By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Assemblyman Michael Allen remained on the payroll of two North Bay labor unions after he took office last year, raising questions for the Santa Rosa
Democrat who previously ran afoul of state political conflict-of-interest laws because of his work.
State records show that unions representing health care workers at two North Bay hospitals paid Allen at least $20,000 last year for legal services.
The income, which Allen legally had to report under state political disclosure laws, was in addition to the $95,291 Allen earned as a state lawmaker last year.
Lawmakers generally aren’t prohibited from earning outside income so long as they don’t vote on matters that directly affect the companies or organizations that they are working for.
But some political observers said such work raises questions about a candidate’s independence.
“Appearances are everything in politics. It raises the specter of impropriety, whether or not that exists,” said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist.
Allen declined to be interviewed on Wednesday but in a written statement defended his paid work on behalf of the Redbud Community Hospital Employee’s Association in Clearlake and the Canyon Manor Employees Association in Novato.
Allen’s work for both organizations began before his election to the Assembly.
In his statement, Allen wrote that after the election, he “initiated the process of assisting my remaining clients to other representation,” and that the two unions in question are now “primarily” represented by other law firms, with Allen filling in as needed as “backup.”
“Neither of these two small, independent employees associations is affiliated with public employee unions which lobby, or have business before, the California Legislature,” Allen wrote.
Allen declined to say how much he specifically earned from the organizations. On the state forms he reported that each organization paid him more than $10,000, and that his total income for his legal work ranged from between $10,000 and $100,000.
Jim Quigley, the secretary of the Canyon Manor association, said Wednesday that Allen has represented the organization in labor relations since the union’s inception about 30 years ago. “He’s just been a tremendous resource in helping us craft the union itself,” Quigley said.
Pat Van Horn, president of the Redbud association, would say only that Allen has worked for the group “for some time.” Redbud is now St. Helena Hospital Clear Lake, which is owned by Adventist Health.
Allen also is the former general manager of the Service Employees International Union Local 707 and executive director of the North Bay Labor Council.
Last February, the Fair Political Practices Commission levied a $3,000 fine against Allen for voting on matters in which he had a financial interest while he was a Santa Rosa planning commissioner. The FPPC found that Allen voted to change the city’s general plan while he was under contract to a county agency to work on behalf of that change.
Allen labeled his actions in that case an “innocent mistake.”
Critics questioned Allen’s selection to the Assembly’s Legislative Ethics Committee in the aftermath of that fine, as well as his selection to a high-profile state committee that is tasked with addressing the crisis with state public employee pensions.
These critics are finding new fodder with Allen continuing to be paid by unions.
“We need a representative who will put the district and their constituents first, and these kinds of outside contracts put that in question,” said San Rafael City Councilman Marc Levine, Allen’s main opponent in the June 5 primary election for the newly-formed 10th Assembly District seat.
Allen’s largest campaign donations to date have come from labor unions, including the maximum allowable donations of $7,800 each from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the California Teachers Association, state records show.
As an assemblyman, he has championed legislation favoring organized labor, including introducing a bill this year that would pay overtime to farmworkers. The bill is backed by United Farm Workers of America.
Allen also co-authored a resolution calling on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that prevents the government from restricting political spending by corporations in candidate elections.
Those efforts don’t appear to conflict from a legal standpoint with Allen’s paid work for the two North Bay labor unions, said Bob Stern, the former president of the Center for Governmental Studies and an author of the state’s political conflict-of-interest laws.
“They deal with general matters as opposed to specific contracts,” Stern said Wednesday.
You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.