Perks of fundraising?

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Many Bay Area Assembly members who gave big bucks to Dems get choice assignments

The San Francisco Chronicle

The Bay Area’s members of the state Assembly did more than their share this past election season when it came to raising money for the Democratic Party — and coincidence or not, they’re well-represented among the lawmakers getting choice committee assignments.

Take Assemblyman Mark Leno of San Francisco. He’s chairing the powerful Appropriations Committee when the new legislative session starts today, after having funneled an estimated $400,000 in unused campaign contributions to candidates and causes backed by Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, over the past two years.

From the East Bay, Assemblyman Alberto Torrico of Newark, incoming chairman of the Government Operations Committee, which oversees gambling, alcohol and other “juice” legislation, kicked in an estimated $400,000 of his campaign war chest for state Democratic causes.

And Assemblyman John Laird of Santa Cruz, who already heads the Budget Committee, gave $300,000-plus to help the caucus.

After hard-fought primaries, some Assembly newcomers made a nice first impression on their future colleagues. One was San Francisco’s Fiona Ma, who passed on $150,000 from her campaign kitty to the speaker’s causes.

Another was Oakland’s new assemblyman, Sandré Swanson, who came bearing about $100,000 in unspent campaign contributions for the Democratic team.

“These are all races where they didn’t have any real opposition,” said Doug Heller, executive director of the nonpartisan Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Those redirected campaign contributions, from banks, casinos, unions and the like, are “all about special-interest money and trying to gain influence,” he said.

Núñez countered that the Legislature’s record last year — when lawmakers took on the business lobby by increasing the minimum wage, the pharmaceutical lobby by passing prescription drug price controls, and Indian tribes by saying “no” to new gambling compacts — proved that there is “no problem taking their money and voting against them.”

As for getting plum assignments in return for playing ball, Leno said it’s a double-edged sword.

On one hand, “you are looked upon more kindly” by the Assembly leadership, Leno said. On the other hand, you are also expected to raise more.

Light the fuse: State Sen.-elect Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, plans on coming into office today with a bang — literally.

Yee, moving over from the Assembly where he had been termed out, is the first Chinese American state senator in the Legislature’s 156-year history.

To celebrate, he’s bringing along lion dancers, a troupe of Shaolin martial artists — and, of course, lots of firecrackers.

And just like two years ago, when he returned to the state Assembly, his office will be treating hundreds of guests after the swearing-in to a Chinese banquet at a downtown Sacramento restaurant, complete with free shuttle bus rides.

Only this time, said Yee spokesman Adam Keigwin, the occasion is “a little more historic.”

Consumer Watchdog
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