Supes back bill banning corporate campaign contributions

AB 20 would prohibit businesses from donating directly to political candidates

The City’s Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to support California Assembly Bill 20, which would expand a local law limiting corporate contributions to political campaigns statewide.

Introduced by Assemblymembers Alex Lee and Ash Kalra in December, the law would make California the 23rd state to ban business entities from directly contributing to political campaigns.

“In a city like San Francisco, voters have given such a clear mandate to us that they don’t want corporate control of City Hall, they don’t want corporations directly funding our local elections,” San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston said Tuesday. “That’s not the case in Sacramento, where it’s far more controversial to push the idea that we should limit the ability of corporations to weigh in directly and distorting our democracy and controlling candidates.”

Preston, who introduced a resolution approved by the Board supporting the legislation, said corporate funding can make it more difficult for first-time candidates to have a fair shot in elections, and it’s difficult for progressive candidates in California who refuse corporate contributions to compete.

“While there can be occasional wins, it’s a systemic problem where the massive spending of corporations directly in these races can really silence progressive voices, voices that take those pledges to not take the money,” he said.

Jackie Fielder, a former state Senate candidate and executive director of Daybreak, a progressive politicial action committee, said Californians deserve to be represented without undue influence of corporations, and referred to the $244 million that rideshare and delivery services spent last year to pass Proposition 22, which allows companies including Uber, Lyft and Doordash to define their workers as independent contractors.

“Make no mistake, corporations are just going to continue to have a stranglehold on elections if we don’t reign this in,” Fielder said.

According to the California Fair Political Practices Commission, firms, companies and corporations fall under the “person” category for authorized contribution sources. Contributions of up to $4,700 are allowed to senate and assembly candidates; $7,800 to lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, controller, superintendent of public instruction, insurance commissioner and board of equalization candidates, and $31,000 to those running for governor.

Lee said AB 20 — which doesn’t prevent corporations from contributing indirectly through Political Action Committees — is “no panacea.”

“It is not a silver bullet that will fix every single issue where corporations have way too much influence in our democracy now, but it’s important that we cut off sources and avenues of influence within our control as much as possible to make sure that our system is better reflective of people,” Lee said.

Kalra, who called the bill the first step in the right direction with room to do more, suggested a public financing plan for elections in the future.

“Let’s start to whittle away and cut off this corporate influence in our democracy, in our state, in our political system,” Kalra said.

Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Matt Haney also supported the bill at a news conference on Tuesday.

“We’ve gotten corporate money out of elections in San Francisco,” Ronen said. “It is time to make sure that extends to the entire state.”

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