California Gov. Gavin Newsom's (D.) wife has charged the state's public schools as much as $1.5 million to screen her documentaries on "gender justice" and "corporate exploitation."
"First Partner" Jennifer Siebel Newsom has raised nearly $1.5 million from film licenses and nearly $1.7 million from sales since 2012, according to the watchdog group Open the Books. Her nonprofit, the Representation Project, charges schools an average $270 to license documentaries like The Great American Lie, which says sexism causes economic inequality, and Fair Play, about women who want to do less housework. While the group does not specify how much it earned from schools, Open the Books says it could easily account for all or nearly all her $1.5 million in streaming revenue.
Siebel Newsom's nonprofit could pose an ethical problem for her husband as he considers a presidential run. The Representation Project drew criticism in 2019 for accepting $358,000 in donations from the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), the utility company responsible for some of the state's worst wildfires. PG&E is listed as an associate producer on two of Siebel Newsom's films and hosted a screening of her first movie, Miss Representation, in 2011, when Newsom was mayor of San Francisco.
PG&E isn't the only Newsom donor with ties to the Representation Project. The governor and his wife for years have raised money from the same donors and corporations—he for his political campaigns and she for her nonprofit.
Shared donors include AT&T, Comcast, Planned Parenthood, and Kaiser Permanente. AT&T, a powerful lobbying force in Sacramento and a Newsom campaign contributor, sponsored a glitzy Siebel Newsom screening at San Francisco's Castro Theater in 2015, when Gavin Newsom was lieutenant governor. Oil heiress Aileen Getty, who bankrolls "climate actions" such as throwing soup at priceless van Gogh paintings, is also a major donor to both Newsoms.
According to government watchdog Jeff Hauser, the Newsoms' overlapping donor lists pose an ethical quandary.
"We're going to need a rethink of ethics laws that allow people to work without making political officeholders easy to bribe via their partners," said Hauser, the founder of the Revolving Door Project.
Siebel Newsom does not disclose which corporations buy and license her movies, another red flag for ethics experts. Her funder list, however, shows that companies and individuals sometimes donate to the Representation Project when they are also trying to block or lobby for California policies in which they have big financial stakes.
These include the nonprofit's 2022 gala fundraiser sponsors, AT&T and Comcast. The internet giants are both seeking to shape California's $6 billion effort to expand broadband access across the state, which could bring them lucrative state contracts.
Anne Wojcicki, the founder of the genetic-testing company 23andMe, donated thousands of dollars to the Representation Project annually from 2019 to 2021, as the state legislature debated and passed a privacy bill that cracked down on DNA-sampling firms like hers. Newsom vetoed the first of these bills in 2020.