San Francisco Chronicle
Rival criticizes Bonta on intent behind contributions
East Bay Assembly candidate Janani Ramachandran has called for campaign rival Mia Bonta and her husband, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, to end the “obvious appearance of legalized corruption” created by some contributions to her campaign.
Ramachandran alleges that part of the money donated to Mia Bonta may be intended to influence policy decisions made by her husband.
Rob Bonta countered that the accusations carried a “tinge of sexism.”
Ramachandran, a former member of the Oakland Public Ethics commission, expressed concern over tens of thousands of dollars in donations Mia Bonta has received from the gaming industry. California voters are likely to consider a statewide ballot measure next year to legalize sports betting at tribal casinos. Rob Bonta, in his role as attorney general, will write the title and summary for the initiative — wording that will be important to how the issue is framed.
The gaming industry isn’t giving money to Mia Bonta’s campaign “because she’s going to offer legislation and support,” Ramachandran said Tuesday. “They’re doing it because they have a ballot measure next year, and that ballot measure is something that Rob Bonta, the attorney general, has significant control over. To me, it’s clear they’re trying to curry favor.”
Ramachandran called for Mia Bonta to return the contributions and for Rob Bonta to recuse himself from any involvement with the ballot measure.
It is another twist in the June 29 special election where Mia Bonta is one of eight candidates to succeed her husband, who held the seat until Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed him to be attorney general earlier this year. Bonta replaced Xavier Becerra, whom President Biden tapped to run the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, a runoff between the top two finishers will be held Aug. 31.
Mia Bonta has so far raised $460,244, according to official figures from the Secretary of State’s office. Roughly onefifth of that is from the gaming industry. An independent expenditure committee supporting Mia Bonta has raised another $329,749. Alameda City Council member Malia Vella has raised the second most in the field, $326,892. Ramachandran, who is not accepting corporate contributions, has raised $126,517.
Ramachandran said that the Bontas are not doing anything illegal. However, she said, because this is an unusual situation where one spouse is running for office and the other is attorney general, “it’s something that is troubling to me and needs to be called out and explored.”
In a recent conversation with The Chronicle, Mia Bonta said, “I’m an independent person with my own mind and with my own perspectives,” when asked about contributions from the gaming industry.
Rob Bonta told The Chronicle this week that “Mia Bonta stands on her own two feet. She always has since I’ve known her when she was 17 years old,” when they met as freshmen at Yale University.
Rob Bonta said “there’s a tinge of sexism, frankly, in folks who say her success or her powerful campaign is somehow attributable to her husband. As long as I’ve know her, she’s always done it on her own.”