Don’t dare call it a fundraiser; it’s a heartfelt thanks

The flier for the event that is not a fundraiser, even if it money was raised.
The flier for the event that is not a fundraiser, even if it money was raised.

Illustrating once again that “political reform” is an elusive concept, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation at the end of September prohibiting lobbyists from hosting fundraisers at their homes.

And in 2006, the Legislature approved a bill to amend the California Political Reform Act limiting the fundraising by elected officials who are done running for office, such as Brown, presumably.

Here we are in mid-November, and Brown was to be the featured attraction at an event apparently convened by a lobbying firm on Monday evening. The invitation, first disclosed by the Los Angeles Times, reads: “Suggested contribution: $5,000,” with checks to be made out to the 2014 Brown for governor campaign. It promises a “private reception and sit down conversation” with the governor.

An inquiring, if uninitiated, reader might wonder why the governor, who is not running for another office, would attend the event. One answer might be that politicians and their consultants and lawyers write the rules and they interpret them.

A campaign aide to Brown contended the governor is not violating the ban on fundraising by people not running for office because the event is not a fundraiser. It is, rather, a thank-you for support provided by the guests during the 2014 campaign. Since we don’t interpret the law, we’ll call it a thank-you.

Reacting to indictments and fines against lobbyists, legislators earlier this year introduced several bills to “reform” this town. Most died ignominiously before they reached Brown’s desk. One that survived was Sen. Ricardo Lara’s Senate Bill 1441, which bars lobbyists from hosting fundraisers at their homes.

The Los Angeles Democrat introduced the bill after the Fair Political Practices Commission fined lobbyist Kevin Sloat $133,500 for hosting fundraisers at his Sacramento home. By providing a venue, Sloat was contributing to their campaigns, violating the state law that bars lobbyists from donating to state candidates.

Lobbyists can no longer hold fundraisers, or thank-yous, at their homes. But nothing prohibits them from convening a thank-you at restaurants. And so Monday’s thank-you was being held at Mulvaney’s B&L Next Door, a fine establishment to be sure.

The guest list includes five principals from Capitol Advocacy, plus representatives of 20 companies and trade groups that use Capitol Advocacy’s services.

Some clients include SolarCity, Pepsi and the alcohol company Diageo. Others include insurance companies, Jack in the Box, T-Mobile, Fox Entertainment Group, a private prison company and the California Association of Health Facilities, a trade group for nursing homes. To keep it on the up and up, clients, presumably, and not Capitol Advocacy, will pick up the tab for expenses related to the event.

In the 2013-14 election cycle, Capitol Advocacy clients on the invitation list donated almost $320,000 to Brown for his campaigns for governor and for Propositions 1 and 2, the water bond and the budget measure, campaign finance reports show. Thank you very much.

There are distinctions between the Monday thank-you and a fundraiser. But there is not much difference. Nor have politicians reformed much of anything, despite claims to the contrary.