By Jackie Fielder
Corporations are not charitable organizations. They have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders, not the general public. Every action they take serves to maximize profits and campaign contributions are no exception. If Chevron cuts a check supporting a candidate, they do so to advance their own interests.
Corporate influence over our elections has ballooned to out-of-control proportions. Last year, a mere five companies — Uber, Lyft, Postmates, DoorDash, and Instacart — spent more than $200 million in support of Prop 22, accounting for 28.5-percent of total spending on state-level ballot measures and making Prop 22 the most expensive in California history. When it comes to elected officials, the influence of campaign contributions on policy-making is undeniable. Corporate lobbyists breeze through open doors in Sacramento, call lawmakers on their personal cell numbers, and hold the pen while legislation is drafted. As with the PG&E bailout (AB 33) that forces ratepayers to foot the bill after the utility was sued for negligence, corporations like PG&E get the legislative favors they pay for. Meanwhile, constituents struggle to receive more than a template response assuring them their email is “very important” to their representative.
San Francisco voters have made our stance on campaign finance clear. In 2000 we passed campaign contribution limits at the local level to reduce the power of individual large donors. In November 2019 we passed the “Sunlight on Dark Money” Initiative on a margin of 76-to-23-percent to shed light on the top three donors to super PACs.
The California Assembly is now considering Assembly Bill 20, the “Corporate-Free Elections Act” introduced by Assembly Members Alex Lee and Ash Kalra. If passed, AB 20 would prohibit corporations from contributing to candidates running for public office at both the state and local level in California. AB 20 presents yet another opportunity to restore public trust in governmental and electoral institutions.
On April 6, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in support of AB 20. That same day, Rep. Pramila Jayapal led fifty House Democrats in proposing a constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood and reverse Citizens United. Twenty-two states already outright ban corporations from directly contributing to campaigns, and corporate donations to candidates for federal office have been prohibited since 1907.
Unfortunately, none of our three representatives in the legislature — Assembly Members David Chiu and Phil Ting, and state Senator Scott Wiener — have agreed to sponsor the legislation.
Last year during the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Wiener agreed to my challenge and reversed his position on law enforcement contributions, returning a portion of donations he had received. We can only hope we once again see our state legislators show the courage to break with their pasts and choose constituents over corporations. If they don’t, they should not count on our support at the ballot box in 2022 and 2024.
Jackie Fielder is the co-founder and lead organizer of the SF Public Bank Coalition, executive director of Daybreak Political Action Committee, and a former candidate for California State Senate.