Assemblyman offers to suit up campaign donors

lrosenhall@sacbee.comOctober 8, 2013 

Assemblyman Henry Perea thinks he’s found a different way to attract campaign funds by offering donors a custom suit in exchange for a $2,000 contribution. In the sea of fundraisers that take place around the Capitol, Perea said he wanted an event that would stand out.

“You can only go to so many golf tournaments and dinners and lunches, and you can only drink so much coffee at Chicory,” the Fresno Democrat said, referring to a popular cafe near the Capitol.

“I was looking for something that is unique.”

Others are raising questions about the event, in which Perea supporters will gather in a downtown apartment on Wednesday for fittings with a custom tailor. Some lobbyists said the fundraiser puts participants in an ethical quandary, leaving them with a valuable gift, while some feminists said it’s excluding women by only offering suits for men.

“I guess they aren’t interested in raising money from female lobbyists,” said Robin Swanson, a political communications consultant.

“Our business is about access, so clearly this fundraiser is giving some individuals more access than others.”

Perea said he plans to host a similar event for women next year, when the tailor he’s working with introduces a women’s line.

Lobbyists typically attend political fundraisers, but their clients make the campaign contributions. Perea’s event offers donors the choice between giving to his Assembly re-election campaign or his Reviving Jobs and the Economy ballot measure.

According to state law, lobbyists can’t directly make contributions to state-level campaigns. And they can’t give lawmakers gifts worth more than $10.

But California’s Political Reform Act doesn’t regulate the flow of gifts in the other direction.

“Unfortunately, there is no gift ban on legislators giving gifts to lobbyists,” said Phillip Ung, a lobbyist with Common Cause California, a group that pushes for government transparency.

“There are things that a legislator wants from a lobbyist, whether it’s consideration from their clients in future contributions or favorable consideration on legislation. Relationships in the Capitol are two-way things. ... It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a legislator could influence a lobbyist and get something out of it for their career.”

Perea said people who attend fundraisers frequently leave with some kind of gift.

“At a golf tournament, sometimes people give away clubs to the people who have the best round,” Perea said. “This is not uncommon at all.”

Ung said fundraisers that provide expensive party favors – like the suits at Perea’s event or a set of boxing gloves from a fundraiser for Sen. Kevin de Leon – help politicians “build their relationship with a powerful lobbyist, by offering something back to the interest group.”

“That’s what will attract lobbyists to these fundraisers,” Ung said. “Because it’s the lobbyists who have to convince their client to write a check.”

In the case of Perea’s event, some interest groups may decide it’s a better deal to write two checks. The invitation says donors will get one suit for a $2,000 contribution or two suits for a $5,000 contribution.

Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @LaurelRosenhall.

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