The San Diego Union Tribune, in conjunction with the Center for Investigative Reporting, ran a report Thursday morning that makes a strong case that Democratic Assembly Speaker John Pérez rewarded his Democratic colleagues who raised the most money for other Democratic campaigns with top leadership posts in the Assembly.
The report is based on memos that Speaker Pérez sent to Democratic colleagues in the Assembly during the 2012 campaign cycle.
The practice is not illegal, but, as the Union Tribune points out, serves as a stark reminder of the role that fundraising prowess, instead of policy clout, plays in Sacramento, “despite efforts to break this cycle.”
It’s also a blaring sign of the difficulties of removing entrenched political parties from leadership once they can use the power of incumbency to keep themselves in power.
(Read the full report from the Center for Investigative Reporting here.)
Pérez asked each of the Assembly’s 52 Democratic lawmakers to raise a total of $127,900, which would subsequently be divided between five targeted primary races, six targeted general election races, the state Democratic party, and the campaign for Gov. Brown’s tax hike measure.
Instead of asking them to make the campaign contributions themselves, Pérez wrote in the memos that all of the money should be sent to the Assembly Democrats office for “proper tracking.” (Read the memo here.)
Despite strict campaign finance laws in California designed to limit the flow of money into state legislative races, the Speaker, as the Center for Investigative Journalism points, out, developed “a strategy to sidestep the $3,900 donation cap and direct millions in contributions to key campaigns.”
In effect, Pérez was exploiting a loophole and avoiding the caps by asking his colleagues to donate more than $100,000 that, whether donated directly to the targeted candidates or to the state party, would wind up benefiting Democratic candidates in state legislative races.
Republicans lost in all the races the Speaker targeted.
There may have been a reason the Speaker’s office demanded that the Democrats contributions be sent to the Sacramento Democrats office, instead of directly to the candidates, for “proper tracking.” The same report shows that “those who gave the most money reaped larger benefits.”
According to that report, “lawmakers who gave more than $150,000 were likely to get multiple important posts. All 18 got one juice committee seat, and 16 got a leadership post, chairmanship of a juice committee or a seat on a second juice committee.”
Beneficiaries included Democrats Toni Atkins, Henry Perea, Roger Hernández, Mike Gatto, and Chris Holden.
If you didn’t pay up to the Democratic campaign machine, the benefits were far less lucrative, if not non-existent.
For lawmakers who steered less than $150,000 to the speaker, prospects were leaner, the analysis shows. From the report:
“Eighteen lawmakers gave between $40,000 and $150,000. Of those, two were named to leadership positions, and one became chairman of a juice committee. Prospects were poorest for lawmakers who gave less than $40,000. None of this group of 18 lawmakers was named to head a juice committee, and two were named to leadership posts.”
It’s not illegal, but it certainly is a revealing look at how the California Democratic Party can push its members into flooding the zone with campaign cash.
“Giving contributions to earn yourself a chair or a seat on a powerful committee is not how voters would like to see governing taking place,” said Phillip Ung, an advocate for Common Cause, which pushes for political reform. “When voters see someone is chair of a committee, their expectation is that person is there because that person is a policy expert, not because they bought that chair.”