Lobbyists and advocates outside an Assembly Labor Committee hearing focused on implications of the California Supreme Court's Dynamex decision.

In summary

California struggles to close educational divide. Construction workers get behind schools bond measure. Lobbying industry grows in spending, influence.

Good morning, California.

As 49ers fans try to get over the fourth-quarter Super Bowl shock, eyes turn to Iowa, but not Michael Bloomberg. The Democratic presidential candidate will be stumping in California.

California’s education divide

Carol Pancho reads to her first grade class at Sequoia Elementary School in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday, April 26, 2017. Pancho is retiring at the end of the school year after 37 years of teaching. Photo by Anda Chu, Bay Area News Group
File photo: Sequoia Elementary School in Oakland (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

Schools, usually top of mind, have been on the back burner in California, as voters vent over housing, the environment and Donald Trump. 

But education is as big a deal as ever when it comes to state spending, CalMatters’ Ricardo Cano writes.

California has been trying for years to close the chronic gap in achievement between kids who are black, brown or poor, on one side, and—on the other—Asian, white or well-off.

Cano lays out the size, the implications, the price tag, the strategies and the difficulty of solving the problem. 

The good news: Some schools are succeeding (saluting you, Chula Vista), and there has been steady progress. 

The bad news: Success stories are hard to scale, and that progress has been slow as molasses.

Historical factoid: Nationally, schools made huge strides in the decades after the civil rights movement, dramatically raising aggregate test scores for black and Latino students. But since the 1990s, gains have tapered off, baffling a lot of experts.

News peg: Closing achievement gaps takes money. Hence the big budget ask by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the school bond measure on the March ballot and the “split roll” property tax revision to generate more billions in school funding being pushed by labor, education and grassroots groups.

To read Cano’s explainer, please click here.

Rivalries aside

A $15 billion school construction bond is on the March 3 ballot.

California’s construction workers are getting behind Gov. Gavin Newsom’s committee promoting Proposition 13, a $15 billion public school and university construction bond, on the March 3 ballot.

Remind me: In August, Newsom appointed and then disinvited Robbie Hunter, head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, from his Future of Work Commission.

  • Hunter had challenged Newsom on the question of whether to make construction workers employees or allow gig economy companies to use them as independent contractors. 
  • On behalf of oil workers, Hunter has been critical of Democratic efforts to further restrict oil drilling and refineries.

Money matters: Rivalries aside, the State Building and Construction Trades Council last week gave $250,000 to the campaign committee headed by Newsom to win approval of the bond. The committee has raised about $5.5 million so far. Construction workers will get lots of work if it passes.

To read Ricardo Cano’s report on Proposition 13, please click here.

Sacramento’s growth industry

File photo: Lobbyists outside the Assembly chambers

In 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first year in office, corporations, unions, trade organizations, local governments and other interest groups spent $394.6 million lobbying state policymakers, a 7.7% increase from the year before.

The spending represents a 35% increase from the $291 million spent in Jerry Brown’s first year in office, 2011, year-end lobbyist employer reports filed with Secretary of State Alex Padilla show.

Five top spenders in 2019:

  • Western States Petroleum Association, a trade group of various oil interests, $8.8. million.
  • California Teachers Association, the public school teachers’ union, $6.9 million.
  • Chevron, $5.9 million
  • California State Council of Service Employees, representing state workers, $4.4 million.
  • Edison International, $3.3 million

Edison, PG&E, Pacificore and Sempra combined to spend $9.7 million as legislators grappled with wildfire legislation and other issues related to electricity.

Five top spenders over the past five years:

  • Western States Petroleum, $43.3 million.
  • California State Council of Service Employees, $24.3 million.
  • Chevron, $19.9 million
  • PG&E, $18 million
  • California Hospital Association, $17.5 million.

Growth in big spenders:

  • 3,468 entities spent money on lobbying in 2019, up from 3,018 in 2015, a 15% rise.
  • 167 spent $400,000 or more in 2019, up from 132 in 2015, a 26% increase.
  • 48 spent $1 million or more in 2019, up from 35 in 2015, a 37% increase.

Note:  Lobbyist employers use in-house lobbyists and hire outside firms.

It was a very good year

File photo: Lobbyists and advocates outside an Assembly Labor Committee

Lobbying firms hired by interest groups reported $239.9 million in billings in 2019, a 10% increase over the $216.8 million in 2018.

That’s a 28% increase over the past five years, and 38% from 2011, Jerry Brown’s first year in office, year-end lobby firm disclosures show.

Three top firms:

  • Capitol Advocacy, $8.4 million. It represents a telecom and tech firms, hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, a private prison company and PG&E.
  • KP Public Affairs, $7.18 milion. It represents a chemical trade group, Citigroup, Google and Westlands Water District, among others.
  • Lang, Hansen, O’Malley & Miller, $7.06 million. It represents horse racing, Altria, Edison, Weedmaps and Murphy’s Bowl, the name of Clippers owner Steve Ballmer’s proposed basketball arena in Inglewood.

New kid: Axiom Advisors placed No. 5, at $5.9 million. Axiom was founded by Jason Kinney, a political adviser to Gov. Gavin Newsom. Kinney had been with the No. 4 billing firm, California Strategies, $6.3 million.

Lobbying: A how-to text

Forty veteran lobbyists, political law lawyers and other Capitol denizens have produced a how-to book for people who want to break into the lobbying business.

Lobbyists Chris Micheli and Ray LeBov are editors of “A Practitioner’s Guide to Lobbying and Advocacy in California.”

  • Micheli: “Who better to help me write it than my friends and colleagues in the Capitol community who could share their experiences?”

Proceeds will be donated to political science graduate student scholarships. For more information, please click here.

One reason housing bill died

Michael Weinstein, center, at an AIDS march in 2012 with comedian Margaret Cho, right, and musician Wyclef Jean, left. Photo by Elvert Barnes/Creative Commons
Michael Weinstein, center, in 2012 (Photo by Elvert Barnes/Creative Commons)

Sen. Scott Wiener, the San Francisco Democrat whose far-reaching housing bill stalled last week, believes heavy spending by an L.A.-based nonprofit organization established to combat AIDS helped kill the bill.

A multibillion-dollar nonprofit that operates in 44 countries, AIDS Healthcare Foundation receives money from a federal program that allows it to buy drugs at a discount and get reimbursed at market rates. It uses part of that money for politics.

Run by Michael Weinstein, the foundation has spent $57.5 million since 2015 on campaigns primarily to limit development, allow for rent control, regulate drug prices, and require porn actors use condoms. It has spent another $722,000 to lobby in Sacramento since 2015.

Weinstein opposed Wiener’s Senate Bill 50, which would have required denser housing near public transit hubs. The sum he spent has not yet been disclosed. But his organization paid for radio, mail and digital ads, Wiener said.

  • Wiener: “Of course, it has an impact and affects politics.”

Several Los Angeles-area senators opposed the bill.

  • Wiener: “It is is so reprehensible that an organization that is registered as a nonprofit, whose mission is supposed to be providing health care for people living with HIV and people at risk of HIV, would divert HIV health care dollars for political vendettas.”
  • Weinstein: “Sen. Wiener wants to shoot the messenger that SB 50 was a fatally flawed bill.”

History: As a San Francisco supervisor in 2014, Wiener opposed Weinstein’s effort to open a pharmacy in San Francisco’s Castro District. Weinstein sued and lost. The pharmacy didn’t open.

A San Francisco scandal

Homeless tents line city streets in San Francisco.

A federal investigation has ensnared Mohammed Nuru, San Francisco’s $273,400-a-year public works director who served mayors from Willie Brown to London Breed, including Gavin Newsom.

Nuru oversees a $500 million-a-year department and is responsible for disposing of waste left by San Francisco’s homeless people. That places him on “the front lines of a high-profile war against feces, needles and sidewalk tents,” The San Francisco Chronicle’s Rachel Swan wrote.

The feds accuse Nuru of fraud and lying to the FBI. He and Nick Bovis, owner of Lefty O’Doul’s restaurant, face allegations involving:

  • An envelope stuffed with $5,000 in cash
  • Attempted bribery so Bovis would gain the rights to open a chicken restaurant at San Francisco International Airport
  • Greasing the process to allow for Bovis to gain rights to deploy portable toilets and housing for homeless people

Before joining Willie Brown’s administration in 2000, Nuru ran a nonprofit, the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners, SLUG—an entity that received city funds and was supposed to help beautify the city while providing job training.

In 2004, reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, then of The Chronicle, detailed how SLUG workers were pressured into campaigning and voting for Newsom. City Attorney Dennis Herrera later confirmed the charges.

Newsom was not implicated then or now, but last week offered this:

  • “I don’t know anything about the details of what just happened, but I was sad to see that, just generally. And I imagine there may be some others, I’m told. So I just don’t know enough about the details of the specific charges, but it’s very sad to see.”

ICYMI: Bonta’s Green New Deal

Assemblymember Rob Bonta announces the California Green New Deal Act at a press conference on opening day of the 2020 legislative session
Assemblyman Rob Bonta

California’s climate policies aren’t enough for one Democratic lawmaker. Assemblyman Rob Bonta of Oakland believes California needs its own version of The Green New Deal.

Bonta proposes a bill that, as it now stands, would create a California Green New Deal Council to submit a report on the issue by Jan. 1, 2022.

CalMatters’ Carlyn Kranking sat down with Bonta. To read her report, please click here.

Commentary at CalMatters

Chuck Ingoglia, National Council for Behavioral Health: California is leading the nation in creating a health care model that recognizes mental wellness cannot be separated from physical health, a model every state in the nation must adopt. Integrating trauma-informed care into primary care will require a fundamental change in the established health care model.

Dan Walters, CalMatters: A Senate bill to make housing more affordable by overcoming local resistance to high-density construction dies, a victim of NIMBYism.


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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.