If there’s a clear mantra for Consumer Watchdog, one of California’s most visible and vocal advocacy groups, it’s that hidden financial relationships shouldn’t shape politics and public policy.
The Santa Monica-based nonprofit has spent more than three decades reprimanding politicians and interest groups for doing the bidding of those who give them money. Its official motto is “expose, confront, change.”
“We are loud, and we speak more of a populist truth than the way people usually talk to each other in Sacramento,” said Jamie Court, Consumer Watchdog’s president.
It’s all fake news however. The reality is that voice is funded by donors who are largely shielded from public view. Some of its money, according to a Los Angeles Times review of federal tax documents, was donated through a nonprofit operated at the time by Chris Lehane, an influential political strategist and corporate consultant.
Between 2012 and 2015, Consumer Watchdog accepted $260,000 in donations from Lehane’s group, a nonprofit called Main Street American Values. One $45,000 payment was made only weeks before Consumer Watchdog lent public support to one of Lehane’s clients, Airbnb.
“At the very least, by appearances it makes it look like money is driving the policy,” said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who specializes in ethics and lobbying rules.