Michael Bloomberg, the latest Democratic presidential candidate

In summary

Legislative nonprofits test campaign finance law. Bloomberg makes a play for California. Why some sex offenders are eligible for early parole.

Good morning, California.

“That the Assembly apologizes to all Americans of Japanese ancestry for its past actions in support of the unjust exclusion, removal, and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and for its failure to support and defend the civil rights and civil liberties of Japanese Americans during this period.”—An Assembly resolution, authored by Torrance Democrat Al Muratsuchi, to be voted on this Thursday. 

  • On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 9066, opening the way for the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans.

Pols, charity and steak dinners

Illustration by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters. Elements via iStock

Steak dinners with lobbyists, overseas trips, favors for spouses: Nonprofits set up by California legislators and their staffers are testing campaign finance laws even as they underwrite good works by elected officials.

Lawmakers have developed a monetary backchannel during the past decade: nonprofits run by legislators and their staff, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports. 

Largely funded by corporations and unions with business before the Legislature, the nonprofits are subject to less scrutiny and disclosure than political campaigns. 

Donors can give unlimited sums to the nonprofits, and get a tax break for giving to charity. Politicians who oversee them accept donations from a variety of sources, including oil and tobacco companies shunned by some Democrats and the state party.

  • Rick Hasen, UC Irvine law professor: “This gives a donor some potential extra influence that they couldn’t buy through a campaign contribution.” 

Lawmakers’ nonprofits underwrite charitable work like scholarships and cultural celebrations, and let public officials advance causes they care about without tapping taxpayer money. But they’re also greasing the machinery of power—paying for steak dinners with lobbyists, overseas trips for staffers, and favors for spouses. 

And they’re on the rise:

  • Then: In 2010, two predominant nonprofits were affiliated with California lawmakers—one each for the black and Latino caucuses.
  • Now: At least a dozen nonprofits have ties to lawmakers.

To read the first part in Rosenhall’s series exploring lawmakers’ growing affection for sweet charity, please click here. And check back later this week for more.

Bloomberg’s California play

Bloomberg adviser Tim O’Brien

Michael Bloomberg’s senior adviser, Timothy O’Brien, is spending a week in California, seeking endorsements and making clear the billionaire intends to do well in the March 3 Democratic presidential primary.

O’Brien wrote “Trump Nation, The Art of being The Donald,” a 2005 book that questioned whether Trump was a billionaire, became executive editor of Bloomberg View, and now is a main surrogate for Bloomberg’s presidential run.

Over lunch at Brasserie Capitale Monday in Sacramento, O’Brien didn’t say Bloomberg, who qualified for Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas, would win in California on March 3.

But Bloomberg is spending huge sums in the state. He also restated Bloomberg’s promise: Whether or not he is the Democratic nominee, the billionaire intends to use his money to defeat Trump in November.

Bloomberg’s pledge extends to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, even as Sanders attacked Bloomberg, and Bloomberg answered with an ad denouncing Sanders’ supporters’ bullying tactics.

  • O’Brien: “It’s time to put civility back into politics.” 
  • With a caveat: “We’re not going to be nice to Trump.”

O’Brien cited Bloomberg’s positions that might play well in California: fighting climate change, and supporting abortion rights and gun control.

  • Bloomberg has spent huge sums in support of gun control.
  • Sanders voted against background checks, and for 2004 legislation that exempts firearms manufacturers for liability, which precludes suits by family members of victims of mass shootings. 
  • O’Brien: “If [Sanders] really cares about life or vulnerable communities of color, he would be less cavalier about gun violence. … We intend to go after gun manufacturers vigorously.”

Sanders since has said such votes were wrong.

‘Nonviolent’ sex offenders

Photo via Thinkstock

Perhaps fueling a November crime initiative, a California Court of Appeal has ruled that prisoners convicted of certain sex crimes must be considered for early parole under a voter-approved 2016 initiative.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports thousands of inmates could become eligible for early parole—though a Parole Board need not grant parole simply because someone is eligible.

Remind me: Gov. Jerry Brown promoted Proposition 57 to provide hope of early parole for prisoners convicted of nonviolent offenses who improved themselves by getting an education and learning skills behind bars. Voters overwhelmingly approved it.

The question: What is nonviolent?

Rape is, of course, considered violent. But many serious sex crimes are not considered violent: incest, possessing child pornography, pimping children under 16, among others.

California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sought to exclude from consideration for early parole felons who must register as sex offenders upon their release, contending they are likely to reoffend.

The three-justice appellate court panel disagreed, saying Proposition 57 doesn’t authorize prison officials to “exclude classes of nonviolent offenders on the basis of their likelihood of recidivism or any other public safety consideration.”

Jeff Flint is campaign manager of the November initiative that would roll back parts of recent initiatives and laws that softened sentences. It’s backed by crime victims and some prosecutors.

  • Flint: “This court decision is exactly why the Keep California Safe initiative is needed. Proposition 57 was a poorly drafted measure with loopholes so wide even so-called ‘non-violent’ sex offenders are eligible for early release from prison.”

Caring for developmentally disabled

Frank Lanterman

Taxpayers will spend $9.2 billion on the Department of Development Services in 2020-21, under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed budget—double the $4.6 billion California spent in 2010-11.

Why: California is the only state that guarantees care for people with developmental disabilities. The Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act, authored in 1969 by Assemblyman Frank Lanterman, a Republican from La Cañada Flintridge, provides such individuals with an entitlement, stating:

  • “The State of California accepts a responsibility for persons with developmental disabilities and an obligation to them which it must discharge. …
  • “An array of services and supports should be established which is sufficiently complete to meet the needs and choices of each person with developmental disabilities, regardless of age or degree of disability, and at each stage of life, and to support their integration into the mainstream life of the community.” 

The department will serve 369,000 individuals in the coming year, up from 244,108 in 2011-12. A major driver is the increasing number of people with autism.

The Legislative Analyst reported last February “the number of consumers with autism has increased an average of 10.1 percent annually. Consumers with autism are now one of every three DDS consumers.”

Lanterman, who died in 1981, carried other far-reaching legislation during his 28 years in office, including: 

The Lanterman-Petris Short Act, a 1967 law limiting government’s authority to compel treatment for people with mental illness. People with severe mental illness are not entitled to care, unlike people who are developmentally disabled .

Chinook in the San Joaquin

A Chinook salmon returns from the Pacific to spawn. (Photo from California Sea Grant/Flickr)

Experts hoping to reintroduce spring-run Chinook salmon to the San Joaquin River achieved a measure of success last spring when they counted 209 redds, also known as nests where female salmon deposit their eggs. 

Writer Lois Henry of the nonprofit SJV Water, a go-to source for water reportage, places the issue in context:

  • The 209 redds suggest 500-plus salmon made the journey. Fry that survive the journey back to the ocean will return to spawn in three years. 
  • The feds’ restoration effort has cost is $250 million so far, and will cost another $600 million to complete. 
  • The hatchery-raised salmon used for the reintroduction were fall-run salmon, not spring-run Chinook.

The Friant Dam completed in 1942 destroyed San Joaquin River salmon runs. The Natural Resources Defense Council sued to force the restoration in 1988. 

That led to a 2006 settlement, a 2009 congressional act authorizing the work, and, three decades later, about 500 fish.

Take a number: 94027

Atherton (Photo by Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

In Atherton, ZIP code 94027, residemts’ average net worth is $6.5 million. Across Middlefield Road, in Redwood City, the average net worth is $60,000. It’s part of the California Divide, as told by The Mercury News’ Erica Hellerstein in this tale of two ZIP codes

To read other installments in the California Divide collaboration, please click here.

The week ahead

Gov. Gavin Newsom.
  • Gov. Gavin Newsom will deliver his second State of the State Speech on Wednesday. I will be listening for what he says about homelessness and mental health care, and to see whether he pokes at President Donald Trump, as he did last year. Trump reacted to that jab by withdrawing almost $1 billion in high-speed rail funding.
  • President Trump is running against California, but he does like Californians’ money. He will be in California today and Wednesday for fundraisers. Trump’s hosts include Oracle founder Larry Ellison, at his Porcupine Creek estate and private golf course in Rancho Mirage. The Desert Sun has details.
  • The deadline for legislators to introduce 2020 bills is Friday. Capitol lobbyist Chris Micheli counts 753 bills introduced so far, including 506 by assembly members and 247 by senators.

Commentary at CalMatters

Jill Escher, mother of a young man and teenage girl with nonverbal forms of autism: California’s autism rates continue to surge, with no plateau in sight. Schools can’t keep up with demand. Emergency rooms and police departments are reeling from increasingly frequent crisis cases. Families are desperate for support and solutions. California policymakers must focus on the issue.

Andrea Golloher, San Jose State University: California policymakers must strive to ensure that members of the early childhood workforce earn a worthy wage, have incentives to expand infant and toddler care, and receive the necessary support for quality improvement and training to meet the needs of each and every child, from the start.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: In his second budget, Gov. Gavin Newsom is spending more and saving less—an approach that the Legislature’s budget expert says could leave the state less able to stave off a recession’s impacts.

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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.