Assemblymember Alex Lee (D-San Jose) ran his campaign on the promise of getting corporate money out of politics.
On his first day in office, the 25-year-old legislator, whose district encompasses Milpitas, introduced Assembly Bill 20 to do just that. Also referred to as the Corporate Free Elections Act, the bill would have prohibited political candidates from accepting campaign donations from business entities.
But on Thursday, AB 20 was shelved after it failed to even get a vote during its elections committee hearing. And with its defeat––at least for now––came a public castigation from one of Lee’s fellow Democratic lawmakers.
Assemblymember Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), who serves as the election committee’s chair, called AB 20 “misleading” and said it “deceives the public.”
“You bemoan the fact that corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars on propositions in 2020 implying your bill will address this,” Berman told Lee. “However, it’s important that we be very clear with the public that your bill does nothing, absolutely nothing, to restrict the amount of money that corporations can spend on ballot propositions.”
Berman also noted that he discussed the concept of banning corporate contributions with Lee back in November before he was even sworn into office, advising his future colleague to review the critiques of similar bills that failed during the last session.
“It seem[s] that you did not do this since this bill has many of the same flaws as the original bills,” Berman remarked.
The pair reportedly had another discussion last month where Berman recommended the bill be amended into a study bill to “engage experts in this field to take a deep dive on the influence of money and politics as well as the issue of public campaign financing.” Lee declined the suggestion.
Following the hearing, Lee told The Beat that he thought Berman’s comments were “unfair” and “untrue.”
“We had a disagreement about the role of corporate money in politics and that’s okay,” he said. “But I find it very deceptive in his own right that [he said] we never tried to work with them or didn’t offer changes.”
Berman’s comments on how the bill didn’t live up to what it claimed have motivated Lee to come back in the future with a more comprehensive proposal.
AB 20 isn’t the only piece of legislation by Lee that has met a dismal fate. A bill he co-authored with fellow Silicon Valley Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) to impose a 1 percent tax on individuals worth more than $50 million and a 1.5 percent tax on individuals worth more than $1 billion failed to get a committee hearing by Friday’s deadline.
But Lee says he isn’t surprised.
“I knew to best represent our district we had to go up to Sacramento and do big systematic things,” he said. “There is a good progressive caucus there. There are not enough of us there.”