State senator Toni Atkins had plenty of food, drink, and travel in 2016, thanks to the multitudinous dollars of special interests. Her personal financial report filed for last year shows she received greater than $100,000 from an outfit called LeSar Development Consultants, owned by Atkins’s spouse, Jennifer LeSar.
Their relationship has raised frequent conflict-of-interest questions regarding Atkins’s proposals to raise fees to subsidize low-income housing projects that are a major source of LeSar’s income. “(LeSar and Atkins) are just pocket-liners, cut from the Clinton cloth,” the Union-Tribune quoted San Diego homeless advocate Monica Ball as saying in a February 6, 2017, story about the allegations. “Talk about a colossal conflict of interest.”
In addition to LeSar’s main business, she owns half of Estolano LeSar Perez Advisors, for which the disclosure does not provide a valuation or income details. Income sources of greater than $10,000 for the ventures include the Port of San Diego, San Diego city-owned Civic San Diego, the San Diego Housing Commission, the California Department of Community Services, and 61 other governmental and non-profit entities. Senate lawyers have ruled that because Atkins’s legislation doesn’t earmark the proceeds of the proposed new fees and taxes for any particular beneficiary, she is not breaking state conflict laws.
In addition to the big housing money, Atkins also collected $200 in tickets and golf fees from insurance giant Farmers, a $48 meal from the San Diego Housing Federation, and $381 worth of meals and lodging from the Forest Foundation of Sacramento. On the Forest Foundation board sit a bevy of timber industry executives, including those from Mendocino Redwood Company, Sierra Pacific Industries, and Green Diamond Resource Company.
The pro-logging group has faced controversy over its generous payments to former Texas A&M University professor Thomas M. Bonnicksen, who provides favorable legislative testimony. The biggest private payoffs for Atkins came from the Association of California Life & Health Insurance Companies, which anted up $1264 in lodging and meals for a two-day stay at Pebble Beach beginning last October 24. A month before that, the California Dental Association came up with $3002 in lodging, meals, and travel for a three-day Atkins jaunt to New York City.
Last year, Atkins ran fellow Democrat Marty Block out of his seat by dint of superior campaign fundraising as then-speaker of the Assembly. To keep her hold on her lucrative office, Atkins is throwing a high-dollar fundraising lunch for herself at the Catamaran on Mission Bay, Friday, May 12. With a minimum contribution of $250, more ambitious donors can spend as much as $4400 for the “co-chair level,” with ten seats at the table thrown in.