CA’s Contentious ‘Pay to Play’ Reform Law Survives First Court Battle
A state law limiting certain contributions to local elected leaders survived an initial court challenge.
Thursday, a Sacramento Superior Court judge rejected a challenge to SB 1439 from several business groups.
The law — which took effect on Jan. 1 — allows only political contributions of up to $250 for those who have certain business in front of local governments. If the contribution is more, the elected leader either has to return the excess money or recuse him or herself from the vote.
The motivation of the law was to limit “pay to play” politics, author state Sen. Steven Glazer, D-Orinda, said. Critics say the bill limits the political voice of groups, such as the building industry. The law does not apply to contributions from labor unions.
Related Story: The Glaring Flaws in California’s Political Pay-to-Play Law
“It is a strike against the power of wealthy financial interests who are corrupting governmental decisions. Public trust is greatly enhanced when decision-makers maintain their independence from these corrupting influences,” Glazer said in a news release.
The lawsuit, filed by several business groups under the umbrella of the Coalition of Business Associations and Elected Officials, argued that SB 1439 was illegal on several technical grounds, as well as a violation of free speech rights.
Judge Richard Sueyoshi, in a 23-page ruling, disagreed.
Sueyoshi wrote that free speech is not violated, because the local elected official has options.
“Rather than limit speech, Defendants argue, recusal allows more speech by effectively eliminating the contribution limit for those who recuse themselves,” Sueyoshi wrote.
Reactions from the Parties
The coalition said it was “disappointed” by the ruling and considering its next legal option, such as an appeal.
“This law will effectively bar small business owners from participating in the local political process. This is an infringement upon the first amendment right to freedom of speech and to petition the government,” the coalition said in a news release.
They called the law not applying to unions hypocritical.
The court’s ruling earned praise from California Common Cause, and the chairman of the state agency in charge of regulating campaign finance.
“We are gratified the outcome will uphold an important expansion of what’s known as the ‘pay to play’ law,” said Fair Political Practices Commission chair Richard Miadich. “We can see the overwhelming, bipartisan support for increasing transparency and accountability of elected officials to do what’s right for the public.”
Related Story: State Auditors Uncover Alleged Pay-to-Play Scheme at Big Fresno Fair
Poll Says Californians Want Feinstein Out
A new poll shows that Californians want U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, to leave office now.
The six-term senator has missed several months with various health ailments.
The Berkeley ISG poll found that 42% surveyed, a plurality, want Feinstein to resign and allow Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint her replacement. Other answers included 31% undecided, and 27% wanting her to remain through the end of her term.
The question, broken down by party, found 52% of Democrats calling for her to resign; 42% of no party preference; and 22% of Republicans.
Feinstein already announced she does not intend to run in 2024.
However, there is no emerging consensus on who should succeed Feinstein in the 2024 election, the poll found.
“Undecided” is the top answer with 32%. Republican Eric Early technically leads the field with 18% but has not figured prominently in the campaign thus far.
Three Democratic members of Congress are waging campaigns. Poll respondents picked Katie Porter at 17%, followed by Adam Schiff at 14% and Barbara Lee at 9%.
Schiff, D-Burbank, will campaign in Fresno on June 3, speaking at a dinner to the Fresno County Democrats.