League of CA Cities “Institute” Masks Political Activity; Reporting Urged

Backers of campaign finance reform legislation today called on would-be legislative candidates participating in a League of California Cities candidate recruitment “institute” to disclose who is paying their way, where the money is coming from and whether or not any gifts are being properly reported to the Fair Political Practices Commission.

This Thursday at the California Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Sacramento, a group of legislative hopefuls are scheduled to participate in the final day of the California Civic Leadership Institute, a three-day event explicitly targeting candidates looking to run for the Legislature – basically a candidate-recruitment fest masquerading as an “educational program.”

Corporate sponsors of this closed-door “institute” are offered access to these local officials during “educational” sessions held in Sacramento and over two days at Southern California Edison’s Big Creek facility in the scenic Sierra Nevada mountains..

The price of this “access” ranges from $5,000 to $15,000 per sponsor. (2012 corporate sponsor list here).

 As with their hidden campaign war chest, these events are paid for out of “non-public funds”.  But the real question is, who’s paying the bill for these local electeds/ candidate recruits to attend?

  • Are the politicians paying their own way?
  • Are the taxpayers paying the bill?
  • Is it the League of California Cities or its corporate sponsors?
  • If it is the League or its sponsors, what is the value of this gift and is it being reported as such to the FPPC?

Lou Paulson, president of California Professional Firefighters: 

The League insists it doesn't get involved in candidate races, yet here it is facilitating closed-door special-interest access to future lawmakers. It’s another example of the League exempting themselves from the transparency standards that everyone else has to follow. The voters have the right to know who’s paying the freight for these junkets.

A recent Sacramento Bee editorial criticized taxpayer-supported non-profits like the League of California Cities, saying they “‘skirt the edge of being political advocacy groups and regularly cross it.”

SB 594, by Senator Jerry Hill, requires full disclosure of millions in campaign contributions through “non-public funds”  — hidden accounts with no donor reporting. SB 594 also strengthens the ban on using public funds for ballot campaigns by requiring that money raised through the sale of tax-free bonds be fully disclosed.

All 501(c)(3) non-profits are exempt, as are the costs of taking and publicizing ballot positions and informing voters about the impact of such measures on their lives.

SB 594 has the support of the California Clean Money Campaign, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., California Professional Firefighters, the California Labor Federation, Peace Officers Research Assn. of California (PORAC), the State Building and Trades Council, the California Nurses Assn. and Consumer Federation.