California Common Cause Proposes Bipartisan Bill (SB 1439) to Curb Local Government’s Pay-to-Play Loophole

Sacramento, CA—California Common Cause announced it is the main supporter of bipartisan legislation introduced this week, authored by State Senator Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) and co-authored by Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita), that would prohibit political contributions over $250 from parties seeking contracts with local governments to the elected local officials who make contracting decisions.

“Californians deserve to know that their elected officials are making decisions that benefit the voters, not special interests,” said Jonathan Mehta Stein, California Common Cause Executive Director. “We expect elected officials at every level of government to vote in the best interests of the communities they represent. Closing California’s local government pay-to-play loophole ensures elected officials’ votes are not influenced by contributions for their next re-election campaign.”

Existing California law, in a provision known as the “Levine Act,” prohibits anyone seeking a contract, permit, or license from the government from making a campaign contribution of more than $250 to the officials responsible for decisions about that contract, permit, or license. This limitation applies while the contract, permit, or license is pending and for three months after. Unfortunately, local elected officials are exempted from the law. Senator Glazer and California Common Cause’s proposed bill would extend and strengthen the Levine Act by ensuring the law also applies to elected local elected officials.

“Local public officials should not be soliciting or accepting campaign contributions from anyone seeking their approval for a license, contract or permit,” said Senator Glazer, Chair of the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee. “These government officials are currently exempt from most laws which prohibit this improper conduct. This bill would close that loophole.”

“Transparent government is good government, which is why I am proud to co-author this measure,” said Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk. “It will ensure decisions by local officials regarding approval of licenses, contracts, or permits are for the public’s benefit and not for their own personal gain.”

Current state law puts no limitations on contractors, developers, and other special interests in local government when they seek to influence, via campaign cash, the city council members and county supervisors who decide on the contracts, permits, and licenses that they seek. The results have been scandal after scandal.

In the last few years in the Los Angeles area alone, there have been several major cases of high-profile corruption. For example, recent reports show that in 2018 and 2020 “more than 30 percent of the roughly $125,000 in campaign contributions to current city of Huntington Park council members, came from eight companies and their executives” with pending requests for contracts with the city. In 2016 in Los Angeles, a developer donated $50,000 to a campaign committee connected to a city councilmember just two months before the councilmember was scheduled to vote on the developer’s request to build. Speaker Anthony Rendon called portions of the e LA area a corridor of corruption.”