Former Vice Mayor Enjoys Good Life

Assemblyman files Form 700 with list of ‘gifts’ received

Assemblyman Rob Bonta recently filed his statement of economic interest, called a Form 700, as required by the California Fair Practices Commission. On March 4, the state of California released the details of this statement and those filed by other elected officials and those with possible conflicts of interest.

Bonta’s statement shows that Alameda’s representative in the Assembly and the city’s former vice-mayor listed items that include $400 worth of Golden State Warriors tickets from Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan. Chan represents Alameda on the Board of Supervisors. While Bonta was enjoying the game a Jumbotron message appeared to let his fellow spectators know he was in the house. The Warrior Community Foundation picked up the $250 tab for the message.

Bonta attended more Warrior games in 2014, one compliments of the Warriors themselves and another of Shawn Wilson, who served as former Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai Bitker’s chief of staff. Wilson paid for a pair of Warriors’ tickets for Bonta.

Bonta also enjoyed a Bruno Mars concert on Wilson’s dime. Wilson had ties to Alliance Campaign Strategies. The company lists former councilwoman Lena Tam as a past client along with Bonta and Jeff Cambra. Cambra ran an unsuccessful campaign for City Council in 2012.

Bonta also used "gift" tickets to attend a San Francisco ‘49ers game, compliments of United Airlines, and an Oakland Athletics game with the A’s paying the tab. Oakland City Council President Rebecca Kaplan gave Bonta $314.60 worth of tickets to hear Miley Cyrus belt out "Party in the U.S.A." and "We Can’t Stop" up close and personal.

The political-campaign management firm of Duffy & Capitolo sprung for a photo shoot for the Assemblyman at a cost of $200.

Bonta also received sizable gifts from Yale Law School ($996.57); the California Dental Association ($1,889.19) — Bonta shares a seat on the Committee on Appropriations with Jim Wood, the only practicing dentist in the Assembly; and the Filipino organization Gawad Kalinga USA ($1,250).

Bonta listed his most sizable gift at $2,290. He stated that, in return, he "made a speech and participated in a panel" — boiler-plate language that allows lawmakers to skirt the $390 limit on gifts.

"Various exceptions to the gift limit may apply if the official travels to give a speech, or travels on behalf of a government agency or nonprofit organization for a governmental purpose," the California Fair Practices Commission states.

Bonta failed to mention (he was not required to) that he was among more than 24 lawmakers Independent Voter Project (IVP), a San Diego nonprofit, jetted to Hawaii for a weeklong excursion last November. IVP purports to educate citizens and energize "decline-to-state" voters to participate in public dialogue and elections. IVP paid an average of $2,500 to fete each lawmaker at the Hawaiian junket in 2013.

The annual conferences have become an "unwelcome tradition," Sarah Swanbeck, a legislative affairs representative of California Common Cause told Los Angeles Times reporter Thomas McGreevey. Common Cause has called for stricter limits — even a ban — on such conferences.

In a November 2012 story about the junkets that year, journalist Derrick W. Roach wrote that "IVP is the parent organization of a web of subsidiary organizations with officers and directors who are anything but independent."

According to McGreevey, IVP has accepted money from 24 interest groups, each ponying up as much as $7,500. His research showed interest groups that contribute money to IVP to help the nonprofit pay for the trips to Hawaii include:

 The California Cable and Telecommunications Association, whose members include Comcast

 The California Correctional Peace Officers Association, which represents the state’s prison guards

 The California Distributors Association, which represents distributors of tobacco and other products to grocery and convenient stores

 Occidental Petroleum, the state’s largest oil and natural gas producer

 The Western State Petroleum Association that, according to its website is currently opposing "any California legislation or regulatory mandates designed to force a 50 percent reduction in the amount of gasoline and diesel California consumers and businesses use by 2030"

 The drug firm Eli Lilly whose website says the company is committed to participating in the political process

 The Altria tobacco firm (which is Phillip Morris Tobacco rebranded), a tobacco company that recently introduced its own e-cigarette.

As a non-profit, IVP is not required to disclose the identity of any of its funding sources. The Internal Revenue Service only requires that the organization disclose its total income. Last October, just a month before Bonta’s trip to Hawaii, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation that would have required nonprofits like IVP doing business in California to disclose their funding sources.

Roach writes that "it is estimated that for every four dollars spent in politics, one dollar now goes through nonprofit organizations, which are not required to disclose donor identities."

Contact Dennis Evanosky at
editor@alamedasun.com.