Assemblywoman Toni Atkins raised more cash for her candidate-controlled ballot measure committee than any other legislator in the state.

The groups allow politicians to receive unlimited funds for their choice causes, because donors aren’t subject to candidate contribution limits.

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The San Jose Mercury News found the committees can be “little-known and barely regulated accounts” that aren’t always used to promote or oppose state and local initiatives as intended.

“Indeed, much of the spending has become a way to cozy up to the special interests whose money fuels Sacramento politics,” according to the Mercury News.

Some good government advocates believe the accounts operate as slush funds – with special interests pumping big money to candidates to use as they wish.

Steve Barkan, the spokesman for Atkins’ state Senate campaign, said that characterization is inappropriate.

“That description certainly is not an accurate description of the ballot measure committee that Assemblywoman Atkins works with. All of its expenditures are related to ballot measures or potential ballot measures,” he said.

Barkan said Atkins opened the committee to support ballot measures in favor of veterans housing, minimum wage increases, affordable housing and other potential issues.

Unlike candidate campaign committees, donations made to a ballot measure committee are not capped to a certain amount, even when they are controlled by specific candidates.

Called Atkins Ballot Measure Committee, California Works, her group has raised $797,200 since 2013, putting her in the top spot statewide thanks to donations from an assortment of union and trade groups, as well as energy companies, health insurers and others.

Normally, individual donors to candidate campaigns would be limited to $4,200, and small contributor groups would be limited to $8,500.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees gave $90,000, at least 10 times the amount it could give to Atkins’ Senate campaign.

The State Building & Construction Trades Council gave $78,300, at least nine times more than the candidate donation limit, and three tribal groups donated $70,000 combined, according to Secretary of State filings. AT&T gave $35,000, while PG&E and Sempra gave $15,000 each.

Former Padres owner John Moores, of JMI Equity, donated $3,400 in 2014.

Atkins’ committee has spent a total of $481,000, with 80 percent of the money paying for TV ads, campaign consultants, mailings and fundraiser events. Included in that amount are payments to Barkan’s consulting firm, SG&A Campaigns Inc., which has received $36,860.

SG&A Campaigns Inc. was suspended by the Secretary of State last month. When notified, Barkan asked why it was relevant and what the penalties are. Suspended businesses cannot legally do business or enforce contracts, among other things.

Barkan said an accountant brought the company back into compliance this week after Voice of San Diego’s inquiry.

Most of Atkins’ committee money, about $300,000, was spent to support Prop. 41, a veterans housing bill, in June 2014, Barkan estimated.

Two $25,000 checks in 2016 went to two committees supporting the increase in San Diego’s minimum wage, approved in June.

Another $10,600 paid for 35 people to attend a golf tournament and meal fundraiser at the Lodge at Torrey Pines in October 2015, plus overnight lodging for a handful of event organizers.

Ashly McGlone

In Need of Laws With Some Teeth

The Denti-Cal system is rotting.

Denti-Cal is the state program that provides low-income dental insurance. In a two-part series this week, Cap Public Radio reports “13 million patients are eligible for Denti-Cal, but only a quarter of California’s dentists sees even one of them a year.”

Lawmakers know there’s a problem, yet “they’re not solving it by opening the state checkbook.”

The investigation notes a few bills aimed at helping Denti-Cal patients, but there’s another that it didn’t mention: Assembly Bill 1051 by San Diego Assemblyman Brian Maienschein would have increased Denti-Cal’s reimbursement rates, which are below the national average. That bill died earlier this month. There are counties in California where providers don’t accept Denti-Cal patients because of the difference in payment between private insurance and the state program.

“Oral hygiene is important. Dental care is a crucial factor in a child’s quality of life. When a child is not able to get basic or routine care, from a dentist, he or she is more likely to miss school and have worse health outcomes,” Maienschein said in an emailed statement.

A spokesman for Maienschein said he plans to keep pursuing higher reimbursement rates.

 CalMatters has more on a bill that did make it through the Assembly: AB 2235 has several provisions surrounding the use of anesthesia during dental procedures and requires dentists to keep better records of patient deaths. It was inspired by the death of a 6-year-old boy during a dental procedure.

The Legislative Sprint Continues

Next Wednesday is the last day for each house of the Legislature to pass bills, so we’re in the midst of a scramble to get everything across the finish line.

Here’s an update on bills from local lawmakers:

Bills That Passed the Legislature This Week

AB 1500 by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins lets the state relinquish parts of Route 75 to Imperial Beach and San Diego.

AB 2568 by Atkins allows San Diego County to operate an integrated and comprehensive health and human services system.

AB 291 by Atkins and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez ratifies a new tribal gaming compact between the state and the Barona Band of Mission Indians.

AB 2121 by Gonzalez requires people who serve alcohol to take mandatory training classes. The bill was prompted by the deaths of two UCSD students who were killed by an alleged drunk driver.

AB 2269 by Assemblywoman Marie Waldron forbids the sale or transfer of animals from pounds and shelters to any animal dealer or research facility for testing or experimentation.

AB 2358 by Gonzalez and Waldron ratifies a tribal gaming compact between the state and the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Mission Indians.

AB 1739 by Waldron updates Med-Cal’s reimbursement policy so that blood tests and skin tests used to diagnose allergies are treated the same.

AB 2172 by Assemblyman Brian Jones lets homebrewers sample and share their beer creations at a licensed facility.

AB 2765 by Assembylwoman Shirley Weber extends the time period for eligible felons to petition for relief under Prop. 47.

SB 266 by Sen. Marty Block allows probation departments to use “flash incarceration” – detention of up to 10 consecutive days – to address certain probation violations without revoking probation.

SB 1439 by Block requires anyone applying for an academic or administrative job at a UC, CSU or community college to disclose previous sexual harassment judgments against them.

SB 823 by Block allows human trafficking victims arrested or convicted of non-violent crimes while they were trafficked to have those charges removed from their records.

Bills Signed by the Governor This Week

AB 898 by Gonzalez requires that fire departments be notified when an arsonist who murdered a firefighter is up for parole.

AB 629 by Gonzalez ratifies a tribal gaming compact between the state and the Pala Band of Mission Indians.

SB 927 by Sen. Joel Anderson allows public utility districts within San Diego County to be elected by subdistrict, rather than at-large.

SB 759 by Anderson lets prisoners who have been placed in segregated housing units earn credits for good behavior.

SB 1436 by Sen. Pat Bates requires that local legislative bodies orally report recommended actions on compensation issues in an open meeting before taking final action.

SB 1138 by Sen. Ben Hueso designates the first Friday in May as Space Day.

Golden State News

• A big concern as lawmakers continue to battle over climate policies: Is the state doing enough for poor communities? (L.A. Times)

Speaking of which, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer was unsparing as a bill on the state Air Resources Board was being heard:

The “whitest white board I’ve ever seen in my life,” says Asm. @JonesSawyer59 in floor comments about Air Resources Bd, pulling no punches.

— John Myers (@johnmyers) August 24, 2016

• The Santa Clara County judge who gave a Stanford athlete an absurdly lenient sentence for rape will no longer preside over criminal cases, at his own request. (Mercury News)

• Gov. Jerry Brown left an angry voicemail for a Fresno sheriff after she made claims he disapproved of in an anti-Prop. 57 mailer. Brown is pro-Prop. 57, a measure on the November ballot that deals with parole for nonviolent offenders. Mayor Kevin Faulconer has also signed on to be a prominent voice against Prop. 57, which means he might have some fun voicemails in his future too.

• The Cal State University system has “embarked on an unprecedented effort to identify and count” its homeless students, reports the L.A. Times. Earlier this week, we reported on how San Diego State is lagging behind other CSU campuses when it comes to helping its most vulnerable students.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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