Democrats were particularly anxious about the prospects for Sen. Jim Beall, who is fighting off a challenge from Assemblywoman Nora Campos, a fellow San Jose Democrat that has received substantial backing from oil companies. Beall reported raising at least $47,800 during the end of session, 41 percent of that from lobbyist employers including the California Association of Highway Patrolmen and Caterpillar. It also included $12,400 from three Senate colleagues.

At the top of the list is Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, who raised at least $71,400 during the end of session. Ninety-two percent of that came from lobbyist employers, such as the California State Pipes Trade Council, the California Construction and Industrial Materials Association, and the California Cannabis Industry Association.

Lara faces an easy re-election this fall in a district where he won nearly 100 percent of the primary vote. But his chairmanship of the influential Senate Appropriations Committee, through which every bill passes on the way to a floor vote, brings tremendous clout.

Following Lara were Sens. Cathleen Galgiani, who reported $68,794 worth of contributions in August, and Richard Roth, who reported $51,300. Both Galgiani, of Manteca, and Roth, of Riverside, are moderate Democrats seeking to hold onto swing districts.

While about 91 percent of Roth’s donations came from lobbyist employers such as the California Association of Realtors and the electrical workers union, only 38 percent of Galgiani’s did. In the last three weeks of August, she received nearly $37,000 from the California Democratic Party.

Of 11 senators up for re-election this fall, only Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, reported no contributions in August. Among those members not on the ballot, de León reported raising by far the largest amount: $47,500.

None of de León’s sum comes from lobbyist employers. (Those contributions are generally smaller than the $5,000 disclosure threshold – an average of $2,023 for those reported in August.) But it did include $28,000 in donations from director Steven Spielberg and wife, Kate Capshaw, and his DreamWorks Pictures co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and wife Marilyn Katzenberg.

Jim Miller of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff