Facebook, Google and Blue Shield of California are among the companies that contributed $226 million to government causes on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s behalf last year, an unprecedented level of spending that is raising alarms about the influence large corporations are amassing in Sacramento.
State records reviewed by The Times show that so-called “behested payments” surged in 2020 compared with the year prior, when companies gifted $12.1 million on Newsom’s behalf. The governor’s haul last year during the COVID-19 pandemic was six times as much as that reported by former Gov. Jerry Brown during his final eight years in office combined.
With no limit on how much money can be donated by organizations or individuals at the behest of the governor, millions of dollars flowed in to prop up public services during the pandemic and fund Newsom’s favored programs, including an effort to address homelessness and a public safety campaign promoting the importance of wearing masks.
The corporations say they were simply trying to help the state in a time of need. But no matter how noble the cause, critics fear the donations could allow corporations to hold more sway in state government. They noted many of the donors have other business before the governor, received no-bid government contracts over the last year or were seeking favorable appointments on important state boards, which they say creates the appearance of a pay-to-play system.
Despite weeks of street protests over the killing of George Floyd and California’s reputation for progressive politics, a series of major police reforms proposed in Sacramento largely fizzled in 2020.
Backers hoped to have more success in 2021, with the pandemic waning, legislators spending more time on the issue and momentum building to address inequities in policing.
But police reform is hitting hard times again this year, including a plan common in other states to oust bad cops.
Across the nation, 46 states have rules preventing abusive officers from jumping jobs, furthering their careers by switching agencies even after they’ve committed serious misconduct or been fired. California is not one of them — but a proposed law to change that is facing unexpectedly fierce opposition at the Capitol.
For seven tense hours Tuesday — one week after a former Minneapolis police officer was convicted of murdering Floyd — legislation to ban peace officers found to have acted with significant malfeasance in California seemed on the verge of dying in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill’s author, a Black man representing Gardena, had to promise to compromise on key provisions to keep it alive, even as he vented about the pushback he met on one of the proposal’s first steps through the legislative process.
SB 2’s toughest challenge may revolve around banning officers. Law enforcement unions are adamant that those provisions are unfair and may run afoul of rights guaranteed by contracts and law. Multiple law enforcement organizations and chiefs of police called in during testimony said they supported a decertification process but not the one suggested by SB 2.
Also see "How Police Unions Fight Reform," The New Yorker, July 27, 2020.