The mother of a 13th State Senate District candidate raised concerns that she ran afoul of California election law by bankrolling a committee to help get her son to Sacramento.
But Linda Browningg—the 84-year-old mother of Burlingame councilman and SD13 contender Michael Browningg—was apparently in the clear when she poured $460,000 into a newly formed independent expenditure committee named Californians Supporting Brownrigg for Senate 2020.
Unlike direct contributions to a candidate, which are capped at a certain threshold, donations to independent expenditure (IE) committees have no limit—but there’s a catch. California law forbids IEs from coordinating with the candidates they support.
While a spokesperson for the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) declined to comment on the specifics of the Brownrigg contribution, a campaign manual published by the watchdog agency says that the state considers it improper coordination if an IE is “principally funded by an individual immediate family member of the candidate.”
Though the FPPC forbids immediate family members from contributing to IE committees, it limits that prohibition to what state election law defines as “immediate family member[s] of the candidate”—that is, spouses and dependent children.
However, there’s another potential violation involving the same committee. Alan Eagle—a community member who runs the committee after formally endorsing Michael Brownrigg—apparently filed multiple donation reports past their due date.
State law requires IEs to file within 24-hours for contributions of $1,000 or more in the 90 days before the election. The late filing can carry a penalty of $10 a day—or $20 for state committees—and a fine of up to $5,000 per violation.
But Michael Brownrigg defended his mom and said her donation to the IE took him off guard. “I was flabbergasted and completely surprised and proud that she would believe in me like that,” he told San Jose Inside in a phone call Tuesday. Later, he added: “I love my mom and I’m touched that she believes in me like this. It’s a lot to carry in some ways.”
When asked about concerns abou the elder Brownrigg’s contribution, however, Michael Brownrigg bristled at the suggestion that his mom did anything wrong.
“I’m not an election law expert,” he said. “I had no idea my mother was thinking about doing this … I guess it can be done? I was just as surprised as anybody else, so I don’t know what to say. … I don’t think you can assume that my mom broke a campaign law. I don’t think that’s a fair assumption.”
Brownrigg said his mom is “a private person,” but that he realizes she relinquished her anonymity by making such a newsworthy donation.
Michael Brownrigg said what his mom did for him was no different than what the father of Eleni Kounalakis did for his daughter during her run for lieutenant governor in 2018. That year, Kounalakis’ dad gave $5 million to an independent expenditure committee supporting her bid, which drew some scrutiny from the press—although the FPPC never investigated the matter.
When reached by phone Tuesday evening, Linda Brownrigg seemed annoyed by questions about her remarkably generous IE contribution.
“I’m very embarrassed that it’s public,” she said. “But I don’t really want to talk to a reporter about this right now.”
She added that she just wanted to express her support for her son.
“I’ll just say that I’m very happy for Michael and very proud of what he’s doing,” she said.
When asked if she knew about concerns raised by her donation, Linda Brownrigg said that was news to her. “I had no idea,” she said. “I went on advice from someone else.”
She declined to disclose whose advice she followed. Then, she hung up.
Michael Brownrigg is jockeying with six other candidates to replace termed-out state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo). Come March 3, he’ll be competing for the open seat against Redwood City Councilwoman Shelly Masur, Menlo Park entrepreneur Josh Becker, ex-Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, Millbrae Councilwoman Annie Oliva, software engineer John Webster and Los Altos resident and lone Republican in the race Alex Glew.
Jennifer Wadsworth also contributed to this report.
This article has been updated.