Written by Natalia Toliver
Ever heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words?” Well since Anthony Rendon, a Democrat, rose to power as Speaker of California Assembly, his wife Annie Lam’s nonprofits have received over $500,000 in donations and event sponsorship from a multitude of companies. Since 2016, when Rendon became Speaker, five nonprofits where Lam is employed have received donations or sponsorships from over 50 entities, according to public records.
The question that arises from that is, “Is Rendon being influenced by donations made to Lam’s nonprofits, and would her nonprofits be receiving these donations if Rendon was not Speaker?”
Democrat Rendon said, “There is no connection between any donations to Annie’s nonprofits and what happens with respect to legislation.” Yet 21 of the companies who have supported Lam’s nonprofits have also made more than $350,000 in campaign donations to Rendon. His political donors had also shown up as sponsors of the nonprofits associated with Lam.
Bob Stern, former general counsel for the Fair Political Practices Commission and a co-author of the 1974 Political Reform Act said, if Lam was doing the fundraising on her own, then Rendon does not need to report the donations. Instead, it is an issue of “appearance.” He states, “There’s nothing illegal about this. The real question is if he wasn’t Speaker, would the nonprofits be getting this money? And the answer is probably no.”
Right therein lies the problem. If Rendon was not Speaker, Lam’s nonprofits likely would not be receiving this great amount of money.
Lam has been serving in politics for many years even prior to her husband becoming Speaker. She started in the Assembly serving as a legislative aid to Assemblywoman Judy Chu, and later legislative director for Mike Eng. She also runs her own consulting firm.
In 2017, Lam worked for the League of California Cities Women’s Caucus and now serves as the executive director of both the Asian Pacific Islander and Women’s Caucus’. In 2018, after her husband became Speaker, she was able to bring fundraising up by 768% for the API Caucus and 530% for the Women’s Caucus.
Lam apparently founded nonprofit APIs Mobilize around 2015, but according to Redndon’s filings, it shows her serving as its executive director in 2017. Additionally, she began working in development at the Pacific Bridge Arts Foundation in 2019 according to Rendon’s filings, but the Pacific Bridge Arts Foundation’s festivals began in 2016.
One of the APIs Mobilize’s biggest donors is PG&E. From 2017-2019 they gave $270,000 to the nonprofit as well as $70,000 to the California Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus Institute and $20,000 to the Pacific Bridge Arts Foundations. In January of 2019, PG&E declared bankruptcy due to being guilty of the cause of multiple fires. They had $30 billion in liabilities, yet in the summer of 2019, the Legislature bailed out PG&E. The only way this could have passed is if Rendon was on board. According to San Diego Lawyer Michael J. Aguirre, “This was a Speaker deal.”
Comcast and AT&T have also been supporters of Lam’s nonprofits. Comcast has donated to APIs Mobilize and AT&T has cut checks worth $95,000 to five nonprofits tied to Lam. Both companies donated to Lam’s nonprofits while engaged in legislative fights. One being against the Senate Bill 1130. This bill would’ve expanded broadband technology to underserved areas in California. The bill passed through the Senate easily but was blocked by the Assembly. Senator Lena Gonzalez, a Long Beach Democrat, blamed Rendon, saying she thought he would be on her side since they “share a backyard.” She also called his decision short-sighted.
Criminal or not, there is a very clear conflict of interest here. And if Lam’s nonprofits are getting donations because of her husband’s position, appropriate actions need to be taken by the Ethics Committee and the Fair Political Practice Commission.
Photo via UCLA