California ex-mayor slams Gov. Newsom’s use of ‘behested payments’ as recall threat nears 1.8M signatures

Posted 14 days ago


Former Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill took to Facebook on Friday to bring attention to California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s use of "behested payments," a technically legal but highly opaque practice that can generate untold amounts of "donations" to politicians’ preferred projects and non-profit organizations.

O’Neill, who was mayor of the coastal Orange County town between 2019 and 2020, asked readers to imagine they’re running a company, and Newsom asks for a donation "to a cause he cares about."

"Seems like a shakedown, right? Nope, perfectly legal. It’s called a ‘behested payment," O’Neill wrote.

Per California law, behested payments over $5,000 must be reported. But unlike political donations, there are no caps. The practice is relatively obscure and not often used. In 2019, for instance, Newsom’s administration only reported $12 million in behested payments.

But in 2020, during which the COVID-19 pandemic broke out and the governor’s emergency powers were expanded, payments to various entities – at Newsom’s "behest – shot up to a whopping $226 million, according to data from the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).

In 2020, Newsom raised $45 million from Blue Shield of California and Kaiser Permanente for his housing initiative. Blue Shield’s president and CEO Paul Markovich, later served as co-chair on the governor’s COVID-19 Testing Task Force. And last month, the governor chose both Blue Shield and Kaiser Permanente to help manage vaccine distribution in California.

Since the outbreak, Verily Life Sciences -- which under the same parent company as Google -- has received up to $44 million in three separate contracts from the governor’s Office of Emergency Services to operate COVID-19 testing sites.

O’Neill cited reporting from CapRadio, a Sacramento NPR-affiliate, showing that, between 2018 and 2019, UnitedHealth donated $220,000 to political committees controlled by Newsom, who later awarded $492 million in contracts to UnitedHealth subsidiaries in no-bid and expedited situations.

Bloom Energy, a California-based company, contributed some $85,000 to Newsom between September 2018 and October 2020, CapRadio reported. In March 2020, the company received a $1 million no-bid contract – later ... (Read more)