This week, just as Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata put on hold an eight-bill package of flood-protection legislation, one of his political committees received a $500,000 donation from the California Building Industry Association (CBIA), one of the package’s biggest opponents.
The donation is the single largest that a Perata committee has received since he became Senate leader in 2004.
On the same day, the builders donated another $500,000 to Let’s Rebuild California, a campaign committee that is not controlled by Perata but employs top Perata confidant Sandra Polka as the chief strategist.
Paul Hefner, a Polka associate and spokesman for both committees, denied that there was any connection between the donations and Perata’s decision to scuttle the flood-protection package.
“The senator makes his decisions about legislation on the merits and nothing else,” said Hefner “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why the Building Industry Association would be in favor of an infrastructure plan that calls for building roads, building schools, building homes and building levees.”
While donations to sitting lawmakers typically are limited to $3,300, contributions to candidate-controlled issue committees can be unlimited. The CBIA did not immediately return calls for comment.
The builders have lobbied heavily against the set of flood bills, which would, among other things, increase flood-protection requirements for new developments built along low-lying areas of the Central Valley. In a statement earlier this week, the CBIA complained that the proposal was too restrictive, that it was merely “disguised as flood protection” and that it “would shut down new construction.”
Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Davis, author of AB 1899, a centerpiece of the package and the bill most vehemently opposed by the CBIA, did not wish to comment on the donation to Perata, but did say the CBIA has “tremendous power” and has spearheaded the effort to sink her legislation.
“All the other groups have been willing to work with us,” she said.
According to Wolk, the package of bills was moving steadily through the legislative process until they hit a logjam earlier this week.
“We thought we had an agreement with the Senate. We had gone through policy committees, we had support form legislators, the governor engaged and then suddenly something changed,” said Wolk.
Then, Wolk says, a message was delivered to her by “the Senate leadership’s direct messenger