SAN FRANCISCO — California Gov. Jerry Brown has put promised small dinners with political donors on hold until he finishes signing bills for the year, an aide said Friday, amid criticism of what some called paid access during a crucial decision-making time for the governor.
The state Democratic Party wrote lobbyists and others in August soliciting contributions for two election causes it said Brown backed.
In return, “the governor will be hosting a series of small dinners in August and September to thank those that are able to help on his priorities,” state Democratic Party financial chief Angie Tate said in the letter.
The timing of the dinners struck some political insiders as offering cozy access to Brown during the annual period in which he decides the fate of scores of bills already approved by the Legislature.
Some political commentators condemned the offer, in comments and newspaper columns.
“Providing access during such a critical policy period sends precisely the wrong message to voters who believe that their government is for sale to the highest bidder,” Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh School of Politics at the University of Southern California and a former Republican consultant, wrote in a guest column in the Los Angeles Times last week.
Asked Friday if any dinners had yet been held or scheduled, Brown spokesman Dan Newman told The Associated Press by email, “No fundraising events have taken place nor will any be scheduled until the bill-signing period has concluded.”
Newman previously said only that no dinners had been scheduled. On Friday, he called the “attack about bills and fundraising” an “absurdity.”
The overt offer of paid access for donors who may be seeking approval of particular legislation was legal and not out of the ordinary, but still discouraging for unmonied voters, said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School instructor on issues including campaign finance and ethics.
“It’s our current system,” Levinson said. “It feels kind of distasteful and dispiriting but by the same token if you’re the (political) party…than this is the way to do it.”