Facebook, Google among companies that donated millions to Gov. Newsom's coronavirus fight
Google provided free ad credits for COVID-19 public service announcements.
Zoom gave money to connect students with technology needed for remote schooling.
Pharmaceutical company Pfizer donated to provide trailers for homeless people.
The donations are among about $26 million in contributions Gov. Gavin Newsom solicited from private organizations to help the state’s coronavirus relief efforts. That’s more than twice as much as Newsom reported in so-called “behested payments” for all of last year.
Most of the donations have been in the form of ad credits and airtime for public service announcements about COVID-19. Google and iHeartMedia were the biggest donors, each providing $7 million worth. Fox, Clear Channel, Facebook and other media companies also provided the administration free airtime and ad space for the PSAs.
Newsom has predicted that companies will ultimately donate hundreds of millions — if not billions — of dollars to COVID-19 response in California.
“It’s an extraordinary amount of money, energy, time and volunteer and philanthropic support that we’re seeing,” he said during a press conference last month. “It’s unprecedented. It’s in the hundreds and hundreds of millions, billions of dollars, when we are done.”
Politicians must report behested payments, the term for donations made at an elected official’s request for charitable or governmental causes, because they could be used to curry favor with a politician.
During the pandemic, the state’s growing needs for funds and medical equipment make such donations essential, said Dan Schnur, who formerly led the state’s political ethics agency and worked for former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.
“Even if they’re making those donations in order to buy access on legislative or regulatory matters, you still wouldn’t want to turn away those necessary supplies,” Schnur said. “There does need to be some public record of their gifts if only so it can be compared against future access and influence.”
Lobbying at the Capitol
Of the roughly 45 organizations the administration has reported as donors to COVID-19 efforts, about a third pay to lobby at the Capitol. Seven specifically reported lobbying the governor’s office this year. Google and Facebook reported lobbying the administration on COVID-19 issues.
JP Morgan Chase, which donated $250,000 to the effort to provide technology to school children, reported lobbying on Newsom’s stay-at-home order and “financial relief efforts related to COVID-19,” according to its lobbying disclosure forms.
The biggest lobbying spender of the group this legislative session, Comcast, lobbied on the California consumer privacy act and high profile labor law AB 5, among other issues. It donated more than $20,000 in ad credits for public service announcements.
Newsom has frequently praised private companies for “meeting this moment” with philanthropic contributions as the state battles the coronavirus that has killed more than 3,400 Californians. Since the pandemic began, his office has been instrumental in soliciting donations.
Early in the pandemic, Newsom’s chief of staff Ann O’Leary spent an hour on a phone call with Silicon Valley executives to discuss philanthropic efforts related to COVID-19, said Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.
The Leadership Group, an advocacy group representing more than 350 companies, has raised more than $8 million in cash and donated supplies for Silicon Valley hospitals and clinics during the pandemic, according to its website. That has involved regular communication with local and state officials, Guardino said. He said he’s texted regularly with Newsom about the crisis and kept Newsom’s staffers up-to-date on philanthropic efforts by his group.