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Assemblymembers Lee and Kalra call to ban Corporate Donations, will San Francisco representatives support it?

San Francisco — The San Francisco Board of supervisors voted to support Assembly Bill 20 (AB20), which would add California to the list of states that bar business entities from directly contributing to political campaigns. First-term Assemblymember Alex Lee, who represents parts of the East Bay and South Bay, drafted the bill with Assemblymember Ash Kalra, who also represents the South Bay. Dean Preston, San Francisco City Supervisor and a member of Democratic Socialist of America (DSA), introduced the resolution in support and held a press conference with fellow DSA members Assemblymember Lee and former State Senate candidate Jackie Fielder.   

Currently corporations can donate up to $4,700 to State Senate and Assembly candidates and $7,800 to statewide candidates not including the Governor which has a cap of $31,000. This would eliminate the corporation’s ability to directly fund campaigns but would not end corporate donations to Political Action Committees (PACs). Corporations such as oil and gas companies, electric utilities and tech companies all have given millions to politicians across the state in the last election cycle.

Jackie Fielder said “Banning corporate money from giving to candidates isn’t the panacea but I want people to understand that doing so makes it illegal for corporations to coordinate with candidates during election cycles. They would have to fund SuperPACs which legally cannot coordinate with candidates and make it a little easier on challengers to take on incumbents.”

Jackie Fielder has good reason to oppose corporate donations; her opponent in 2020 was incumbent Scott Wiener, who takes more real estate money than anyone else in the California legislature. Because of her left wing stance on principal she refused corporate PAC donations and corporate donations and thus faced a fundraising disadvantage. 

None of the three representatives in the State legislature currently representing San Francisco — Assemblymembers David Chiu and Phil Ting, and State Senator Scott Wiener — have agreed to sponsor the legislation, despite universal support on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The sponsors said they are reaching out to the San Francisco delegation to get co-sponsorship. 

San Francisco has bans on corporate donation for its city-level campaigns. While bans of this type don’t preclude corporate-funded political action committees (PACs), PACs can’t coordinate with campaigns. Similarly, New York has total limits from corporations and limits candidates can accept and in turn has seen a much more competitive state election process and grassroots campaigns.

At the federal level, there is significant interest on both the right and the left on overturning corporate finance loopholes, but in 2019 the Supreme Court refused to hear a case which could overturn corporate finance bans. While the support for getting corporate money out of politics is growing, it is clear that reform must start at the local level before it makes its way to the top. Supporters of the bill hope that without corporate funding, state primaries will become more competitive and in turn politicians will be more responsive to people, not corporations.

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