Menu Close

Beginning in early 2011, state Sen. Leland Yee allegedly solicited bribes to fund his San Francisco mayor and California secretary of state campaigns, according to the FBI agents who brought him down last month.

But according to a story in the Contra Costa Times, he appears to have devoted more time and energy to a far more lucrative pursuit: crafting or carrying legislation benefiting special interests who supply campaign contributions. The San Francisco Democratic lawmaker raised more than $150,000 in perfectly legal fashion, scooping up donations from labor unions, trade associations and other groups whose bills he advocated in the hearing rooms and hallways of the Capitol. This newspaper’s analysis indicates Yee — suspended last month from the Senate while he fights federal charges — took advantage of a legislative system manipulated by lobbyists. He frequently introduced “milker bills” — a term for legislation that milks donations from special interest groups. There is nothing illegal about pushing legislation on behalf of special interests while taking campaign contributions from them, so long as there’s no evidence of quid-pro-quo agreements, which are difficult to prove. But it points to a treacherous gray area in Sacramento between business as usual and corruption.

Perhaps his most peculiar legislative cause involved an obscure group of about 100 traditional Chinese medicine practitioners known as traumatologists.When Yee entered the 2011 race for mayor, it had been years since anyone identifying himself as a traumatologist had donated to one of his campaigns. But once he took up their cause, 41 traumatologists contributed a total of $5,131 to his mayoral bid. Traumatology groups also gave $7,800 to Yee’s state accounts. In February 2011, Yee launched a three-year crusade to certify traumatologists — who use massage, joint manipulation and herbal remedies — in the same manner as acupuncturists, who in California are considered primary care providers. But the senator ran into furious opposition from a majority of the state’s roughly 10,000 acupuncturists, a group that had considered Yee a close political ally. Yee amended his first bill and introduced two others, but most acupuncturists remained opposed, arguing the standards for training and licensing traumatologists were inadequate. They warned of risks to public health. Yee lined up backing for the traumatologists, but some of it was dubious. Among the groups that signed form letters of support were Hop Sing Tong and Chee Kung Tong, Chinatown organizations led by Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, an alleged gangster charged with 10 crimes as a result of the FBI investigation that snared Yee.

Here are a few other examples of bills Sen. Leland Yee carried for groups whose money ended up in his campaign bank accounts. SB 554: Would have required health inspectors to enforce nurse-to-patient ratios at hospitals and imposed fines up to $10,000 on hospitals that fail to comply. Sponsored by the California Nurses Association, the bill never received a hearing. The nurses gave $13,000 to Yee’s campaigns plus $50,000 to City Residents Supporting Leland Yee for Mayor 2011, a committee spearheaded by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. (2011)

SB 282: Sponsored by the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists to give attorneys for therapists access to patients’ medical records when they negotiate legal settlements related to negligence complaints. There was no formal opposition to the bill, which sailed into law. The association gave $2,000 to Yee’s campaigns from 2012-2013. (2013)

SB 381: Sponsored by the California Chiropractic Association, it would have barred physical therapists from practicing joint manipulations and adjustments. It died after one hearing before the Senate Business and Professions Committee, where Yee failed to win a single vote. He nonetheless received $8,300 from the chiropractic association and $2,700 from individual practitioners. (2013)

SB 495: Would have boosted the pay for physicians at California State University health centers. It died in the Assembly. It was co-sponsored by the Union of American Physicians and Dentists, which gave $20,000 to one of the independent mayoral committees. The bill’s other sponsor was a powerful Yee backer, AFSCME, which along with its affiliates gave $27,800 to Yee’s campaigns from 2011 to 2014 as well as $525,000 to two independent Yee-for-mayor committees. (2013)
Source: Bay Area News Group research