Tag Archives: charities

The Problem Is What’s Legal

The latest Fabian Nuñez story concerns charities:

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez used a small charity as a conduit to funnel almost $300,000 from companies and organizations with business in the Capitol to events that helped him politically.

By giving to the charity, the donors whom Nuñez solicited earned tax deductions for which they would not have qualified had they given directly to Nuñez’s campaign accounts. They were also able to donate more than the $7,200 maximum allowed under California’s campaign fundraising rules.

Those donors include Zenith Insurance Co., AT&T, Verizon Communications Inc., the California Hospital Assn., the state prison guards union, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Blue Cross of California — all groups with high stakes in legislation.

The money was used for events including “Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez’s Toy Drive,” “Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez’s Soccerfest 2006,” “Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez’s Inaugural Legislative Youth Conference” and airplane flights for 50 children from Nuñez’s district for “Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez’s Sacramento Student Summit,” according to state documents.

It’s murky whether or not this constitutes a violation of federal tax laws or state ethics laws.  If he’s soliciting the donation and then directing how it’s used, maybe.  And apparently the charity itself was shut down for failing to file tax returns a couple years ago.

I would submit that the legality question is completely irrelevant.

Here’s the problem.  Power is almost entirely centralized in the leadership in the California Legislature.  If you are a business in the health care industry, and you want to impact policy, there’s only one member of the legislature that means anything to you – Fabian Nuñez.  And so you will use a variety of techniques to try to gain access and influence over the process.  If they can be so specifically directed, it’s inevitable that stories like this will permeate.  The problem is what’s LEGAL.  It’s a structural problem that invites corruption or the appearance of corruption.

The Founders decentralized power so there would be competition between the various branches.  Spreading out the number of powerful actors lessens the chance of access-buying.  The Founders foresaw political parties and factions and were violently opposed to them, and I would guess that this kind of artificial centralization was precisely the reason.  This has been a longtime problem in both national and California politics, made worse here by all the bottlenecks created in the legislature, which make certain parts of the calendar completely confusing and ripe for control by individual actors.

I’m not sure what the answer is to dilute the power of the legislative leadership, but unless you do, you’re going to keep seeing stories like this.  The target for special interests is so inviting and so focused. 
See Also:

  • Fabian Nunez tag page
  •   The Speaker Speaks
  • The hits on Nunez get cheeky
  • Just a Hardworking Guy from the Labor Movement