In this year's first three months, donors directed by the governor gave more than $2.73 million in tax-deductible contributions to two charter schools Brown helped launch as Oakland's mayor. That's almost as much as in all of 2014, when Brown vetoed a bill that would have made modest reforms to these "behested payments," so called because they are given at the behest of an elected official.
If Brown, a master of the practice, keeps up this pace, he could triple his payments from 2008, his most lucrative year.
Top donors include a tribal casino; the controversial CEO of a company that owns 17 California hospitals; the state's biggest car insurer and its biggest wine exporter; one of the nation's biggest general contractors; and the nation's biggest biotech company -- all with vested interests in how Sacramento sets policy. Of the 14 top behested donors this year, at least eight gave money to Brown's 2014 re-election campaign.
The crush of contributions comes as Brown no longer needs campaign donations: Term limits prevent him from running for governor in 2016, and he still has about $19.6 million left over from last year's re-election campaign.
The governor doesn't personally benefit from these payments, but he clearly appreciates them -- and it's that gubernatorial goodwill that wealthy special interests want.
"It is cause for concern," said Bob Stern, a political ethics expert. "The question is: After he's out of office, will he be able to raise this much money? And the answer is no."
Stern, who authored the state's Political Reform Act of 1974 before serving as the Fair Political Practices Commission's first general counsel, said the charitable contributions obviously aren't just altruistic. "The governor will tell you that he is not going to do anything differently, that he won't be affected," he said, "but the contributors feel they'll be able to get their phone calls answered when they have a question about public policy."