Facebook, Google and Blue Shield of California are among the companies that contributed $226 million to government causes on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s behalf last year, an unprecedented level of spending that is raising alarms about the influence large corporations are amassing in Sacramento.
State records reviewed by The Times show that so-called “behested payments” surged in 2020 compared with the year prior, when companies gifted $12.1 million on Newsom’s behalf. The governor’s haul last year during the COVID-19 pandemic was six times as much as that reported by former Gov. Jerry Brown during his final eight years in office combined.
With no limit on how much money can be donated by organizations or individuals at the behest of the governor, millions of dollars flowed in to prop up public services during the pandemic and fund Newsom’s favored programs, including an effort to address homelessness and a public safety campaign promoting the importance of wearing masks.
The corporations say they were simply trying to help the state in a time of need. But no matter how noble the cause, critics fear the donations could allow corporations to hold more sway in state government. They noted many of the donors have other business before the governor, received no-bid government contracts over the last year or were seeking favorable appointments on important state boards, which they say creates the appearance of a pay-to-play system….
Under California law, a donation is considered a behested payment when an elected official or someone acting on their behalf asks an organization to donate money or services to a nonprofit or government agency for a legislative, governmental or charitable purpose, such as supplying free air time to run public health ads or giving cash to the governor’s program promoting volunteerism. General requests for charitable donations not directed at any particular organization are not required to be reported as behested payments, according to the state’s campaign finance watchdog agency, the Fair Political Practices Commission.
The top donor of behested payments to Newsom in 2020 was tech giant Facebook, which gave $27 million for gift cards that went to front-line healthcare workers and for public health ads. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, gave another $3.7 million for COVID-19 related efforts such as polling services aimed at improving public health response and help with the state’s public awareness campaign, as well as money for the state’s wildfire recovery efforts.