The California Democratic Party has decided to ban fossil fuels and police money. It didn’t really work either

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A leading environmental activist says the California Democratic Party has just “breathed” a big chance to energize young voters for whom climate issues are a priority – just as voters under 30 are turning away from the President Biden.

The state party had the opportunity not only to signal its position on climate change, police reform and health care, but to show its main supporters that it places its values ​​above the money.

Instead, party activists say, Democrats missed an opportunity to make a big national statement on money and politics — because they let money drive their politics. Again.

Sasan Saadat, political leader of the youth-led Sunrise Bay region, points to what the state party – the largest in the country – could have done last week: refuse to accept campaign contributions from fossil fuel companies . Not only would that have sent a strong message in California, but it would have sent a nationwide signal in how big trends move from west to east.

Instead, here’s what the party’s executive board did in a closed-door meeting: It banned contributions from more fossil fuel companies — including PG&E and Sempra — but not Southern California Edison. The party’s stated logic behind it: SoCal Edison passes power to customers and provides “no gas service,” unlike the other two utilities, according to parts of the party report obtained by The Chronicle.

This ignores the fact that Edison gets some of that electricity from hydraulic fracturing, or hydraulic fracturing, a practice that environmental activists condemn because of its ability to pollute groundwater and release methane, a gas Greenhouse effect.

It also ignores the fact that the California Democratic Party platform supports “an immediate moratorium on fracking.”

“The Democratic Party,” Saadat told me, “made our job a little harder by dithering over the question that should be, to any rational youngster, so obvious: why would we take money from the arsonists of our planet?”

This is another example of how Democrats are struggling to reconcile what they to say with who gives them money in the hope that they do something different.

While the state party’s actions would not have affected the myriad other ways Democratic candidates — or left-leaning organizations and unions — are raising funds, the party’s new loophole-filled guidelines could have consequences. The post could dampen the enthusiasm of tuned political activists doing the grassroots work that keeps Democrats in power in California.

Creating rules that keep the door open to campaign contributions from fossil fuel companies — as well as major health care companies and law enforcement agencies — has some activists predicting the largest Democratic party in the country will alienate its core voters, those it intends to vote on in November.

Apathy is a problem Democrats don’t need, especially when top prognosticators say they’ll lose the House and possibly the Senate.

Biden’s approval rating has plummeted nationally over the past eight months. This plunge should be even more alarming for Democrats, because now Biden is also diving into California’s deep blue, according to a Berkeley IGS poll released this month. In February, 47% approved of Biden, up from 59% last summer.

Young voters – who initially doubted candidate Biden before embracing him at the last minute – are collectively shaking their heads after seeing him in the White House for a year. Only 34% of California voters under 30 approve of Biden, while 53% disapprove, according to the Berkeley survey.

Still, that wasn’t the only Democratic Party swing-and-miss in the state last week.

Whiff No. 2: The state party that claims to support Black Lives Matter and champion racial justice said it would review campaign contributions from law enforcement organizations on a case-by-case basis instead of banning them outright and simply. Who would make this decision? The five main leaders of the party. The party rejected a proposal to create a set of criteria for making that call.

Activists say they expected more after the symbolic actions Democrats took following the 2020 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Days after Floyd’s death, Democratic office holders in Washington and Sacramento knelt to honor Floyd and others who were killed while in police custody.

Between 2017 and 2020, The Chronicle reported that the state party accepted $1.8 million from four police unions and other organizations representing law enforcement employees. Even though the party has not accepted contributions from law enforcement or fossil fuel sources since 2020, many Democratic activists have wanted to codify this trend.

Last fall, as the state party discussed a ban on donations from law enforcement agencies, Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, told the board: “This party cannot not pretend he believes black lives matter and put that sign in his window and then allow police association money to come in the back door.

Following the party’s decision this week, Garza told me what the party’s decision meant after “the Democratic Party, both statewide and nationally, spent two years banging their chests to support Black Lives Matter”.

“The amount of effort that has gone into taking this initial step should show you the power of police associations,” Garza, director of the Black Futures Lab think tank, told me. “Is this a complete and total victory? Absolutely not. Is it a David versus Goliath (struggle)? Absoutely. So that’s a point for David.

Still, Garza was unhappy with how the party plans to determine which law enforcement money comes from acceptable sources and which does not. State party leaders were grappling with what they see as two different constituencies – people of color and organized workers.

The party’s report which was shown to executive council members on Sunday before they vote said the state party wanted to “raise the voices of those most affected by law enforcement failures – especially black and brown communities. At the same time (the state party) should always elevate and strengthen the voice of our party workers.

Garza said she was not comfortable with party leaders deciding which donations are acceptable. “Do I think the Democratic Party is fighting for its future right now? Yes, I do,” she said.

Garza said that “this party is going to have to figure out: is it the police associations that are going to lead you to victory? Or did the communities give you a mandate on what they want to see from their party?

“Time will tell which side they decide to be on,” Garza said.

And that brings us to Whiff No.3: State Party, which the platform says it “advocates for legislation to create and implement a state-funded single-payer system” voted not to accept campaign contributions from “for-profit health care companies”.

But that means it can still accept contributions from nonprofit healthcare companies like Kaiser Permanente and Sutter Health, which oppose single-payer. This loophole is infuriating for Jeanna Harris, a registered nurse and state party delegate who lives in Los Angeles.

She had felt this frustration with the State party before. Two years ago, she co-authored a resolution calling on the party to stop accepting contributions from law enforcement and not support candidates who don’t pledge. Needless to say that didn’t happen.

For more than a year, Harris focused her attention on the Legislature’s efforts to pass single-payer health care legislation. That effort died last month. The new party rules have only made this pain worse.

“This is going to hurt (Democrats) for 2022,” Harris said. “People on the ground are so tired of politics and so tired of promises and inaction. I don’t think we’ll have good voter turnout. The community isn’t feeling too excited right now.

Saadat, the environmental organizer, understands the distress the state party finds itself in if it completely closes the door to some of these long-time donors. If this funding disappears, it must replace millions of dollars elsewhere. Party leaders are stepping up the party’s small-dollar donation program to try to make up for what might be lost.

But Saadat ultimately believes that the loopholes allowed by the party create more harm than the money is worth.

“It could have been a clear win,” Saadat said. “It could have been a time when the Democratic Party took sides and that side was with young people for the future, with working families and that was true for transformative racial justice.

“Instead,” Saadat said. “They delivered a confusing message.”

Joe Garofoli is the San Francisco Chronicle’s senior political editor. Email: [email protected]: @joegarofoli

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