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California Democratic Party could reject police, energy donations – POLITICO Magazine

While the California Democratic Party already does not take money from oil companies and their industry groups, the resolution would formalize that arrangement. | Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo
10/21/2021 09:04 PM EDT
Updated 10/22/2021 01:20 PM EDT
OAKLAND — The California Democratic Party will decide this weekend whether to formally refuse contributions from fossil fuel and law enforcement interests, potentially cutting off donors that have poured millions into the party’s coffers.
Progressive activists pushing for the changes argue the party must uphold its values by repudiating groups that run counter to its environmental and criminal justice goals. The dispute has fueled the latest skirmish between an ardently liberal base and more moderate Democrats coexisting under the dominant party’s banner.
While the California Democratic Party already does not take money from oil companies and their industry groups, the resolution would formalize that arrangement and would go further by cutting off investor-owned utilities that supply much of California’s electricity — two of which have been implicated in major wildfires in recent years.
Another resolution would block money from politically influential police unions. The measures going before the party’s executive board would apply to both organizations and their executives and lobbyists.
“Even though it’s a small step, us as a party, as a California Democratic Party saying that we are going to live up to the values we stated time and time again, it sends a message,” said Sean Dugar, a member of the party’s executive board. “We have a problem in this state that needs to be addressed and I believe it is the money that police organizations spend that stop us from addressing it.”
The California Democratic Party took in more than $2 million from investor-owned utilities and law enforcement entities in the last election cycle, campaign finance records show. That sum is still a fraction of the more than $41 million raised in the same period by the party, a fundraising juggernaut that far outpaces the California Republican Party in campaign spending.
While the party has not reported accepting fossil fuel or law enforcement money in months, advocates point out there’s no prohibition preventing future donations. Sources said the party’s leadership under Chair Rusty Hicks was arguing against the weekend vote, pushing to instead study the issue further.
“He’s putting the strong message of the need for more process, more deliberating,” said executive board member Tonya Love, who is pushing to ban law enforcement donations, but “what can really create change is changing the system, changing the influence of negative parties on elected officials.”
Party spokesperson Shery Yang said in an emailed statement that the party has "outlined a strategic, comprehensive and timely process to assess how to continue funding the work of our Party in line with the values of our Party."
Of the affected interest groups that gave money to the party in the last election cycle, only Edison International provided a response. A representative for the utility brushed back the prohibition drive.
“Edison International should be allowed to represent the interests of our customers, employees and shareholders, and not arbitrarily be prevented from engaging with a major political party in our state,” spokesperson Ben Gallagher said in an emailed statement.
The changes would not affect contributions to individual candidates. That could create a disjuncture in which Democratic candidates can continue taking money from groups that the party working to elect those Democrats has banned.
Interest groups can give more money to the state party than to individual candidates, since state law caps the size of donations to candidates but not parties. But the collection of investor-owned utilities and law enforcement groups that funded the state party last cycle also gave generously to Democrats, pouring more than $2.5 million into state legislative campaign accounts while also giving money to Republicans and to other political action committees. None of the groups responded to requests for comment.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has also benefited from those groups, several of which have channeled the maximum allowable donations to the Democratic governor. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association has been an especially prolific supporter, spending more than $4.5 million combined to elect Newsom in 2018 and defend him from a recall vote this year.
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