Leland Yee's interesting history of cash for votes

Ever since the recent revelations regarding California state senator Leland Yee’s allegedly somewhat unusual approach to capitalist endeavors – to put it charitably – the media has begun digging more deeply into the elected official’s past. (Well, unless the moniker of your media outlet involves the initials C, N and N, that is.. not to name any names.) And as the LA Times reports, there are more than a few curious votes in Yee’s legislative record which, by some amazing coincidence, seem to line up with large political contributions he received.

One of these involved an issue near and dear to the hearts of his always green, San Francisco supporters.

In August 2008, Yee voted against a bill (AB706) by a fellow San Francisco Democrat to require the state to regulate the use of fire-retardant chemicals on couches and other home furnishings. Yee had initially voted for the bill a year earlier but was one of two lawmakers to switch sides after it was expanded to include the toxic chemicals in children’s products. Yee in the interim also had received $5,000 from the American Chemistry Council, Clorox, DuPont and Monsanto. The bill failed.

People are certainly allowed to change their opinions on things, particularly after being given a period of time to gather new information and consider the options. But this begins to look like a repeating pattern when another sudden about face it taken into consideration.

That same month, the Legislature approved a bill (AB1945), later vetoed by the governor, that would have made it harder for health insurers to cancel coverage when a consumer gets sick. Yee supported the bill in committee but opposed it on the floor. Campaign reports show insurance companies raised $32,000 for the senator in the three months leading up to the crucial vote, nearly twice what it had contributed in the entire preceding year, and hosted a fundraiser for the lawmaker. There was no explanation from Yee’s office for the vote change.

Yee also apparently authored a bill to allow foreign investment in California card rooms. That’s something of a curious issue to take on, but I’m sure it had nothing to do with the more than one quarter million dollars which a few gambling interests have reportedly contributed to his campaigns.

Some of the donations didn’t even seem to be tied directly to a specific bill or issue. Yee also received some strange election contributions, including a $50,000 check from Philip Morris on the day of one election, even though he had proudly proclaimed that he wasn’t taking any money from tobacco companies. Again, none of this jumps right out as a blatant violation regarding individual donations under California or federal law, but this is looking more and more like something that walks like a duck and quacks like a duck. I’ve been dealing with state level politics for a long time, and I can tell you that there are thousands of state senators around the nation who would give their eye teeth to attract the kind of support that results in a major backer dropping fifty grand on them. In most places it just doesn’t happen, so we need to ask ourselves just what Philip Morris thought they were getting for their money when it was going to a lowly state senator.

Curiouser and curiouser.