California’s Biggest Special Interests Sue to Terminate New Common Sense Anti-Corruption Law

SB 1439 closes a pay-to-pay loophole at the local level that big-money now seeks to keep open

Sacramento, CA – Special interest groups are suing to halt SB 1439, bipartisan anti-corruption legislation supported by California Common Cause, which took effect at the beginning of this year. The law extends anti-pay-to-play limits on contributions that have applied for decades to state officials and local appointed officials to local elected officials, helping end the continuous cycle of scandals caused by special interests’ massive campaign contributions to the local officials who they have business before.  

“If Californians want to know who is attempting to buy access and influence in their local governments, they should look to the groups attempting to undermine anti-corruption laws,” said Jonathan Mehta Stein, Executive Director of California Common Cause. “We oppose this lawsuit, which effectively seeks to keep a rigged system rigged. California Common Cause will stand with the state in defending SB 1439 as lawful, long-overdue legislation that holds our local leaders accountable to the people they serve, not to special interests.”

Under current law, candidates who sit in appointed local positions cannot take campaign contributions of over $250 from any entity that has business before them in their appointed position. SB 1439 helps mitigate pay-to-play scandals by closing a massive loophole, extending that same common-sense contribution limit to local elected officials who frequently vote on licenses, permits, and contracts. If a local elected official was in the position to vote on a matter pertaining to an entity that had contributed over $250 to them, that official has the choice under SB 1439 to recuse or return the contribution.

Eight of California’s biggest special interest industry groups and two local politicians filed the lawsuit to stop SB 1439 so they can continue to engage in pay-to-play politics, ironically exposing the magnitude of the problem SB 1439 aims to address.

SB 1439 aims to prevent scandals that have made recent headlines throughout the state. In the City of Lynwood, for example, city council candidates in 2018 were allegedly asked to sign a pledge card supporting a local cannabis association’s proposals in exchange for a $15,000 campaign contribution. 

In 2016, two Alhmabra councilmembers each received $5,000 in campaign contributions from a developer seeking approval for a large retail and commercial development in the City. The project came before the councilmembers on appeal, where they both voted to approve the project. That developer has since been convicted of bribery linked to projects in the City of Los Angeles.

Under SB 1439, the campaign contributions in both examples would be limited to $250, or the councilmembers in question could keep the larger contributions but recuse themselves from voting. Examples of scandals like these can be found across California. 

“Californians need to know that the representatives they’ve elected are serving the public interest, not special interests,” said Sean McMorris, California Common Cause’s Transparency, Ethics, and Accountability Program Manager. “SB 1439 is pro-democracy reform that restores trust in local government –  those working against it are working against our democracy.”

When the Governor signed SB 1439 into law, California made it clear that it prioritizes people over special interests. We will not allow those special interests to continue to erode our democracy by rigging the system in their favor over upholding the will of the people. 

California Common Cause stands in opposition to this lawsuit and looks forward to its dismissal in the courts.

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