It's Good to be King

It’s called “behesting.” An elephant-sized loophole in California’s campaign finance laws, behesting is campaign donors’ and lobbyists’ best way to curry favor with public officials without running into pesky gift bans or campaign contribution limits. Even the oblique name – a gift given at the “behest” of an elected official – keeps these unofficial contributions flowing under the radar.
Politicians can solicit unlimited amounts of money from corporations and other interests with business in the capitol, so long as the money goes to a favorite cause and not directly into the politician’s campaign account.
And the King of the Behesters is Governor Jerry Brown.
As the Sac Bee reported yesterday, of the $28 (give or take a few) million solicited by statewide and legislative elected officials this year, a whopping $3.6 M of it was solicited by the Governor.
Brown’s charities of choice are two Oakland schools he founded. Even if he can't get a handle on the drought, or if the budget takes a turn for the worse, these schools are his lasting legacy.  He solicits millions in contributions every year in order to keep their doors open.
No doubt those donors will swear that their donations are all about the children. But they just also happen to be the biggest special interests in Sacramento, and their interests land on the Governor's desk all year round.
For example, six of the top twelve lobbyist employers in Sacramento last year were among the groups tapped by Brown to pony up for the children. Chevron, California Chamber of Commerce, California Hospital Association, Kaiser Permanente, PG&E, and AT&T have given the $122,500 to the schools at the Governor’s request this year.
A bill made its way to the Governor's desk last year that would have limited some of the the most outrageously self-serving behested gifts, but Governor Brown wasn’t so ready to let go.
State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, authored a bill last year that would have brought the $5,000 reporting threshold for such payments down to $2,500 and would have barred public officials from behesting payments to charities they or their relatives control. But the lowered threshold was stripped out before the Legislature passed the bill, and Brown vetoed what was left of it in September.
"The activities that are addressed by this bill are already subject to extensive regulation, including robust disclosure requirements," Brown wrote in his veto message. "This bill would add more complexity to the regulations governing elected officials, without reducing undue influence."
Makes sense, if you're the King and tribute to your pet charity is only your due.
Even though Jerry is King, he's not the only Master Behester. More to come - like just what non-political activity is the Latino Legislative Caucus spending $147,000 on this year?
See the Bee's detailed graphic of behested payments by clicking on this chart:  

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