The Editor's Back Fence

Berkeley Assemblymember Nancy Skinner Pays to Play with Democrats in the California Legislature

Thursday May 16, 2013 - 04:31:00 PM

The Sunday Chronicle headlined a juicy story from the Center for Investigative Reporting over the weekend: Speaker Perez Gave Top Donors Plum Posts.

On the CIR website, this was the title:

California speaker gives Assembly's juiciest jobs to biggest fundraisers

And Berkeleyans will be interested to learn some information that for some reason was cut from the Chron’s version of the story: our own Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, now termed out of the Assembly, expected to be tapped by the queenmakers to succeed Loni Hancock as State Senator, is one of the big players (and the big payers) in this pay-to-play system. 

Here’s the paragraph from the CIR version that the Chronicle left out: 

“Nancy Skinner of Berkeley gave $201,000 to the targets. She continues to serve as chairwoman of the Rules Committee, a post that is part of Pérez’s leadership team, and sits on two juice committees: Business, Professions and Consumer Protection, which supervises occupational licensing and state regulatory agencies; and Utilities and Commerce, which regulates energy companies and public utilities. She is a former Berkeley City Council member and environmental activist. Of her fundraising, Skinner wrote in a statement: ‘I am enthusiastic to support our Caucus efforts to elect great Assemblymembers.’ “ 

This is how CIR senior reporter Lance Williams describes the scheme: 

“In May 2012 and again in June, Speaker John A. Pérez wrote memos to Democrats in the California Assembly. He wanted millions in campaign cash to win a handful of key races. 

“At stake, Pérez wrote, was their party’s control of the Assembly – and, as it turned out, the perks and power enjoyed by the lawmakers themselves. 

‘It is critical that we band together to maximize our financial resources,’ the burly Los Angeles legislative leader wrote in the memos, copies of which were obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting. 

“The lawmakers gave Pérez what he wanted, state campaign finance records show. 

“Exploiting loopholes in a law enacted to stanch the flow of big money in state politics, the Assembly Democrats pumped $5.8 million into the campaigns Pérez designated, a CIR data analysis shows. The infusion of cash helped the Democrats win a supermajority in the Capitol: two-thirds control of the Legislature for the first time since 1883. 

“The system also paid off for the speaker’s biggest fundraisers in the Assembly. 

“According to the data, Pérez gave lawmakers who raised the most money the best assignments in the new Legislature – posts on the speaker’s leadership team and seats on the powerful “juice committees.” 

One of whom, it turns out, was Nancy Skinner. 

Go to the CIR website to read the full story. It’s curious that the Chronicle version omitted her role, since Berkeley is still a relatively strong readership area for a paper whose circulation is steadily shrinking.