The Stars Are About to Come Out for Politics: Why Hollywood political donations are due to spike

Hollywood political donations, sharply stymied by this year’s drawn-out entertainment-industry strikes, are expected to spike now that the Screen Actors Guild has reached a tentative deal with the studios.

President Biden is widely expected to raise moneyin Los Angeles in the coming weeks, along with a slew of Senate and congressional candidates who have largely avoided the region because of the writers’ and actors’ strikes.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, a Californian with longtime relationships with entertainment-industry leaders, have been largely unable to publicly tap these donors this year. Harris in May even pulled out of her first public appearance in her home state after she and Biden announced their reelection campaign — an MTV mental health awareness event in Carson — because of the Writers Guild of America strike.

Attending a glitzy industry fundraiser would have been even more fraught — Biden or Harris would have almost certainly had to cross a union picket line — an anathema in Democratic politics, where support from organized labor is essential. Additionally, studio executives didn’t want to host fancy donor gatherings or write big checks while they were pleading poverty during bargaining with actors and writers.

Biden and Harris have by no means suffered because of the decline in the number of Los Angeles fundraisers. They have raised more than $70 million in each of the last two fiscal quarters, and their campaign and the Democratic National Committee have $91 million cash on hand, the most ever by a Democratic White House ticket at this point in the electoral cycle.

Still, campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodriguez said the president and vice president purposefully avoided Hollywood because of the strikes.

“We have been very respectful [and] mindful of the environment that people in the industry are feeling and facing,” she said in an interview shortly before the actors’ strike was resolved. “I hope we get a chance to get out there before the end of the year, the end of the fourth quarter, because it is a really important base of support for us to be able to connect with before the clock starts over.”

Biden on Thursday lauded the tentative agreement.

“Collective bargaining works,” he said in a statement. “When both sides come to the table to negotiate in earnest they can make businesses stronger and allow workers to secure pay and benefits that help them raise families and retire with dignity.”

The entertainment industry has been a historic treasure trove of political dollars for both parties, but mostly Democrats. In 2020, people who reported working in television, movie and music jobs donated $43.7 million to presidential campaigns and outside groups.

Democrats received nearly three-quarters of the money, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission data by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks electoral finances.

Political contributions from donors who work in the television, movie and music industries plummeted this year, according to an analysis by the center conducted for The Times.

In the first nine months of 2023, donors in these industries contributed $5.4 million to federal campaigns, according to the center’s analysis. During the same time period in prior presidential elections, these donors contributed much more: $24.6 million in 2019, $21.1 million in 2015 and $15.5 million in 2011.

One of the most famous Hollywood fundraisers took place in 2012 on the basketball court of actor George Clooney’s house in Studio City, when then-President Obama raised nearly $15 million for his reelection effort, believed to be the largest one-night campaign haul ever at that time. The dinner party, catered by Wolfgang Puck and attended by Robert Downey Jr., Diane von Furstenberg, Barbra Streisand, James Brolin, Tobey Maguire, Billy Crystal and others, took place one day after Obama announced his support for gay marriage.

Such star-spangled events were few and far between in summer. The tempo has started to pick up slightly in recent months, though it’s still slower than the typical slate of political galas, fetes and dinners the year before a presidential election, several people said. In addition to providing an opportunity to publicly tout one’s political views, such events are a cornerstone of the Hollywood social scene.

“Fundraising in Hollywood is the ultimate networking,” said Donna Bojarsky, a longtime Democratic political consultant and co-founder of a nonprofit dedicated to building civic engagement in L.A. “You go to a Hollywood fundraiser and you see everyone you know.”

However, some are skeptical about whether entertainment-industry fundraising will return to its prior apex.

Lara Bergthold, a communications consultant who has long operated at the nexus of Hollywood and politics, identified a wider issue than the labor stalemate and ensuing financial losses.

“Looking at the broader landscape of progressive organizations and candidates, fundraising is down for them compared to this time four years ago — it’s not just Los Angeles, it’s not just the strike, it’s kind of all over the place,” she said, citing donor burnout, exhaustion and wide-ranging economic worries.

Still, there was a class of major donors who’d largely abstained this year because writing five- or six-figure checks “felt flashy and showy at a time when it was really much more appropriate to be holding back,“ she said recently. Bergthold expected that giving to resume in full force soon after the SAG-AFTRA strike ended.

The writers’ strike ended in late September after 148 days, and the actors’ union’s negotiating committee approved a tentative deal with the major studios on Wednesday after a nearly four-month strike that hobbled the industry and left thousands without work. The ratification vote is expected to take place this week.

Speaking last week before the SAG-AFTRA strike ended, Jay Sures, the politically powerful vice chairman of Hollywood’s United Talent Agency, said he was uncertain about how fundraising would play out in coming months.

“I think it’s going to be a mixed bag,” Sures said. “You’ll see super mega donors who are just going to give no matter what, and you’ll see other donors who will say, ‘Maybe it’s time to just hold off for one beat and see where the world takes us.’”

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has benefited greatly from Hollywood donors, said he expects it may take a little time for fundraisers to ramp up because of the roller-coaster many have been through recently.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

McCarthy’s fall leaves state Republicans in bind

Successor may bring in less money, even as Democrats try to tie incumbents to new speaker’s extremism.

WASHINGTON — Since House Republicans unanimously elected Louisiana’s Rep. Mike Johnson as speaker last week, the GOP has sought to portray itself as an emboldened party willing to battle President Biden and the Democratic-controlled Senate.

But for California Republicans, Johnson’s election presents a host of potential problems that could make trying to survive in a deep-blue state even harder than it already was.

Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ouster is the first of those challenges. McCarthy’s fundraising allies have said they will work with Johnson to ensure the money continues to pour into Republicans’ coffers. But Johnson is relatively unproven as a fundraiser, and McCarthy, who pulled in more than $500 million last election cycle, rose to the top of his party in part because of his ability to rake in dough.

The loss of McCarthy from upper leadership could have especially dire consequences for the California Republican Party, which has long relied on him to keep money coming into the Golden State, said Mike Madrid, an anti-Trump Republican consultant who’s become a critic of the party.

“Kevin McCarthy was the last card holding up the house that we call the California Republican Party,” Madrid said. “He was the last reason any money — any serious money — was actually moving through the operation.”

Now that McCarthy is out as speaker, “that money is going to dry up very, very quickly,” Madrid added. “The state party is going to have a very difficult time keeping its head above water while it’s already sinking.”

Even before his first election to Congress in 2006, McCarthy demonstrated his value by raising money and sending funds to fellow candidates and the National Republican Congressional Committee. As he rose the ranks in party leadership, donors were more eager to hand over their cash. This was a godsend to the state party, which had struggled to raise enough money to field competitive candidates in safer Democratic districts.

Madrid said it’s very unlikely that candidates in California’s most competitive districts will see their bank accounts dry up. Donors in and outside the state will continue giving to protect the five Republicans who hold districts that President Biden won in 2020 — Young Kim of Anaheim Hills, David Valadao of Hanford, Mike Garcia of Santa Clarita, Michelle Steel of Seal Beach and John Duarte of Modesto.

If donors don’t deliver for those members, the GOP could lose its House majority.

But, Madrid said, for Republicans in safe districts, donors are unlikely to want to invest, since they are unlikely to see anything change.

Even if the money keeps flowing, California Republicans have another problem: Democrats are eager to tie them to the deeply archconservative Louisiana Republican they’ve elevated to the post second in line for the presidency.

“Johnson is as extreme as they come. He led the plot to overthrow the 2020 election. He’s a Trump loyalist. Above all, he’s a MAGA extremist,” a new ad from the Congressional Integrity Project, a Democratic-aligned nonprofit, warns Californians.

“This is who John Duarte voted for,” the ad continues. “Tell him to stop putting MAGA over the American people.”

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report changed its assessment of Valadao’s race from leaning Republican to “toss-up” on Tuesday.

Dave Wasserman, a senior editor and elections analyst at Cook, wrote that the fight over the speakership had “supercharged House Democrats’ confidence that they can flip the five seats they need to reclaim the chamber by convincing swing voters that ‘dysfunctional’ Republicans can’t be trusted with the keys to power.”

And Dan Gottlieb, a spokesman for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a news release that “Californians are eager to reject the extremism that [Valadao has] been enabling.”

That sort of attack may have some resonance in California. Although McCarthy may have been unpopular with Democrats, he was a Californian. The differences between his home of Bakersfield and the rest of the state are not as vast as the differences between California and the Deep South.

Though McCarthy declined to vote to certify some states’ presidential election results in 2020, Johnson went a step further, rallying more than 100 Republicans behind his brief endorsing a lawsuit to overturn the election. He has repeatedly backed measures to ban abortion nationwide, and previously worked for a nonprofit — labeled an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — that defended state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people. Such viewpoints are at odds with many swing district voters.

But Jon Fleischman, former executive director of the state GOP, doesn’t think connecting vulnerable California Republicans to Johnson will go far with voters.

“I don’t think the ideological views of the speaker really matter at all,” he said. “It’s not clear to me that the positions on the issues of the new speaker are really any different than the positions of the issues of the old speaker.”

Of Republicans surveyed in an October Economist/YouGov poll, 38% said they wanted House members to back the speaker candidate supported by the majority of the GOP caucus even if they disagreed with the nominee, while 33% of Republicans said they should not.

“I don’t think they’re going to judge their member of Congress based on who their party put forward as speaker,” Fleischman said. “If there’s any potential for impact, it’s not going to be [due to] the views of the congressman from Louisiana on the issues.”

Democratic groups may have an easier time tying the lawmakers to former President Trump, he argued. Trump is the likely GOP presidential nominee, is very popular among the GOP base, but is still deeply unpopular among swing voters.

“These incumbents are going to have to run under the banner of Trump for president,” Fleischman said.

Still, Republicans and their allies will seek to localize races and focus on specific issues to make clear the role their candidates could play in Washington.

“Californians demand relief from the surging cost of living, gas prices and violent crime fueled by extreme left-wing policies in D.C. and Sacramento,” Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ben Petersen said in a statement.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

10 California congressional races could tip the 2024 balance

Yes, the headline race in California’s 2024 election is the first open U.S. Senate seat in 30 years. 

But voters should also pay attention to the U.S. House: California helped flip control to Republicans in 2022 (and the speakership went from Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco to Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, until he was deposed last month).

And California is shaping up as a key battleground again next year. Both parties are spending money and resources in the state. Now, California’s delegation includes 40 Democrats and 12 Republicans, who hold an overall majority of a mere nine seats in the House.

Wednesday, the well-regarded Cook Political Report put out its latest scorecard and 10 of the state’s 52 congressional seats are in play. It says a year out from the general election, it’s more likely that Democrats will retake the House than keep control of the U.S. Senate.

One of the key races is the 47th District in Orange County, an open seat because Rep. Katie Porter is running for Senate. It’s a “lean Democratic” in Cook’s ratings, and it was a CalMatters “hot race” in 2022.

Other Democratic-held seats on Cook’s list are the 9th District represented by Josh Harder and the 49th District by Mike Levin, both rated as likely Democratic.

Seven Republican-held seats are on the scorecard, including four rated as toss-ups: the 13th represented by John Duarte, the 22nd by David Valadao, the 27th by Mike Garcia and the 41st by Ken Calvert

Also, the 45th District represented by Michelle Steel is a “lean Republican” and the 3rd held by Kevin Kiley and the 40th by Young Kim are likely Republican.

All but one of these districts were also CalMatters hot races in 2022.

But while it’s a Democrat vs. Republican battle again for Congress, a new poll suggests there might be an opening for a third party in California — if there were ever enough money and the right leaders, that is.  

Half of California voters have a negative opinion of the Democratic Party, two-thirds have a dim view of the Republican Party and one third don’t like both parties, according to a recent Public Policy Institute of California survey.   

That pox-on-both-parties sentiment is up from 20% in October 2020 and has risen steadily since. So has the proportion of voters who say a third major party is needed — 71%, up from 54% in 2019.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

How Liberal California Compares to Florida, Texas on Social Media Regulation

The dichotomy between blue and red states – in essence California vs. Florida and Texas – has played out in many arenas on many specific issues, including immigration and abortion.

The whole nation will get a full dose of the running conflict next month when California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who’s obsessed with building a national image, debates Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a declared 2024 Republican candidate for president, on national television.

Meanwhile, an ironic twist to the rivalry has developed over how the competing states seek to force social media companies, such as X (formerly Twitter) and Facebook, to toe the official line on content that runs afoul of their very different ideological outlooks.

When it reconvened this month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to examine laws in Florida and Texas that would prohibit social media outlets from barring controversial political speech. The laws were enacted after both Facebook and Twitter suspended former President Donald Trump’s account.

The Texas law, now on hold, would classify social media companies as common carriers such as public utilities and require them to disclose their “moderation standards” affecting what they allow to be posted, and declare why they remove certain conduct.

The Florida law – similar in thrust – would prohibit banning certain users, such as journalists or politicians, and require social media companies to explain the rationale for each instance of content moderation.

In both cases, the social media companies say Florida and Texas are attempting to control how they edit their platforms in violation of the Constitution’s right to freedom of speech.

“At bottom, government ‘may not … tell Twitter or YouTube what videos to post; or tell Facebook or Google what content to favor,’” Scott Keller, an attorney for internet trade groups, told the court in a petition.

The issues before the Supreme Court are remarkably similar to a lawsuit filed in federal court this month by X Corp. against California, alleging that a 2022 law violates its free speech right as well.

The law, Assembly Bill 587, also bores into the standards that social media use to moderate content, requiring them to make extensive disclosures to the state Department of Justice. The measure was sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League and is aimed at pressuring the social media companies to remove what the sponsor deems to be hate speech.

“The line between providing an open forum for productive discourse and permitting the proliferation of hate speech and misinformation is a fine one, and depends largely on the structure and practices of the platform,” Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel, a Woodland Hills Democrat, said in a statement as his bill was being considered.

X Corp. claims that Gabriel’s law violates the First Amendment because it interferes with social media companies’ constitutionally protected editorial judgements, requires them to post terms “dictated by the government,” and pressures them to remove content the state “deems undesirable or harmful.”

Fundamentally, then, while Texas and Florida accuse social media of being too eager to censor inflammatory content, the California law implies that they are not eager enough.

California, meanwhile, has rolled back another censorship law passed last year.

Assembly Bill 2098 threatened doctors with losing their licenses for “unprofessional conduct” if they openly disagreed with officialdom on the nature of COVID-19 or the vaccines used to battle the pandemic.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Another Dark Money Plan to ‘Protect’ Elections

The New York Times reported recently that a Democratic group is starting a nonprofit that plans to spend $10 million to “protect” election officials, who are said to have faced “increased threats in recent years” and who have been “resigning at an alarming rate.”

You would think local law enforcement agencies, and maybe even the FBI, would be investigating these threats and taking action to protect election officials.

If that’s not happening, then maybe there’s another reason that “threats” are cited in a story about a nonprofit group raising $10 million for next year’s election.

The new group is called Value the Vote, and it’s a 501(c)(4) nonprofit under the IRS code. Value the Vote was started by the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, which exists to help Democrats get elected to the job responsible for oversight and administration of state and local elections. DASS spent $30 million on the midterms last year.

Value the Vote plans to “initially focus on five battleground states,” The New York Times reported, specifically, “Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina, Nevada and Wisconsin.”

What is the group planning to do in these states that are considered critical to the outcome of the next presidential election? “The group will look to counter election misinformation,” the Times reported, “including with paid digital advertising, and will begin a voter registration program” that will be “focusing heavily on Black and Latino communities, which have tended to back Democrats in greater numbers.”

The technical name for this is “campaign spending.”

However, campaign spending is highly regulated by the Federal Election Commission and various state agencies. Campaign committees and political parties must report every donation along with the name, address, occupation and employer of the donor, and there are strict limits on how much an individual donor may contribute.

It’s different for nonprofits. They can accept donations without the limits and disclosures required of political campaign committees, but the degree of their engagement in political campaigns is limited by federal law. According to the Internal Revenue Service, a 501(c)(4) “may engage in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office provided that such intervention does not constitute the organization’s primary activity.”

But what is the “primary activity” of Value the Vote if not to go into key battleground states ahead of the 2024 election and intervene in the election? The group will be paying for voter registration of Democratic-leaning groups and digital advertising to combat “misinformation” as they define it.

Even if the IRS chooses to leave Value the Vote alone and never investigates how it’s raising or spending its money, the group could face legal trouble in the states. Twenty-five of them have passed laws banning or restricting the use of private financing in public elections.

The list includes two of the five “battleground” states on Value the Vote’s things-to-do list: Georgia and Arizona. A third state on the list, North Carolina, has a bill in the legislature that would ban election officials from accepting outside funding.

The landslide of legislation stems from one of the curious things that happened ahead of the 2020 election, along with the government’s determination that a novel virus spreads at polling places but not at protest marches. There was an unprecedented infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars from nonprofit organizations into election administration all around the country.

The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, a 501(c)(3) that under the Internal Revenue Code is “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office,” pumped about $350 million into the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life to be pushed out in “election grants.”

The Chicago-based CTCL  was founded in 2012 by three individuals who worked together at the New Organizing Institute, described by Influence Watch as “a major training center for left-of-center digital activists” and by a Washington Post reporter as “the Democratic Party’s Hogwarts for digital wizardry.” Several board members of the CTCL, according to Influence Watch, have “strong ties to Democratic political operations.”

In December 2020, NPR published an article headlined, “How Private Money From Facebook’s CEO Saved The 2020 Election.” It quoted Bill Turner, an election official in Chester County, Pennsylvania, who said the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative’s money was essential to preventing an “election meltdown” because Congress didn’t provide enough funding for such things as drop boxes and new equipment to process mail ballots. The CTCL gave Chester County $2.5 million from the funding provided by Mark Zuckerberg’s foundation. That was more than the county’s entire 2020 budget for voting services. Chester County, NPR notes, is “one of several large suburban counties that ring Philadelphia — once-Republican strongholds that have shifted in Democrats’ favor in recent years.” Hillary Clinton did well there in 2016, but Joe Biden did nearly twice as well in 2020.

Hans von Spakovsky, a former Federal Election Commission member, called Zuckerberg’s flood of money “a carefully orchestrated attempt to convert official government election offices into get-out-the-vote operations for one political party and to insert political operatives into election offices in order to influence and manipulate the outcome of the election.”

A lot of state lawmakers agreed with that assessment, which is why 25 states now have laws banning or limiting the use of money from private groups in election administration.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

CPAC Treasurer Accuses Chief Matt Schlapp of Financial, Personnel Mismanagement

The resignation letter adds pressure on Schlapp, who is fighting a defamation lawsuit from a campaign staffer who alleges he groped him

Matt Schlapp, the prominent Trump ally who leads the influential Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), was accused this week of mismanaging money and staff in a scathing resignation letter from the parent organization’s treasurer.

Bob Beauprez, the treasurer of the American Conservative Union and a board member for eight years, said he had “lost confidence” in the organization’s financial statements and could not solicit donations “in good faith.” He blamed Schlapp forexcessive staffdepartures and suggested that violations of the organization’s bylaws could expose the storied institution to lawsuits or even criminal prosecution.

“A cancer has been metastasizing within the organization for years. It must be diagnosed, treated, and cured, or it will destroy” the organization and its foundation, Beauprez said in the letter, which was obtained by The Washington Post. “I’ve come to think that the expectations for my role as a director and officer is much the same as that of a mushroom — ‘To be kept in the dark and fed a lot of manure.’ I no longer am willing to comply.”

The 13-pageletter, delivered Tuesday ahead of a scheduled June 1board meeting, escalates the internal and public pressure on Schlapp,who as ACU chairman since 2014, has become a fixture in conservative media. But his leadership is facing multiple challenges amid corporate backlash over CPAC’s embrace of the far right in the United States and abroad, as well as reduced turnout at its flagship Washington-area conference in March. Schlapp called the event a “home run.”

Schlapp and his wife, Mercedes, a senior fellow at the foundation and a former senior official in the Trump White House, are also fighting a defamation and battery lawsuit from a formerRepublican campaign aide who alleged that Schlapp groped him last fall during a visit to the Atlanta area. Schlapp, 55,has denied the aide’s account and attacked his credibility.

Schlapp on Thursday broadly denied the allegations in the letter, characterizing them in a response posted to Twitter as the “routine internal complaints of disgruntled employees.”

“The claims contained in the original email are out of context or are in error,” Schlapp said. “I’ve experienced a political assassination attempt on every part of my character and integrity for the past five months. I’m disgusted that I need to respond to the Post about internal deliberations of CPAC — an organization that’s grown five-fold under my leadership.”

Beauprez did not respond to a message from The Post.

In his letter, Beauprez said he accepted Schlapp’s denial of any inappropriate conduct involving the aide, but he also argued that the board has a duty to protect the organization from potentially significant damages and has never been“fully briefed” on the lawsuit.He said the board agreed to advance $50,000 for Schlapp’s attorney, Ben Chew, who previously represented actorJohnny Depp, butBeauprez said hewas concerned that the fees had spiraled to more than $270,000. That amount has been raised from private donors, he said.

Chew said in an email that the executive committee was briefed on the lawsuit at Beauprez’s request. “Given the information we have unearthed in discovery, we are confident we will prevail in the litigation,” he added.

Another former CPACemployee has notified the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of plans to sue over claims that she was fired in retaliation for complaining about a co-worker’s sexist and racist comments. Beauprez said the board has not been formally briefed on that case either.

“A few of us have sought answers to some of what seem to be obvious and necessary questions,” Beauprez said.“As a result, we have been accused of ‘not having Matt’s back’ and ‘trying to stage a leadership coup.’”

Concerns about Schlapp’s leadership also fueled the recentresignation of the treasurer of the American Conservative Union Foundation, Randy Neugebauer, according to several people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. Neugebauer did not respond to a request for comment from The Post.

Beauprez, a former Republican congressman from Colorado, detailed other wide-ranging complaints that he said date back to 2020. He said that since the organization’s chief financial officer left in March, the bookkeeping was taken over by a longtime business associate of Schlapp’s who provided financial documents with unexplained discrepancies. Beauprez also said he was concerned about payment obligations that were “a far greater amount than I ever recall,” and he said Schlapp was not able to specify how much money the organization made on the CPAC event in March.

The Post reported in February that more than half of the organization’s staff has left since 2021. Beauprez said Schlapp established a pattern of maligning people who leave, even when he was responsible for hiring and promoting them. Several staff members were driven to therapy and medicationin a stressed-out workplace with “major deficiencies” in management, Beauprez said.

One employee became so distressed thatshe left a group dinner and was found by co-workerswandering aimlessly in the streets, according to the letter. Multiple people who were present for that incident confirmed the account to The Post.

“New hires always come in with the highest regard, but when they leave whether by choice or get fired, they are disparaged and have suddenly become useless human refuse,” Beauprez said. “To ignore and deny the reality is dishonest.”

Beauprez’s letter also detailed several instances in which he alleged that the organization failed to follow its bylaws. Specifically, he said, the board’s executive committee approved Schlapp’s salary but neither the committee nor the board ever saw a formal contract, as required by the bylaws. Schlapp, whose chairman position is traditionally unpaid, started receiving annual compensation of $600,000 in mid-2022as his lobbying income declined, according to public records and people familiar with the organization’s finances.

Beauprez also alleged that the board never approved a resolution authorizing officers to sign checks as required by the bylaws.

Click here to read the full article at the Washington Post

California Democrats Further Torn After Seeing Sen. Feinstein’s Return to Washington

As she approaches retirement age, Democrat Donna Perkins understands reluctance about telling Sen. Dianne Feinstein what to do as she winds down her career.

After all, California’s senior senator has already announced that she would not seek another term — and some argue that the calls for her to step down earlier are rooted in misogyny and ageism.

But after seeing news coverage of Feinstein’s return to the nation’s capital last week, in a wheelchair and still weak after a nearly three-month absence from Washington as she recovered from shingles, Perkins is more concerned than ever about the 89-year-old senator’s ability to represent 39 million Californians.

“I don’t want to be like that, right? I’m getting ready to turn 65. I want somebody to say, ‘Hey, Donna, you know what? It’s time to pass the torch.’ It’s sad, but it’s not fair either,” said Perkins, 64.

Perkins was among about a dozen Democrats who gathered at the Highland Park branch of a Los Angeles library Thursday evening to watch a livestreamed U.S. Senate candidate forum featuring two of the top Democrats running to replace Feinstein in 2024, Reps. Barbara Lee of Oakland and Katie Porter of Irvine. The event was sponsored by the progressive California Working Families Party. Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank was invited to participate but declined.

Questions about Feinstein’s future have been swirling for quite some time over concerns about declining mental and physical capabilities. Concerns grew after she was briefly hospitalized earlier this year and, while recuperating at home in San Francisco, missed votes that resulted in a holdup for confirming some of President Biden’s judicial nominees. Feinstein is a member of the Senate’s powerful Judiciary Committee, which was deadlocked because of her absence, resulting in Democrats delaying votes on nominees that could not win support from Republican senators.

Feinstein flew back to Washington on Wednesday, though she has been advised by doctors to take on a lighter workload. She cast critical votes Thursday to advance judicial nominees who lacked Republican support. And yet, among some California Democrats, Feinstein’s return did little to quell concern about her likely effectiveness in the Senate, heightened further by the Democrats’ razor-thin majority.

“Everybody is so diplomatic. I think she needs to take care of herself, and you can’t take care of yourself with that intense responsibility. Something comes first — either taking care of yourself or taking care of your constituents,” said Susie Tompkins Buell, a major Democratic fundraiser based in San Francisco. “I know she likes being there, I know she’s a fighter. But I feel like for the bigger picture, for a better future for all of us, I think she should resign. It’s an act of honor to do that.”

Tompkins Buell has helped raise campaign money for Feinstein in the past and her husband once worked for the senator.

Others expressed similar concerns about representation, while declining to weigh in on what Feinstein should do.

“I’m not a doctor. I certainly haven’t seen Sen. Feinstein in person. I don’t feel like the best person to make that judgment call,” said former San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Jane Kim, who is now the executive director of the Working Families Party and moderated the Senate candidate forum.

“I think it’s important we have a U.S. senator to be able to fulfill their duties every day in the U.S. Senate because we have a tied vote,” Kim said Friday. “It is critical for our party and our movement that we’re able to move forward on decisions around judicial nominees in particular and keep business moving in Washington.”

Eddie Isaacs, 42, said after seeing the images out of Washington, he was concerned about her health but wants to see how Feinstein’s recovery progresses.

“I think we should see how she does in the next few weeks and make a decision at that point,” he said. “Frankly, I didn’t realize it was deteriorating as bad as it had been the last three months.”

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Report: Regulators Saw Problems, But Didn’t Make Silicon Valley Bank Fix Them Fast Enough

When state and federal regulators spotted problems at Silicon Valley Bank, they didn’t do enough to make sure the bank acted quickly to fix them. That’s one of the key takeaways from a report published today by the California state department that shared responsibility for overseeing the bank, which failed in March. 

The report came from California’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation, which, among other responsibilities, works with federal regulators to oversee state banks. Some of that oversight happens in the form of bank “exams,” where government workers go in and investigate a bank’s solvency, management and more. 

In the case of Silicon Valley Bank, California was sharing oversight with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. The Fed had “assumed a lead role for many supervisory activities,” the report said. 

In years leading up to the bank’s collapse, California and federal regulators had “identified deficiencies” in the bank’s management practices and had taken action in their capacity as bank supervisors related to the bank’s “risk management, liquidity, and interest rate risk simulations,” the report said. The bank had begun to remediate those issues, but “the regulators did not take adequate measures to ensure SVB did so with enough speed,” the report said. 

The report outlined steps the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation could take to protect against “future economic destabilization,” including:

  • Work with federal regulators to come up with better, faster systems for making banks fix problems; 
  • Prioritize regulation efforts on banks with more assets, and staff up oversight teams if banks grow quickly – as Silicon Valley Bank did;
  • Increase scrutiny of uninsured deposits; 
  • Tell banks to come up with a better way to handle social media, a key element in the speed of Silicon Valley Bank’s bank run. 

“The Federal Reserve played the lead role (in overseeing Silicon Valley Bank) and, as we knew, did a negligent job of addressing problems in SVB that it identified,” wrote Ross Levine, a banking and finance professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, in an email to CalMatters. There were lots of federal and state regulators focused on Silicon Valley Bank, “and yet they collectively did not understand the magnitude of the interest rate risk even though it was obvious. Each person seemed to do their job within the context of their little inspection box. Yet, collectively, they missed the big, obvious problem staring them all in the face.”

State lawmakers will get a chance to ask questions on Wednesday when they hold an oversight hearing on Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse. Officials from the state Department of Financial Protection and Innovation are expected to give remarks and answer questions. 

“I do want to be clear that SVB failed because the bank’s leadership failed and they didn’t properly manage the risk,” said Tim Grayson, a state assemblymember from Concord and the chair of the assembly’s committee on banking and finance.

As for how much responsibility state regulators have for the ultimate demise of the bank, that’s something legislators will have to look at during the upcoming hearing, he said. 

“My focus now heading into this Wednesday hearing is how to prevent a similar situation from happening again,” Grayson said. “And what that really means for me is being able to take a fresh look at bank supervision and whether or not our state regulator has everything that it needs to protect California, at least California’s banking system.”

The report comes on the heels of the collapse of First Republic, another California bank. First Republic’s customers had begun pulling their money out before Silicon Valley Bank failed, and then customers withdrew even more money in the ensuing panic. On May 1, the state department said that it had taken possession of First Republic and handed it over to federal regulators, who subsequently sold it to JP Morgan Chase Bank.

Different banks have different regulators depending on whether the bank has a state charter or a national charter; charters are like a business license for a financial institution. Banks with a state charter, like Silicon Valley Bank and First Republic, are regulated by both California and the federal government. Other banks, including Bank of America or JP Morgan Chase, have national charters and are regulated primarily by the federal government. Banks can choose which charter to seek.

Federal regulators also bear some responsibility in Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse, as the Federal Reserve acknowledged in its own extensive post-mortem report recently. The bank’s federal supervisors “did not fully appreciate the extent of the bank’s vulnerabilities, or take sufficient steps to ensure that the bank fixed its problems quickly enough,” wrote Michael Barr, the Fed’s vice chair for supervision in a letter accompanying the report.  

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Republicans Balk at Plan to Replace Feinstein on Judiciary

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats’ efforts to temporarily replace California Sen. Dianne Feinstein on the Senate Judiciary Committee met quick opposition Monday from Republicans, complicating their plan as some of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees remain on hold during her extended medical absence.

Feinstein, 89, last week asked to be temporarily replaced on the Senate Judiciary Committee while she recuperates in her home state from a case of the shingles. The statement came shortly after a member of California’s House delegation, Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, called on her to resign from the Senate, saying it is “unacceptable” for her to miss votes to confirm judges who could be weighing in on abortion rights, a key Democratic priority. Feinstein has been away from the Senate since February.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday that he is moving forward and hopes to put a resolution on the Senate floor this week seeking a temporary substitute on the panel. But it’s unclear if Democrats will have the votes.

Multiple Republicans indicated on Monday that they would object to the rare request, meaning there would have to be a roll call vote — and Democrats would need at least 10 Republicans to vote with them for approval.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican on the Judiciary committee, said on the Senate floor that he hopes to see Feinstein back in the Senate soon, but “until then, President Biden’s most controversial, partisan judicial nominees will have to wait.”

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, a member of Republican leadership, said she wouldn’t support a temporary replacement. “We’re not going to help the Democrats with that,” she told reporters.

The uncertainty over Feinstein’s status, and over the fate of some of Biden’s judicial nominees, is the latest tangle for Schumer as he navigates his party’s one-seat majority in the Senate. Feinstein’s absence comes as another Democratic senator, John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, has also been on an extended medical leave. Fetterman, 53, returned to the Senate on Monday after checking himself into the hospital in February for clinical depression.

It also comes as bipartisan votes on federal judgeships — lifetime appointments, in most cases — have been increasingly steeped in partisanship. While the Judiciary committee has moved some of Biden’s judicial nominees with a handful of GOP votes, Republicans are loath to give approval to a plan that will help Biden place more judges on the bench.

“I will not go along with Chuck Schumer’s plan to replace Senator Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee and pack the court with activist judges,” tweeted Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., a member of the Judiciary panel.

Democrats say the are currently 12 federal judge nominees they have been unable to advance because of Feinstein’s absence. It is unclear how many of the nominees would be able to move with some Republican support.

Several Republicans questioned the motivations behind the effort. North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis said he was skeptical because Democrats aren’t trying to replace Feinstein on the Intelligence or Appropriations panels.

“Why one and not all three?” asked Tillis, who is also a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Chuck Grassley of Iowa said they think Democrats are pressuring Feinstein unfairly.

Collins said that she and Feinstein are good friends, and she thinks there has been a “concerted campaign” to push her off the Judiciary committee. “I will have no part of that,” Collins said.

Feinstein has come under increasing pressure to resign or step down from her duties. While she has defended her effectiveness, she has faced questions in recent years about her cognitive health and memory, and has appeared increasingly frail.

In 2020, she said she would not serve as the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel after criticism from liberals about her handling of of Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation. Earlier this year, she said she would not serve as the Senate president pro tempore, or the most senior member of the majority party, even though she was in line to do so. The president pro tempore opens the Senate every day and holds other ceremonial duties.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, a longtime member of the panel who is the same age as Feinstein, chastised Democrats for denying Feinstein the opportunity to become chairman of the committee and trying to force her out of office “because she’s old.”

“I don’t intend to give credence to that sort of anti-human treatment,” Grassley said.

If Feinstein were to resign immediately, the process would be much easier for Democrats, since California Gov. Gavin Newsom would appoint a replacement. The Senate regularly approves committee assignments for new senators after their predecessors have resigned or died. But a temporary replacement due to illness is a rare, if not unprecedented, request.

It is unclear how long Feinstein will be away. Her office has not given a timeline for her return, and Democrats have not said for how long they would seek a temporary replacement. She has been away from the Senate since Feb. 27, just two weeks after she announced she would not run for another term next year.

Schumer said he spoke to Feinstein in recent days, and “she believes she will return soon. She is hopeful of that and so am I.”

Asked if Feinstein should resign, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin said Monday that “I’m not going to push her into any other decision.” Durbin had previously expressed frustration about his committee’s stalled nominees.

Click here to read the full article at AP News

Political Consultant Melahat Rafiei Pleads Guilty to Attempted Wire Fraud

A former executive director of the Democratic Party of Orange County pleaded guilty today to a felony charge for attempting to defraud one of her political consultancy firm’s clients.

Melahat Rafiei, 45, of Anaheim, entered her plea to attempted wire fraud in Los Angeles federal court. Sentencing was set for Oct. 13, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“Ms. Rafiei appeared in court today and per her plea agreement entered her plea before the judge. She is proud that the work she has done was instrumental in bringing down the Anaheim cabal,” said Alaleh Kamran, Rafiei’s attorney. “It is worth noting that her plea was not to bribery charges, but to attempted wire fraud.”

Rafiei, the principal and founder of Progressive Solutions Consulting, a Long Beach-based political consulting firm, admitted that she agreed to bribe two members of the Irvine City Council — both on cannabis-related matters, court papers show.

The two councilmembers were not named in the plea agreement, nor were any allegations against any councilmembers documented in the agreement. No current councilmembers were serving at that time.

Rafiei was a longtime leader in Orange County’s Democratic Party and formerly served as secretary of the California Democratic Party and state representative to the Democratic National Committee.

According to her plea agreement, from April to June 2018, Rafiei agreed to give at least $225,000 in bribes to Irvine City Council members in exchange for their introducing a city ordinance that would allow Rafiei’s clients to open a retail cannabis store in Irvine.

In April 2018, Rafiei presented a business opportunity to an individual who was then employed in the medical cannabis industry and offered to introduce the person to an Irvine politician, who was not identified in court papers, prosecutors said.

The next month, Rafiei met with the unnamed elected official to discuss introducing an ordinance in Irvine that would legalize retail medical cannabis and ultimately benefit the individual’s business, court papers state.

Following the meeting, Rafiei asked the person’s business partner to pay her between $350,000 and $400,000 in exchange for getting the cannabis ordinance introduced, according to her plea agreement.

Irvine only allows marijuana testing laboratories in industrial, medical and science districts. No other type of commercial cannabis business is permitted.

In September and October of 2019, Rafiei falsely represented to a commercial cannabis company owner that, in exchange for a payment of at least $300,000, she would work to pass a cannabis-related ordinance in Anaheim that would benefit and be specifically tailored for the company owner’s business, her plea agreement says.

However, Rafiei already had been working on such an ordinance for other paying clients, court papers show.

Rafiei then falsely represented to the victim that she would keep only $10,000 of the payment in exchange for her purported work. In fact, Rafiei intended to keep $100,000 of the payment, prosecutors said.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

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