Like a bullhorn, hundreds of millions of campaign dollars are amplifying the message from key industries to California voters.

In summary

Legislative nonprofits shrouded in secrecy. Oil and gas interests look to reshape legislature. Former FPPC chair gets new perspective on campaign finance.

Good morning, California.

“We are completely compliant with the law.”—Assemblyman Evan Low, Campbell Democrat, to CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall, on why a nonprofit linked to him refuses to disclose its donors.

Money flows behind closed doors

A sign outside a closed two-day policy “summit” for lawmakers and the tech industry

Not long ago, more than a dozen legislators spent two days meeting with tech lobbyists and executives behind closed doors at a Silicon Valley Marriott, CalMatters’ Laurel Rosenhall reports in Part 3 of her series on lawmakers’ use of nonprofits.

Rosenhall’s series focuses on issues that define Sacramento: 

  • Legislators are forever seeking new ways to raise money. 
  • Monied interests are looking for access to legislators whose votes can affect their businesses.

In this installment, Rosenhall focuses on a nonprofit called the Foundation for California’s Technology and Innovation Economy, which put on the “Technology Policy Summit” at the Marriott in Cupertino. 

The foundation is affiliated with the Legislature’s tech caucus, a bipartisan group of three dozen lawmakers led by Democratic Assemblyman Evan Low of Campbell. Three people with close ties to Low oversee the foundation.

At the Marriott, the agenda included issues dear to the tech executives: 

  • Power outages, wireless phone service during emergencies, and the evolution of labor laws in the gig economy. 

Price to participate, and get significant facetime with legislators: $10,000 to $50,000.

Who paid? That’s a secret.

The foundation is one of several charitable organizations that lawmakers and their aides have formed in the past decade. Those nonprofits generally disclose their donors publicly.

But not the Foundation for California’s Technology and Innovation Economy. Its lawyer says it’s all legal. But the choice highlights the potential for secrecy in the growing niche of nonprofits run by elected officials.

To read Rosenhall’s latest story, please click here.

Seeking to shape the Legislature

The oil industry is backing moderate Democrats. (Photo illustration)

Oil and gas interests are spending upward of $3.7 million in legislative primary races to help business-friendly Democrats secure spots in California’s top-two system, CalMatters’ Ben Christopher reports.

Why: California’s Legislature will be in Democratic hands for years to come. The oil industry’s goal is to help elect moderate Democrats who will oppose legislative efforts to further restrict companies’ ability to drill and refine petroleum.

The most costly race to date is the one to replace Assemblyman Ian Calderon, Whittier Democrat. 

  • Oil and business interests are spending $1.16 million on an independent campaign to elect Democrat Sylvia Rubio, the sister of Sen. Susan Rubio and Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio.
  • Labor led by public employee unions have countered by spending $615,000 and counting to elect Rubio’s opponent, Lisa Calderon. Calderon is Ian’s stepmother and wife of former legislator Chuck Calderon.

Similar dynamics are playing out in races to replace Sen. Jim Beall, San Jose Democrat, and Democratic Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, whose district runs from Stockton to Modesto. 

Oil, like labor and other interests, understand that effective lobbying begins on the campaign trail. They seek to elect candidates who will be open to their views when legislative battles inevitably break out.

To read Christopher’s report, please click here.

Outsized influence of money

Ann Ravel as Fair Political Practices Commission chair (Photo Mercury News)

Ann Ravel knew all about campaign money, or she thought she did.

As Fair Political Practices Commission chairwoman appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown, Ravel led an investigation into the network of donors organized by conservative industrialists Charles Koch and his late brother, David, resulted in a $1 million fine.

As Federal Election Commission chairwoman appointed by President Barack Obama, Ravel raised early alarms about the political influence of an unregulated internet and of involvement of foreign donors.

Then Ravel, a Democrat, decided to run for a seat held by outgoing Sen. Jim Beall, a San Jose Democrat. 

Ravel has raised about $250,000. That’s a fraction of the sums raised by her two main Democratic opponents in the March 3 primary, and spent by outside groups to elect them.

  • Businesses led by the oil industry have spent $1.16 million on an independent campaign to help elect Nora Campos, a former Democratic assemblywoman.  
  • Organized labor has spent $454,000 on an independent campaign for Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese. Separately, Cortese has amassed $967,000 in his own campaign account.
  • One outside group of liberal women has spent $2,145 in an independent effort to elect Ravel.

What has candidate Ravel learned about campaign money that regulator Ravel didn’t know?

  • “Money has an even more outsized influence on campaigns in California than I previously understood. … 

Donors don’t necessarily judge whether a candidate is viable based on “competence or policy or brains.”

  • “People think viability is solely related to money, how much you’ve raised and how much you have.”

A cost of failing schools

The state must improve literacy in 75 elementary schools. (Photo via iStock)

California is paying $50 million to settle a lawsuit accusing the state of failing to provide low-income students with equal access to literacy instruction, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano reports.

The state must spend the $50 million to improve literacy in 75 elementary schools with the highest concentration of third graders scoring in the bottom tier of the state’s standardized reading exam.

Plaintiffs in Ella T. v. State of California are current and former students of three elementary schools with low reading proficiency: La Salle Avenue Elementary in L.A. Unified School District; Van Buren Elementary in Stockton; and Children of Promise Preparatory Academy in Inglewood.

Defendants: The California Department of Education and State Board of Education. 

Mark Rosenbaum, Public Counsel’s lead attorney:

  • “We brought this case because achievement of literacy for all children remains the single most urgent crisis in California today. This settlement is a milestone in that struggle. It is not the endpoint, nor was it ever intended to be.”

Vicky Waters, spokeswoman for Gov. Gavin Newsom: 

  • “California is committed to closing opportunity gaps by directing extra support and resources to school districts and schools that serve students who need extra help.” 

About 51% of California students read at grade level, but yawning racial and ethnic gaps remain.

At the time the complaint was filed, 3% of third graders at La Salle were proficient in reading, 7% at Van Buren, and 10% at the Children of Promise charter.

To read Cano’s report, please click here.

A cost of homeless camps

A homeless encampment in Santa Cruz (Photo by Dan Coyro/Santa Cruz Sentinel)

The Sacramento Bee: “Caltrans has agreed to pay $5.5 million to settle a lawsuit in which the department was accused of violating the constitutional rights of homeless people in Alameda County by seizing their belongings during camp cleanups.”

The state will compensate the homeless people $5,500 each for their property and adopt new procedures for clearing homeless camps.

Attorney Osha Neumann, of the East Bay Community Law Center representing the plaintiffs: 

  • “The people are considered garbage and their property has been considered garbage, and that’s not OK. This says they have the same constitutional protections as anyone else.”

Of the $5.5 million, $3.5 million will go to attorneys’ fees.

California alters solar mandate

Rooftop solar panels on a home Oakland. (Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters.)

The California Energy Commission Thursday voted to ease off the state’s groundbreaking regulation requiring solar panels on the roofs of most new homes, CalMatters Carlyn Kranking reports.

Instead, developers in the Sacramento area and presumably elsewhere in the state can in certain instances pay to add capacity in off-site solar farms.

  • Some environmentalists and advocates of rooftop solar said the move undermines California’s commitment.
  • Energy commissioners and developers believe the decision will allow the state to meet its green energy goals more efficiently.

To read Kranking’s report, please click here.

Meanwhile: The energy commission approved new municipal building codes that include strict policies for natural gas use in new homes, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Meanwhile: The New York Times details why building affordable housing costs so much more to build in California than in other states.

Tilting at windmills, making points

Assemblyman Phil Ting

Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting likes to start conversations, CalMatters’ Julie Cart writes.

The San Franciscan, who chairs the powerful Assembly Budget Committee, doesn’t win passage of all his legislation. 

But he relishes raising issues, like pushing legislation that would require all new cars registered in 2040 be zero-emission vehicles. It stalled.

  • Ting: “You can’t have your whole legislative package so forward-thinking that it’s way too far ahead of its time. But to have none of your bills do that is a travesty for the pulpit that we have.”

To read Cart’s profile of Ting, please click here.

Commentary at CalMatters

Dr. Shalini Shah and Dr. Edward Mariano: Acetaminophen should not be given a Proposition 65 warning. Such a listing would confuse consumers. Acetaminophen has been studied extensively in human and animal research, and there is no clear evidence that acetaminophen should be considered a carcinogen.

Mark Fulmer and Jerrold Jensen: With current staffing levels, California’s projected enrollment loss will eliminate the need for about 1,000 teachers and 1,000 classrooms and hundreds of non-classroom employees. So why are Californians being asked to approve a $15 billion school construction bond?

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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.