When state Assembly Democrat Lorena Gonzalez deployed a firehose of cash from her re-election campaign committee to jumpstart husband Nathan Fletcher's bid for a seat on the county board of supervisors last year, questions regarding the money's origin emerged.
Among the raft of corporate donors to the Gonzalez fund, records showed, was Chevron Oil, with $4400, along with Sempra Energy, which handed over $6400. A separate Gonzalez-led ballot measure fund had taken $5000 each from Sempra and Pacific Gas & Electric in 2017.
Most controversial of all was the contribution of $1000 on January 11 made by Otay Mesa private prison operator CoreCivic of Tennessee LLC. Formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America, CoreCivic gave Gonzalez another $1000 on April 13, for a $2000 total, per disclosure reports.
"California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has accepted campaign contributions from CoreCivic and then transferred the money to the San Diego County Democratic Party to help her husband, Nathan Fletcher — a candidate for San Diego County Supervisor," wrote former Democratic Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña, who came in third behind Fletcher and Republican ex-District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis in the June primary.
"Tell the San Diego County Democratic Party to condemn private for-profit prisons that take children away from their families in San Diego and punish inmates who refuse to work for $1.50/hour," said an online petition drive launched by Saldana, calling on Gonzalez and the Democrats "to return all CoreCivic contributions and refuse future contributions."
That April, CoreCivic came under fire from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which asserted the company was " placing profits above people by forcing detained immigrants to perform manual labor for next to nothing, saving millions of dollars that would otherwise provide jobs and stimulate the local economy."
The controversy set off a rush by Democrats to turn over their previously collected private prison money to charity. Gonzalez, as well as fellow Assembly Democrat Todd Gloria, and state senator Toni Atkins, announced they had disgorged the funds from their reelection accounts.
"Senate Leader Atkins never personally solicited these contributions nor have those contributions ever in any way affected her votes or her values," said an Atkins campaign statement.
In December, Gonzalez's chief of staff Evan McLaughlin told Courthouse News Service that the assemblywoman's campaign had given her CoreCivic cash to "legal service providers that serve the vulnerable populations that are harmed by the private prison industry.”
Now Gonzalez-Fletcher has signed on as a co-sponsor of Assembly Bill 33, a measure to force state retirement funds to divest themselves of private prison holdings. "This bill would prohibit the boards of the Public Employees’ Retirement System and the State Teachers’ Retirement System from making new investments or renewing existing investments of public employee retirement funds in a private prison company," says the California Legislative Counsel's digest.
The ranks of recent donors to Gonzalez, who is now running for California Secretary of State, include William Morris Endeavor talent agency and Ultimate Fighting Championship honcho Ari Emanuel, who kicked in $4400 on November 1, as did UFC promoter Zuffa, LLC and Emanuel's William Morris associate Patrick Whitesell.
Whitesell is the estranged husband of Lauren Sanchez, whose romantic relationship with Jeff Bezos is currently at the center of the Amazon billionaire's battle with the National Enquirer over the publication's alleged blackmail attempt.
The brother of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Ari Emanuel once represented Donald Trump, per a November 2016 report by ABC News.
"In June, Trump told The Hollywood Reporter that Emanuel, whom he called 'a very good friend of mine,' offered to helm a movie about the GOP candidate for the Republican National Convention. 'He calls me a lot. I call him a lot, and we talk. He's very political. Even though he's not political, he's political. He gets it. You're shocked to hear that [about the film], right?' Trump said. 'But yeah, I might do something with Ari.'"