Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez speaks at a town hall event for then-presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has spent this campaign season vocally advocating against one statewide ballot measure: Proposition 22, which would exempt app-based delivery drivers from AB 5, the law she wrote limiting when employers can classify workers as independent contractors.

But when it comes to her ballot measure committee – a relatively obscure fundraising mechanism that allows lawmakers to spend for or against ballot measures – she’s spent the lion’s share of funds on a different measure: Prop. 16, the measure that would reinstate affirmative action.

This month alone, Gonzalez has sent more than $200,000 from her committee to the Yes on 16 fund.

Gonzalez said the spending reflects two things: how personal Prop. 16 is to her, and a strategic decision because the companies boosting Prop. 22 have poured an unprecedented $200 million into it.

“With all the spending that Uber is doing, it’s almost more important to use my voice and time. It just seems more effective given the immense amount of money being spent in that campaign,” she said. “Prop. 16 is personal to me – to me as a human being more so than as an elected official. I feel personally really compelled to do everything in my power to help remedy that wrong. I have a daughter who’s Black and Latina; I understand and see firsthand the structural racism that continues to exist in California and it’s deeply personal to me.”

Gonzalez this week celebrated the removal of a statue of former mayor Pete Wilson from downtown San Diego, and noted that Wilson was the chief architect of the voter initiative that banned affirmative action across the state.

“Joy to the world! The Pete Wilson statue was taken down today in San Diego! Now, let’s taken down another of his racist policies by passing Prop 16!” she wrote on Twitter.

Ballot measure committees have been criticized by good government advocates because there are no restrictions on how much individuals or groups can donate to them – so they’re seen as an end-around campaign spending limits for the lawmakers who run them. In the last week alone, Gonzalez’s committee has received donations of $10,000 and $25,000 from law firms and labor groups – far more than those groups could donate to Gonzalez’s re-election campaign.

Gonzalez is not the only local politician with such a committee.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins has also used her committee to boost Prop. 16, as well as Prop. 15, which would change how commercial property tax rates are calculated. Her committee has spent $50,000 on each measure. She’s also sent $2,500 to the Measure B campaign in the city of San Diego, which would create a new oversight body for the San Diego Police Department.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer also has a ballot measure committee, and though he’s taken positions on several statewide measures this cycle, he hasn’t spent any money for or against any of them. He’s instead raising money for a potential 2022 statewide ballot measure related to homelessness.

The committee so far has pulled in several donations far in excess of what campaign spending limits would allow anyone to give Faulconer as a candidate, including a $50,000 donation from a Palos Verdes businessman, $20,000 from Fresno-based Shiralian Enterprises and two $10,000 donations from Orange County developers.

“Mayor Faulconer launched his Rebuilding the California Dream ballot measure committee in January before the COVID crisis hit,” Faulconer’s political consultant Stephen Puetz said in an email. “We’re continuing to explore a statewide ballot measure related to homelessness that builds on the successful approach San Diego has used to become the only big city in California where homelessness is going down. We’re doing opinion research and outreach throughout the state to assess a potential measure’s viability.”

Hueso Tweaks His Anti-Trump Messaging

In his campaign to become San Diego County supervisor, state Sen. Ben Hueso has been leaning into how the state of California – and thus he as a state legislator – has been leading the fight against President Donald Trump.

“I am the only candidate in this race Fighting President Trump! I’ve made it possible for California to sue the Trump Administration 100 times! These lawsuits have prevented cuts in health care for seniors and children, preserved the rights of ‘Dreamers’ to stay in school, and stopped Trump from rolling back clean air and environmental regulations,” reads Hueso’s campaign website.

That’s slightly different from earlier claims Hueso made saying he had sued Trump more than 100 times.

As a state senator, Hueso has no official say over what litigation the attorney general pursues.

Hueso’s campaign said in a statement that he considers himself partly responsible for California’s numerous lawsuits against the Trump administration.

“The attorney general asked Sen. Hueso to support and help ensure Senate approval of funding for a legal strategy to fight Trump,” the statement reads. “With that funding, the attorney general has filed more than 100 lawsuits against the Trump administration on behalf of his ‘client,’ the people of California and their representatives, the state Legislature.”

We delved into Hueso’s record in Sacramento earlier this week.

Maya Srikrishnan

GOP Agrees to Change Ballot Collection Activities

The California GOP has agreed not to use “unstaffed, unsecured unofficial ballot drop boxes” to collect ballots.

“Despite their client’s rhetoric in the press, we’ve been in communication with legal counsel for the California Republican Party and they have committed to a number of significant concessions in their ballot collection activities,” said Secretary of State Padilla in a statement Friday. “Among other things, they will not make available or condone the use of unstaffed, unsecured unofficial ballot drop boxes. This is an important step in stopping the voter confusion created by their ballot collection activities.”

Reporters at the press conference, however, said their local GOP groups were still using the ballot boxes and had simply changed the signage on them.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the state has issued subpoenas as part of its ongoing investigation into the party’s ballot collection activities.

Yet even as the press conference was happening, the National Republican Congressional Committee was celebrating the party’s efforts.

“These ballot boxes are legal, Democrats legalized ballot harvesting and Republicans are playing by the rules Democrats made and legalized,” Rep. Ken Calvert wrote in a statement. “California Democrats made their bed and now they need to sleep in it.”

Gonzalez wrote on Twitter that she’s considering writing a bill clarifying that the section of the election code that allows a person to collect a ballot on someone else’s behalf indeed applies only to a human and not a box.

San Diego Registrar of Voters Michael Vu told VOSD that he hasn’t been alerted to any of the unofficial drop boxes in San Diego (he said one report about a box turned out to be an official drop box).

He declined to say whether he thinks the boxes are appropriate because “regardless of whether or not I approve of them, the secretary of state’s come out and said that they’re not legal.”

Golden State News

Kara Grant contributed to this report.

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

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