“For a prominent California consumer group and savvy political consultants, documents reveal a close financial relationship”

Great reporting from John Myers for the LAT:

For three years, Lehane and Fabiani served as directors of Main Street American Values — an organization with no staff and a low public profile. In every year the nonprofit made donations, it sent checks to Consumer Watchdog. Lehane said in an email to The Times that he’s known Court and others “for a long while” and that he has “been in the foxhole with them on various consumer-related projects over the years.”

In 2015, Consumer Watchdog joined Airbnb, then a Lehane client, in a successful effort to kill legislation in the state Capitol that would have imposed new rules on the home-sharing industry.

The bill would have required Airbnb homeowners to tally up the nights rented and the amount paid to ensure taxes were collected, though it did not require any personal information from renters. The day before a key legislative hearing, Consumer Watchdog claimed the bill was a privacy threat.

More than five dozen local government and public safety groups supported the measure; Airbnb, two industry groups and Consumer Watchdog were opposed. “We didn’t make any friends, as we often don’t do,” Court said.

The bill’s author, state Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), said the eleventh-hour opposition was a surprise. “When we tried to talk to Consumer Watchdog about the facts of the legislation, they seemed quite entrenched and weren’t interested in learning more about the bill,” he said….

Under federal tax law as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Consumer Watchdog is not required to reveal its donors. But Court, who has been president since 2003, in the past has frequently advocated for transparency. In a book that year, he lamented the “growth of deception” caused by donors — in his example, corporations — to groups “who hide their identities from the public.”

A major Consumer Watchdog donor was the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation, which gives money to social justice and human rights efforts. For the four years beginning in 2012, federal tax returns show it gave more than $1 million to Consumer Watchdog. Over the same period, it received $955,000 in donations from Lehane’s nonprofit.


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