When Speaker John A. Pérez asked Democrats in the California Assembly to make political donations, how did lawmakers respond?

Were lawmakers who gave large sums rewarded with powerful positions in the new Legislature? What were the outcomes for lawmakers who didn’t give?

For this report on campaign finance dynamics during the 2012 state election, the Center for Investigative Reporting compiled Democratic lawmakers’ donations and analyzed them in the context of Pérez’s legislative appointments.

Henry Perea & Mike Gatto - Day 2 photo

Assemblyman Henry Perea (left), D-Fresno, and Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, were two of the top three donors, giving and 7,000 and 8,000, respectively, to Speaker John A. Pérez’s targeted campaigns.Max Whittaker/Prime

Key information came from memos Pérez wrote, news releases announcing his leadership and committee assignments for the 2013-14 Assembly sessions and electronic donation reports filed by the lawmakers. Here are details on how the report was compiled.


In a memo dated May 25, Pérez asked Democratic lawmakers to donate $3,900 apiece – the maximum allowed by state law – to five Democratic Assembly candidates in the June primary. Two of the five targeted candidates were incumbents: Assemblyman Mike Allen of Marin County and Assemblywoman Betsy Butler of Marina del Rey. Three were challengers: Al Muratsuchi of Torrance, Ken Cooley of Rancho Cordova and Rudy Salas of Bakersfield.

The speaker also asked lawmakers to make two other donations for the primary: $10,000 to Californians Working Together to Restore & Protect Public Schools, Universities & Public Safety, a ballot committee Pérez had set up to support Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax increase measure, and $32,500 to the candidate support fund of the state Democratic Party. By law, the state party could spend that money on Assembly campaigns.

In a second memo dated June 13, Pérez asked Democrats to make identical donations to the same campaigns for the general election in November. In addition, he asked them to give $3,900 to Jose Medina, a Democratic Assembly candidate in Riverside.

In November, Cooley, Medina, Muratsuchi and Salas were elected. Allen and Butler were beaten by Democratic challengers. Democrats wound up with 55 seats in the Assembly, a two-thirds majority. The tax measure won as well.

Meanwhile, in news releases on Aug. 12, Dec. 3 and Jan. 3, Pérez announced changes to his leadership team for the new session of the Legislature and appointed lawmakers to seats and chairmanships on the Assembly’s 30 standing policy committees.


CIR reviewed more than 38,000 campaign finance records from the California secretary of state. The data included all donations reported by 57 Democratic Assembly candidates: the 55 Democrats who were elected and Butler and Allen, the incumbents who lost.

Lawmakers were ranked by how much money they donated in the races Pérez had targeted.

CIR then evaluated lawmakers’ legislative assignments in the new Assembly session. This analysis focused on whether lawmakers had been named to one of nine leadership positions; whether they had been named to head one of the seven “juice committees,” policy committees that control bills that affect the financial bottom line for the Capitol’s wealthiest interest groups; and whether they had been given seats on more than one juice committee.

Leadership positions considered in the analysis were speaker pro tempore, assistant speaker pro tempore, majority floor leader, assistant majority floor leader, majority whip, Democratic whip (two posts), Democratic caucus chairman and Rules Committee chairman.

Juice committees, and their jurisdiction, were Appropriations (all fiscal bills); Banking and Finance (financial institutions, real property and consumer finance); Business, Professions and Consumer Protection (consumer protection, occupational licensing and regulatory agencies); Governmental Organization (alcohol, Indian gaming, horse racing and gambling); Health (health care, Medi-Cal and other public health programs); Insurance (insurance, workers’ compensation and unemployment compensation); and Utilities and Commerce (public utilities, energy companies and the California Public Utilities and Energy commissions).

The analysis showed that lawmakers who gave the most money usually experienced the best outcomes.

Eighteen lawmakers donated $150,000 or more to Pérez’s targeted campaigns. Of them, five, or 28 percent, were named to the leadership team; six, or 33 percent, were named to head a juice committee; 13, or 72 percent, were named to two juice committees; and 16, or 89 percent, obtained a leadership post, a juice committee chairmanship or seats on two or more juice committees.

Eighteen lawmakers donated less than $150,000 but more than $40,000. They fared significantly worse than the first group. Of this group, two, or 11 percent, were named to the leadership team; one, or 6 percent, got a juice committee chairmanship; five, or 28 percent, got seats on two juice committees; and six, or 33 percent, got a leadership post, a juice committee chairmanship or seats on two juice committees.

Eighteen lawmakers donated less than $40,000. They fared significantly worse than the first group and slightly worse than the second group: two, or 11 percent, were named to the leadership team; none got a juice committee chairmanship; five, or 28 percent, got seats on two juice committees; and six, or 33 percent, got either a leadership post or seats on two juice committees. 

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Lance Williams is a former senior reporter for Reveal, focusing on money and politics. He has twice won journalism’s George Polk Award – for medical reporting while at The Center for Investigative Reporting, and for coverage of the BALCO sports steroid scandal while at the San Francisco Chronicle. With partner Mark Fainaru-Wada, Williams wrote the national bestseller “Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports.” In 2006, the reporting duo was held in contempt of court and threatened with 18 months in federal prison for refusing to testify about their confidential sources on the BALCO investigation. The subpoenas were later withdrawn. Williams’ reporting also has been honored with the White House Correspondents’ Association’s Edgar A. Poe Award; the Gerald Loeb Award for financial reporting; and the Scripps Howard Foundation’s Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment. He graduated from Brown University and UC Berkeley. He also worked at the San Francisco Examiner, the Oakland Tribune and the Daily Review in Hayward, California.

Agustin Armendariz

Agustín Armendariz is an investigative reporter specializing in data analysis for The Center for Investigative Reporting. He previously worked at the San Diego Union-Tribune where he was a database specialist on the watchdog reporting team. While there, he delved into city finances, redevelopment projects and foreclosures. He earned his masters in journalism from American University in Washington, D.C. Agustin worked at the Center for Public Integrity and was a contributor to the publication "The Buying of the President" (2004) which was a New York Times bestseller.