Follow The Money: Six CA Dems in Swing Districts Were Richly Rewarded by Assembly Leadership After Voting Yes on AB5

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

 

California’s controversial and destructive AB5 was hotly debated on both sides of the aisle during the 2019 legislative session and wasn’t passed without back-room deals and major negotiations. Asm. Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher (D-Teamsters) authored the bill and was able to get Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon to sign on as principal coauthor, signaling to Dems who might be on the fence that their support on this bill was pretty much expected.

The bill passed the Assembly on May 29, 2019 on a 59-15 vote, with six no-votes. Out of those 59 yes votes, six were from Democrats in moderate/swing districts, all but one of whom were first-term legislators who’d flipped a Republican seat. One of the 59 yes votes was from a newly-minted Democrat, San Diego’s Brian Maienschein, who has been warmly welcomed by Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher. The other, Orange County’s Tyler Diep, admitted that he only voted for the bill to be in Gonzalez-Fletcher’s good graces, and subsequently lost his seat in the 2020 primary.

After being modified in the Senate, the bill went back to the Assembly for a final vote on September 11, 2019 and passed 61-19, with two no-votes. Again, six of the yes votes were from those six Democrats, whom we’ll call the Swing Yes Democrats.

Clearly, voting yes on such a controversial bill would be dangerous for a first-term Democrat who’d just flipped an Assembly seat. In the months leading up to the May 29 vote those legislators were lobbied heavily by both sides, and at least one of the Swing Yes Democrats told constituents she planned to abstain. Gonzalez-Fletcher and Rendon wanted a show of unity, though, and weren’t happy that it looked like eight Democrats would be abstaining or registering a no vote.

Eventually, the Swing Yes Democrats – Assemblymembers Cottie Petrie-Norris, James Ramos, Sabrina Cervantes, Tasha Boerner Horvath, Rebecca Bauer Kahan, and Christy Smith – voted yes on May 29; a review of their campaign finance reports show that loyalty was highly rewarded. They received between $100,000 and $250,000 in “double max” contributions from AB5 coauthors (Rob Bonta, Wendy Carrillo, Todd Gloria, Ash Kalra, Kevin McCarty, Jose Medina, Mark Stone, and Buffy Wicks) and other powerful Assembly Democrats in the months after that vote, with the bulk of those contributions being made within a month of the vote.

(In California, the maximum contribution a candidate can receive from another candidate’s committee is $4,700 per election. So for the 2020 cycle, a candidate can receive $4,700 for the primary and $4,700 for the general. The contribution for the general election can be made before the primary election is held.)

Rebecca Bauer-Kahan

Bauer-Kahan, representing part of the San Francisco Bay Area (AD16), was elected in 2018, defeating moderate Republican Catharine Baker. She’s risen quickly into leadership and serves as Assistant Assembly Speaker. She received $234,300 from AB5 coauthors and other powerful Assembly Democrats. The vast majority of those double max contributions were made in June 2019; she received $4,700 from Asm. Christy Smith in December, after Smith abandoned her re-election run to instead run for the congressional seat vacated by Katie Hill.

SOURCE: California Fair Political Practices Commission data

Christy Smith

Christy Smith (AD38) was elected in 2018, flipping a seat that had been solidly Republican for decades. The contest was so close that the final result wasn’t certified for about a month after election day. Smith’s suburban Los Angeles district is home to a large number of “gig” workers who would be affected by AB5. In the weeks prior to the vote, Smith told a constituent who was an insurance agent concerned about how AB5 would affect his industry that she planned to abstain from AB5 due to a conflict of interest; Smith’s husband is a financial planner and his industry had received an exemption in the bill.

Smith received $103,700 from AB5 coauthors and other Assembly Dems. When she decided to run for Congress instead following the resignation of Katie Hill, she transferred $4,700 to each of the other five Swing Yes Democrats.

SOURCE: California Fair Political Practices Commission data

Tasha Boerner Harvath

Boerner Harvath’s San Diego area district (AD76) was represented by Republican Rocky Chavez, who didn’t run for re-election in 2018, opting to run for Congress after Darrel Issa announced his retirement. As a fellow San Diego County legislator, Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher is highly invested in Boerner Harvath’s success. She received $243,700 in contributions from AB5 coauthors and other Assembly Democrats.

SOURCE: California Fair Political Practices Commission data

Sabrina Cervantes

Sabrina Cervantes (AD60) is the only one of the six Moderate Yes Dems in their second term in 2018. Her district had previously been solidly Republican, and with the right candidate could flip back. Cervantes received $234,300 from AB5 coauthors and Assembly Democrats.

SOURCE: California Fair Political Practices Commission data

James Ramos

James Ramos (AD40) won election to the Assembly in 2018 after Republican Asm. Marc Steinorth decided not to run for election. His Inland Empire district had previously been represented by Republicans for more than two decades. He received $225,600 from AB5 coauthors and Assembly Democrats.

SOURCE: California Fair Political Practices Commission data

Cottie Petrie-Norris

Cottie Petrie-Norris represents a traditionally safe Republican area of Orange County (AD74) and was swept into office as part of the Blue Wave of ballot harvesting in 2018. She received $253,100 from AB5 coauthors and other Assembly Democrats after her vote on AB5.

SOURCE: California Fair Political Practices Commission data

In addition to the contributions from their colleagues, the Swing Yes Democrats received major contributions from labor unions and industries that had received exemptions from AB5 in the month or so following their first yes vote on AB5. Those contributions will be covered in Part 2 of this series.

(This piece has been edited to clarify the timeline of Asm. Maienschein’s party switch.)