In summary

Charity starts at home for one assemblyman. Sexual abuse suits lead to Boy Scouts bankruptcy. Sanders pulls ahead in California primary poll.

Good morning, California.

“The penalty is on the books, but no one wants that money. We want that to be the economic nudge to get people covered.”—Peter Lee, head of Covered California, to The L.A. Times’ Melody Gutierrez. 

  • Lee announced that California is easing its individual mandate, the penalty Californians would pay if they fail to purchase health insurance.

Charity begins at home

Assemblyman Rob Bonta

The Bonta California Progress Foundation, created by Democratic Assemblyman Rob Bonta of Alameda in 2017, is one of a growing number of nonprofits launched by California state lawmakers in the past decade. 

One of its first acts of charity in 2018: a $25,000 loan to a children’s literacy group run by his wife. 

It was one instance of many over the past six years in which the assemblyman helped raise a total of $588,000 for the charities that have employed Mialisa Bonta, a member of the Alameda school board who has led nonprofits serving needy children in the East Bay, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports.

  • Most of the money has come from donors who gave at the assemblyman’s behest.
  • Some of it came from Bonta’s campaign accounts and a nonprofit he founded in 2017.

Remind me: As Rosenhall reported on Tuesday, politicians can use nonprofits to raise and spend money outside the limits of campaign finance law.

Assemblyman Bonta’s actions are legal, according to experts on federal tax law and California’s political ethics law. But governmental watchdogs and the state law’s author say they also reveal a regulatory gap that invites conflicts of interest.

  • Rob Bonta: “We’re working on areas of shared passion, in my district, with my constituents. So they’re perfect opportunities to partner and support one another with the common goal of helping the same communities and folks that we care about.”

Bonta, 47, is a Yale-educated lawyer who was first elected to the Assembly in 2012 in a safely Democratic seat. A prodigious fundraiser, Bonta had $2.4 million in his Assembly campaign bank account as of January.

To read Rosenhall’s story, please click here.

PG&E’s future

Marybel Batjer

California’s top utility regulator on Tuesday presented a plan that could open the way for California to place PG&E in a receivership, if the utility fails to follow safety steps, CalMatters’ Judy Lin tells us.

Marybel Batjer, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, laid out a six-step framework for enhanced oversight of PG&E as the state’s largest utility emerges from bankruptcy.

Under her proposed ruling, the state could appoint a receiver to take control of PG&E’s business operations if:

  • PG&E’s equipment sparks a destructive blaze.
  • PG&E fails to minimize blackouts or hides other safety issues.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who appointed Batjer, has threatened PG&E with a takeover if his demands for governance and safety improvements aren’t met. Tuesday was the first time state regulators detailed additional oversight.

PG&E has proposed plans for high-level safety officers, board changes and better regional management. But Batjer also wants the ability to adjust earnings and cut executive pay if the company is responsible for any criminal acts.

  • PG&E’s statement: “We welcome President Batjer’s input regarding our plan for emerging from Chapter 11 and building a re-imagined PG&E.”

PG&E can’t ignore Batjer. She must sign off on the utility’s reorganization plan, which hinges on its ability to tap a $20 billion state fund to cover future wildfire liabilities. In the extreme, the public utilities commission could revoke PG&E’s license. 

Boy Scouts bankruptcy

Photo illustration

The Boy Scouts of America has filed for bankruptcy protection as former Scouts’ legal claims of past sexual abuse mount.

The L.A. Times

  • “The Scouts’ Chapter 11 petition, filed in Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, comes amid declining membership and a wave of new sex-abuse lawsuits after several states, including California, New York and New Jersey, recently expanded legal options for childhood victims to sue.”

The L.A. Times’ role: 

  • “Many of the lawsuits followed the Los Angeles Times’ publication in 2012 of internal Scout records involving about 5,000 men on a blacklist known as the ‘perversion files,’ a closely guarded trove of documents that details sexual abuse allegations against troop leaders and others dating back a century.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom last year signed legislation opening the way for suits by victims as old as 40 against organizations such as the Boy Scouts, and public schools. Gov. Jerry Brown had vetoed similar measures.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the San Diego Democrat who authored the legislation:

  • “I have a lot of sympathy for the survivors. And for kids who want to participate in Boy Scouts. The organization failed children.”

John Norwood, who lobbied against the legislation and whose clients include the Catholic Conference and insurance companies, said of the bankruptcy:

  • “It was bound to happen as the statute is so wide open. Wait until school districts are forced into state control due to insufficient funds to pay for these claims.”

Sanders rises. So does Bloomberg

Sen. Bernie Sanders in Richmond, on Monday

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has widened his lead in California and is favored by 32% of likely voters in the state’s March 3 primary, with other candidates all bunched as distant also-rans, a new Public Policy Institute of California poll shows.

Former Vice President Joe Biden had the support of 14% of likely voters, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 13%, and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 12% each.

In January, Sanders was supported by 27% of likely voters, to Biden’s 24% and Warren’s 23%. 

  • Bloomberg was at 1% a month ago. The billionaire’s rise illustrates the power of the millions he is spending to boost his candidacy.
  • The latest poll shows Sanders doing especially well among men, Latinos and younger voters.
  • California only is in play in March. President Donald Trump remains unpopular in California and virtually certain to lose here, no matter the Democratic nominee.

On Super Tuesday, March 3, voters in 14 states plus American Samoa will allocate 1,357 pledged Democratic delegates. California accounts for the largest share, 415.

Presidential candidates on housing

Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Photo by Mercury News

Housing has become a major issue in the Democratic presidential primary.

In the latest episode of “Gimme Shelter: The California Housing Crisis Podcast,” CalMatters’ Matt Levin and The L.A. Times’ Liam Dillon break down the housing plans of the major presidential candidates and give the first Gimme Awards.

  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders picked up most tenant-friendly housing plan.
  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren won most detailed housing plan.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden won the Gimme for most non-existent housing plan among the Democratic candidates. 

To hear other awards, and more, please click here.

A personal note

I am stepping aside as editor and writer of WhatMatters, and handing it off to a new hand, Emily Hoeven, who will take over starting March 9.

I have been privileged to have started WhatMatters and, with the help of a great CalMatters team, built it to what it is during the past two years. 

Thank you for letting me be part of your mornings, and please welcome Emily Hoeven.

CalMatters editor Dave Lesher describes Emily well: 

  • “She is passionate about this job and very excited to be working at CalMatters. … Emily has plenty of skill and personality to make a great WhatMatters 2.0.”

Emily is a 2017 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, lived for a year in France, and has been working at Recode Live. You’ll start seeing her around the Capitol soon.

As for me: I have been writing stories for 44 years, and intend to continue to do that, though at my own pace. More about that to come.

Commentary at Calmatters

Dan Dunmoyer, California Building Industry Association: California legislators can take four easy steps to help ease the housing crisis, and four more difficult steps. They offer California a clear way forward. Let’s get to work building Housing for All California. 

Dan Walters, CalMatters: Does moving California’s presidential primary election to March make the state more relevant? Not so far.

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See you tomorrow.

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Dan Morain joined CalMatters in March 2018. He is the former editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee. Morain also spent 27 years at The Los Angeles Times, and has covered the Capitol since 1992.