Newsom’s bread and butter politics: Evading accountability in the shadows of scandal | Opinion

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As the glare of public scrutiny intensifies on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Panera Bread corruption scandal, we are left with more questions than answers. The governor has recently chosen secrecy over transparency. He wants to leave the public in the dark about how he and his staff craft laws in the Capitol behind closed doors.

Team Newsom’s fingerprints are all over a purported “pay-to-play” scheme involving Greg Flynn, a billionaire Panera Bread franchise owner — and the governor’s high school acquaintance. Flynn, who is also a major contributor to Newsom’s political campaigns, stood to benefit from a tailored exemption for “bakeries” in Assembly Bill 1228, the highly contentious 2023 law mandating a $20-per-hour minimum wage for fast food chains. According to Bloomberg, the governor pushed for the exemption, which would appear to benefit Panera.

The law’s secret negotiations were led by the Service Employees International Union. which reportedly mandated negotiators to sign non-disclosure agreements, keeping the public in the dark about crucial details, including the bakery exemption.


The situation, now dubbed “Panera-gate,” bring to light accusations of crony capitalism which have rightfully stirred public outcry.

To restore faith in our government by adding some sunshine to this legislation, Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher and I called on State Attorney General Rob Bonta to initiate an unbiased investigation into the allegations of money influencing this legislation. To no surprise, Bonta did not respond and continues to cover for Newsom.

Next, we called on Newsom to release all records related to the crafting bakery exemption and communications with Flynn. His administration was at ground zero in its creation because the legislation’s actual author, Assemblyman Chris Holden of Pasadena, said he was not involved in the negotiations. If Newsom truly had nothing to hide, he should have been eager to clear his name with these records.

Newsom’s reaction has been precisely the opposite.

First, he extended his response timeline, stating that the request falls under “unusual circumstances.”

Then, last week, he released essentially nothing. His “release of records” included one measly email with an article about the scandal and nothing else, citing that the other records are part of the “deliberative process of the governor or his staff.” Newsom is claiming that he is exempt from the requirement to release public records. He seeks to hide whether he and his staff signed non-disclosure agreements with this powerful union to work on the legislation in secrecy.

Californians deserve to know if that “deliberative process” included pay-to-play semantics. While the governor’s weak response dodges accountability, it suggests that additional records exist and are being hidden from public view.

To salvage his tarnished reputation, Newsom now seeks to downplay corruption allegations by asserting that Panera does not qualify for the exemption. This assertion raises more questions than answers. If not Panera, then which businesses do qualify? And why does this dubious exemption exist?

Meanwhile, there have been media reports of restaurants closing their doors for good or scrapping expansion plans. Instead of securing higher wages for workers, the devastating impacts of this bill have left hundreds out of work and out of business.

As restaurants grapple with increased costs, ordinary Californians are feeling the pinch at the checkout counter. Heavy price increases to offset rising costs are further straining household budgets that are already stretched thin.

Amid the scandal and chaos, one thing remains abundantly clear: Californians deserve a government that prioritizes our interests over those of well-connected insiders. Until Newsom and his administration are held accountable for their actions, the public’s trust in our democratic institutions will continue to erode.

Senate Minority Leader Brian W. Jones represents California Senate District 40, which encompasses much of inland San Diego County.