OAKLAND — California Medical Association officials were among the guests seated next to Gov. Gavin Newsom at a top California political operative’s opulent birthday dinner at the French Laundry restaurant this month.
CEO Dustin Corcoran and top CMA lobbyist Janus Norman both joined the dinner at the French Laundry, an elite Napa fine dining restaurant, to celebrate the 50th birthday of lobbyist and longtime Newsom adviser Jason Kinney, a representative of the powerful interest group confirmed Wednesday morning.
Both Norman and Corcoran are friends of Kinney, as is Newsom, who referred this week to his 20-year friendship with Kinney. In a photo obtained by Fox LA, Norman is clearly visible seated to Newsom’s left.
The presence of CMA brass could amplify criticisms of the dinner occurring despite coronavirus restrictions that have limited Californians’ movements and constrained businesses. While Newsom and Kinney’s lobbying firm have said the meal abided by public health rules, it has struck a chord with Californians who have assailed the upscale soiree as hypocritical as coronavirus cases surge.
The state has issued guidelines prohibiting more than three households from gathering privately — a limit clearly exceeded by the French Laundry dinner. However, the state has intentionally allowed restaurants to seat people from more than three households together.
Doctors and other health care workers have been vigilant since the pandemic began in asking Califorians to stay at home — a call that has ramped up in recent weeks as hospitals across the nation fill to capacity.
A spokesperson for the CMA, Anthony York, said in a statement that “the dinner was held in accordance with state and county guidelines.”
The photos suggest that the dinner was held in what amounts to a fancy garage, with walls on three sides and a roof. Newsom and Kinney’s lobbying firm, Axiom Advisors, has insisted that it was an outdoor dinner. It is unclear whether that counts as outdoor dining under state guidelines, though Napa County restaurants were allowed to serve patrons inside at the time of the Nov. 6 event.
The CMA has long been a powerful presence in the state Capitol, and its Sacramento officials are longtime friends with Kinney. The group spent $2.1 million last year lobbying state leaders.
The doctors’ lobby this year successfully convinced Newsom and state lawmakers not to slash Medi-Cal reimbursement rates that were funded by a tobacco tax that CMA spearheaded in 2016. Besides listing dozens of bills, CMA also reported lobbying the Newsom administration on Covid-19 screening and testing rules.
But the group isn’t always successful with Newsom. He signed legislation in September that will give nurse practitioners more authority to work without physician oversight, a bill that CMA opposed.