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December 3, 2022

Newsom solicited millions in donations to fund California’s pandemic response

Gov. Gavin Newsom solicited hundreds of millions in donations to bolster the state’s COVID-19 response in 2020, a report from the California Fair Political Practices Commission found.

According to the FPPC, companies and foundations donated more than $226 million at Newsom’s request in 2020, the majority of which went toward the state’s COVID-19 response. The donations came in the form of behest payments, which are payments made on behalf of an elected official that are for charitable, legislative or government purposes.

Newsom was the top behesting official in 2020, far outranking any other elected official that year. Former Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, was the second top-behesting official in 2020 after soliciting nearly $1.6 million in donations.

Fueled by pandemic response efforts, the amount of behested payments skyrocketed in 2020, reaching more than $237 million in total, according to the FPPC’s report released Thursday. This figure is almost ten times higher than 2019, where elected officials behested about $24.3 million in payments.

The majority of behested payments in 2020 were given in support of the state’s COVID-19 response, with more than $225 million targeted at “governmental” purposes, the FPPC said. The bulk of the funds went toward addressing the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.

“It’s obvious the COVID-19 pandemic mobilized elected officials to raise money from a variety of sources to target the pandemic and to help ease the burden on local and State government budgets,” FPPC Chair Richard Miadich said in a statement. “This report shows the breadth of the practice and the continued importance of transparency in making sure our elected officials are accountable for the vast amounts being raised, even if they are going for very worthwhile efforts.”

Facebook was the top “payor” of behested funds in 2020, donating more than $26.9 million. The majority of those funds were given on Newsom’s behalf to support the state’s pandemic response, according to the report.

Of the total $26 million donated, the social media giant contributed $25 million in 2020 to purchase and distribute gift cards to nurses on the frontlines of the pandemic.

Other businesses and organizations, including iHeartMedia Inc. and the Sierra Health Foundation, contributed tens of millions to fund the state’s COVID-19 messaging and public awareness campaign at the behest of Newsom, according to the report.

The rise in philanthropic giving centered on California’s governmental efforts and COVID-19 response has continued since 2020. According to the Sacramento Bee, Newsom reported $13 million in behest payments in 2021, and his latest Social Innovation Impact Report outlines $138 million in donations built through “public-private partnerships.”

As a result of the increase in behested payments during the pandemic, the FPPC  implemented new regulations to “increase transparency and accountability,” the organization said on Thursday.

Under the new protocols, officials must disclose any relationship with officials or staff members when reporting behested payments to nonprofits. Officials must also report the name of the person directing a behested payment through a donor-advised fund and disclose if a person making the behested payment is involved in a proceeding with the official’s agency.

According to the FPPC, all behested payments over $5,000 are considered reportable.

“This huge increase in both the use and amount of behests is why we are implementing new regulations to increase transparency,” Miadich, chair of the FPPC, said in a statement. “Among them, we now require officials to disclose any ties they may have to the non-profit receiving the money. While behested payments can unquestionably provide valuable resources to our communities, public officials have a responsibility to be transparent to the public on where the money is coming from.”

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