Efforts to get corporate money out of politics has moved another step forward with the introduction of a bill by Assemblymember Alex Lee that would ban corporate donations to candidates seeking state office.
“It’s not a silver bullet,” Lee said at press conference today. “But it’s important that we cut off any avenues possible.”
The measure would align state law with federal rules (and San Francisco rules) that prohibit direct donations from corporate entities to candidates. “Each year businesses contribute hundreds of millions” to state candidates, Lee, who ran for office on a pledge not to accept corporate donations.
That has a huge impact: As Sup. Dean Preston, who formerly ran a statewide tenant-advocacy group, noted, “People who have experience in Sacramento know it’s a hard environment to stand up to corporate interests.”
He added: “Right now, as we encourage new generations of upstarts, activists with lived experience, and political outsiders, to get involved in the political process and run for office, those who take clean money pledges are at a tremendous disadvantage, and are effectively silenced by massive spending by corporations in these races.”
The bill doesn’t stop corporate political action committees from contributing to candidates. That’s because the PACs are protected by federal law and the US Supreme Court.
But at almost exactly the same time Lee introduced his bill, Rep. Pramila Jayapal introduced a Constitutional Amendment that would end corporate personhood and overturn the notorious Citizens United decision:
Corporations are not people and money is not speech. After the most expensive election in American history in which special interests poured millions in dark money into campaigns across this country, the We the People Amendment finally returns the power to the people, ends corporate constitutional rights, reverses Citizens United, and ensures that our democracy is really of the people, by the people — not corporations.
Assemblymember Ash Kalra, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, said that the Jayapal measure and AB 20 are “complementary and additive.” He noted: “All of these efforts at all levels of government are asking the question, what is this entity known as the corporation and how should it be treated?”
Lee said that none of the members of the San Francisco delegation had signed on as a co-sponsor. I contacted Assemblymembers David Chiu and Phil Ting and state Senator Scott Wiener and all of them said they are supporting the bill.
The press conference was sponsored by the new Daybreak PAC, formed by former state Senate candidate Jackie Fielder to support candidates for state office who agree to reject donations from corporations and billionaires and pledge to support a progressive agenda.
The SF Board of Supes unanimously approved a resolution today supporting AB 20.