Political Notebook

Data Tracker: California lawmakers – even senators – took campaign cash at session’s hectic finish

California’s campaign finance disclosure calendar means the public only now is getting a look at elected officials’ fundraising and spending during the second half of 2015.

That includes the hectic final weeks of last year’s session, a key time on the legislative calendar when lawmakers rushed to consider hundreds of bills before leaving town for the year on Sept. 11.

Lawmakers raised more than $2.5 million during that four-week window.

Members of the Assembly collected almost all of that. The Senate, meanwhile, has tough restrictions on end-of-session fundraising from special interests that employ Capitol lobbyists, yet senators continue to be tripped up by the rule.

Senators adopted the fundraising blackout two years ago after federal corruption charges against two then-state senators and the voter fraud conviction of a third. Later that year, several lawmakers returned money received in violation of the rule.

Last week’s filings also show that senators received contributions from lobbyist employers within the blackout period that began Aug. 17. State Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado Hills, said he did not know that Charter Communications Inc. employed a lobbyist and that he would refund an Aug. 25 contribution of $2,000. State Sen. Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, who received $1,000 from Charter on Aug. 21, said he will consult with Senate administrators about whether he should return the money.

In a few of the cases, the donations apparently arrived earlier in the summer but senators’ campaigns delayed depositing them until after the blackout period started. That complies with the Senate rule, said state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, whose 2018 campaign for lieutenant governor reported a $4,500 donation from California Professional Firefighters on Aug. 17. The organization reported cutting the check on Aug. 6. Leno’s filing included a memo that the campaign received it Aug. 10.

The Senate campaign of state Sen. Isadore Hall, D-Compton, reported a total of $4,000 in donations from KPMG LLP, Tracfone and General Motors – all of which employ Capitol lobbyists – on Aug. 17. A Hall spokesman said the campaign received the money Aug. 10.

Secretary of the Senate Danny Alvarez said donations received before the blackout period comply with the Senate rule, adding, “We continue to work with campaign treasurers to insure compliance with (Senate Rule) 56.”

The senator collecting the most last summer was state Sen. Bob Huff, R-San Dimas, who raised about $52,000 for his campaign for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. None of the donors appeared to employ Capitol lobbyists.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, raised almost $144,000, the most of any lawmaker. Of that, donors gave about $63,000 to Atkins’ campaign for state Senate, and another $81,000 went to her “California Works” ballot measure committee, which is not covered by voter-approved contribution limits.

The second-largest recipient of end-of-session money was Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, who leads the lower house’s influential appropriations committee.

The $90,000 in donations to senators represented less than 7 percent of senators’ end-of-session fundraising total in 2013, when lawmakers in both houses collectively received almost $4.3 million.

Senators’ campaign committees reported receiving almost $286,000 during the first week following the blackout.

Alexei Koseff of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.

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