Capitol Alert

California watchdog agency urges veto of behesting bill

Fair Political Practices Commission chair Jodi Remke on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014 in Sacramento, Calif.
Fair Political Practices Commission chair Jodi Remke on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014 in Sacramento, Calif.

California's political money watchdog is pressing Gov. Jerry Brown to veto legislation that would limit when elected officials need to disclose influencing so-called "behested" payments.

Officials must disclose when they successfully encourage an organization to make a payment to another entity – for example, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson incurred a penalty a few years ago for not revealing that he convinced private businesses to donate to multiple nonprofits.

Compelling those types of statements makes sense, according to Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova. His Assembly Bill 1544 would preserve the rule for behested payments from private groups but would say officials do not need to file disclosures when they lobby the government to make a payment. Getting money from a government agency to a local group is simply part of an elected representative’s job, Cooley argued.

From January through June, lawmakers reported $28 million dollars in behested payments, including millions of dollars from public agencies to businesses or non-profits, in the form of grants and business-incentive awards.

“I feel the bill is very narrowly tailored,” Cooley said of his measure. “These statutes all arose because someone might be trying to curry favor – if I ask someone to make a gift for me or a contribution for me – but I don’t think that applies when someone is speaking to a public agency on behalf of their programs.”

But the Fair Political Practices Commission has come out against the bill, which cruised through the Legislature and now awaits Brown’s decision.

Seeking a government grant for, say, a local school district does not require sunlight, agency officials say. They say the issue lies in grants made to nonprofit or for-profit agencies – for example, grants from the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development to local businesses – that account for some of the $15 million in annual reported requests lawmakers make to government agencies.

“This bill would roll back current law and lessen transparency,” argues a letter from FPPC chair Jody Remke to Brown. “Disclosure is vital because it helps to identify actual or perceived influence individuals may have over elected officials.”

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert