Gov. Gavin Newsom likely won’t be on the ballot again until 2022, but since August, his reelection campaign has seen a significant boost.
The timing coincides with high profile fights between Newsom and President Donald Trump over everything from homelessness to fuel emissions standards, which Newsom’s campaign has touted in fundraising emails. During the same time frame, Newsom and lawmakers were also busy negotiating final deals on key legislation ranging from new employment rules to recycling regulations.
Newsom has brought in about $1.8 million since he took office. More than 25 donors have given at least $30,000, including real estate executives, Native American tribes and corporations like Coca-Cola and Facebook.
About $1.1 million came in from August through mid-October. Because of financial reporting rules, totals from those months only include donations of at least $5,000, which means any small-dollar donors aren’t captured in the disclosure reports for those months.
During that time, Newsom’s sent several fundraising emails to supporters highlighting his ongoing opposition to Trump administration policies.
“California trumped Trump and he can’t stand it,” Newsom wrote in one September email soliciting donations. “No matter how many attacks come from this Administration on California, we will always defend our values – no matter what.”
Dan Newman, a political strategist working on Newsom’s campaign, noted that the governor’s opposition to Trump is a key factor influencing his core supporters to donate.
“They want to make sure that he can keep doing the good work of advancing the California agenda,” Newman said.
Most people and companies who contributed to Newsom’s campaign in the months leading up to his deadline to act on legislation also reported lobbying on bills and issues before state agencies this year, according to campaign finance and lobbying reports.
Dan Schnur, a former chair of the state’s campaign watchdog commission, said he wasn’t surprised Newsom saw a fundraising bump during that period.
“The end of the legislative session and the bill-signing period are the most lucrative fundraising periods for any governor,” Schnur said. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s not unusual.”
That’s true for both Democratic and Republican governors, and for lawmakers, too, Schnur said. At one point, former Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León successfully led a push to ban senators from fundraising during the end of the legislative session. He and fellow senators ultimately reversed that decision because he said the ban was giving political rivals an advantage.
Newman said fundraising usually picks up when summer ends, and that donations always fluctuate throughout the year.
“There’s just a natural ebb and flow,” he said, noting that the next round of full campaign disclosure reports will reveal that many of Newsom’s recent donors are small-dollar contributors. “He’s always been funded largely by grassroots Californians.”
Newsom reported 44 donors between August, the last full month the Legislature was in session for the year, and Oct. 13, his last day to sign or veto legislation. At least 24 are registered as lobbyist employers or working in leadership positions at organizations lobbying the state.
For example, Reach Air Medical Services, which operates ambulance helicopters and planes, donated $31,000 to the Newsom campaign two months before he signed a bill, AB 651, to fund those services. The company reported spending $82,750 lobbying on the issue at the Capitol this year.
Other top donors who were simultaneously lobbying on bills Newsom ultimately acted on include the California Pharmacists Association and Airbnb.
It’s not surprising that powerful business and interest groups are donating to Newsom. Many, like investment bank Citigroup and the California Restaurant Association, are perennial donors to major California campaigns.
Other donors are less prominent contributors to state political campaigns, such as four administrators at a for-profit medical school in Elk Grove who each donated to Newsom within a span of a few days. The donations came as the school, California Northstate University, was lobbying on several bills to regulate private colleges. The administrators aren’t registered with the state as major political donors, indicating they don’t donate often enough to reach that threshold.
Alvin Cheung, the president of California Northstate University who contributed $10,000, said in an email that he’s just a citizen participating in the democratic process.
Schnur has been a vocal critic of fundraising during critical lawmaking periods because he said it signals to voters that lawmakers may be influenced by the donations, even if they aren’t.
“He’s not going to change his mind about a bill because he received a large campaign donation,” Schnur said of Newsom. “But the donors wouldn’t make such an extra effort to write those checks during the bill-signing period if they didn’t think there was some benefit.”