California Attorney General Takes Over LA Corruption Probe

California’s attorney general on Tuesday took over a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department investigation of a county supervisor who had called the corruption probe an act of political retaliation.

California Assemblyman Rob Bonta listens during a news conference as California Gov. Gavin Newsom announces his nomination for state’s attorney general, Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Attorney General Rob Bonta announced he was assuming all responsibility for the investigation into contracts awarded to a nonprofit group run by a friend of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

The state Department of Justice asked the nation’s largest sheriff’s department to stop its probe and hand over its evidence in the case.

The Sheriff’s Department released a letter that Bonta sent Tuesday to Undersheriff Timothy K. Murakami that said he has authority to take over investigations “in the public interest” and ordering the department to cease activity in the case, including making public statements or court filings.

For more than a year, the Sheriff’s Department has been investigating some $800,000 in contracts awarded by the county’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to Peace Over Violence, a nonprofit organization that describes itself as a “social service agency dedicated to the elimination of sexual and domestic violence and all forms of interpersonal violence.”

The contracts were to operate a hotline for reporting sexual harassment on public transit.

The group’s executive director and CEO is Patricia Giggans, a friend of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

The Sheriff’s Department has said it was looking into whether Kuehl was improperly involved in obtaining contracts for the group.

Kuehl is a fierce critic of Sheriff Alex Villanueva and has called for his resignation. She appointed Giggans to serve on the Civilian Oversight Commission that monitors the Sheriff’s Department.

Both have denied wrongdoing in regard to the contracts.

Last week, sheriff’s deputies raided county offices and the homes of Kuehl and Giggans but a Superior Court judge has ordered the Sheriff’s Department to temporarily cease searching any computers and hard drives seized in the raids.

Kuehl and Metro challenged the validity of the search warrants, with lawyers for Kuehl writing in a court filing Monday that raids at Kuehl’s home and office were “politically motivated and retaliatory.”

The filing called warrants for those searches a “flagrant abuse of power and an offense to the rule of law.”

Villanueva had recused himself from the investigation but has discussed it in interviews and on social media as he campaigns for reelection.

Meanwhile, on the day of the raids, the sheriff asked Bonta to look into whether Kuehl and Giggans had improperly received advanced notice of the searches. In Tuesday’s letter, Bonta said he would look into the allegations but also was taking over the Sheriff’s Department probe.

“In recent days, the public unfolding of an unprecedented investigation has raised serious questions for residents of Southern California and beyond,” Bonta said in a statement released by his office. “I recognize the deep uncertainty this has engendered.”

Click here to read that the full article at AP News

The Attorney General’s Taxpayer-Funded Political Advertising

We hate to pick on Attorney General Rob Bonta two weeks in a row, but he’s really given us no choice. Last week we chronicled his hypocrisy on data privacy by posturing as a champion on that issue while negligently allowing his Department of Justice to release sensitive information on Californians who hold carry concealed weapons permits.

What spurred today’s critique was an article in the Sacramento Bee with the headline, “Why is California’s Attorney General spending taxpayer money to send you emails?” First, a hat tip to the Sacramento Bee – typically no friend of conservatives – and its reporter Ryan Sabalow.

The article reports that two months before the June primary election, millions of California voters received an email from Bonta’s Department of Justice with the subject line, “I want to hear from you.” The message was from an official email account and said, “As Attorney General, protecting California and its people is my highest priority” and “your opinion truly matters to me.”

Those receiving the email might have wondered what it was all about. After all, it is unusual to receive an unsolicited email from a state agency unless you’ve opted in to remain informed on a particular topic.

But it’s really no mystery at all. Prior to the primary election, Bonta was serving as the appointed, but unelected, Attorney General. No doubt that his name ID wasn’t very high, and he was willing to do anything possible to elevate his profile. That’s one reason he directed his staff – shortly after his appointment – to include his smiling visage on these email solicitations to as many as 7 million voters.

The Bee article, citing several sources, accurately notes that what Bonta did was technically legal, even if ethically questionable. Indeed, the question of the extent to which elected officials or government agencies expend taxpayer dollars for political advocacy or “self-promotion” is one that the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association gets a lot. In fact, our Public Integrity Project was formed precisely to monitor and to litigate when necessary illegal expenditures of public funds for illegal activity.

Fortunately, HJTA has had a string of successes in the courtroom including an action against the County of Los Angeles for producing a slick television ad advocating the passage of a sales tax to address homelessness. That action resulted in a $1.3 million fine against the county. Other successful legal actions include a suit against California’s then-Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, for spending an unauthorized $35 million contract with a politically connected public relations firm that referred to itself as “Team Biden” on its own website, ostensibly for nonpartisan “voter outreach” and public education.

The bad news is that there is a very high bar to prove illegality when it comes to public expenditures for non-election-related public relations campaigns. Rarely will an elected official or government entity be so foolish to use taxpayer funds for ads that say “Vote for Me” or “Vote for Measure X.”

But just because “outreach” communications, such as those emails sent by Bonta, may be technically legal, that doesn’t mean that they are ethically defensible. The attorney general is responsible for enforcing the law against other Californians. It looks pretty bad for him to skirt the law himself.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

Calif. Attorney General Leaks Names and Addresses of State’s Legal Gun Owners Following SCOTUS Gun Ruling

‘Vindictive sore loser bureaucrats have endangered people’s lives and invited conflict by illegally releasing confidential private information’

Last week the Supreme Court issued a decision striking down a New York gun law that puts unconstitutional restrictions on concealed carry of a gun out in public, as the Globe reported.

Less than one week later, it appears the California Attorney General leaked the state database of names and addresses of the state’s legal gun owners and concealed carry permit holders.

How could this happen – is it accidental or deliberate? California gun owners cheered the Supreme Court’s decision reaffirming that state officials cannot require concealed carry applicants to show “proper cause” and “demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community.”

The Reload reports:

“The California Department of Justice’s 2022 Firearms Dashboard Portal went live on Monday with publicly-accessible files that include identifying information for those who have concealed carry permits. The leaked information includes the person’s full name, race, home address, date of birth, and date their permit was issued. The data also shows the type of permit issued, indicating if the permit holder is a member of law enforcement or a judge.”

The AG’s Firearms Dashboard Portal is currently down:

The Reload reported they reviewed a copy of the Lost Angeles County database and found 244 judge permits listed in the database including the home addresses, full names, and dates of birth for all of them. “The same was true for seven custodial officers, 63 people with a place of employment permit, and 420 reserve officers.”

Last year Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 171 into law, which allows the state to share personal information of gun owners with gun violence research organizations.

Bill analysis of AB 171 specifies “the DOJ may at its discretion, also disclose specified information, to other nonprofit bona fide research institutions that are accredited by the United State Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation for the study of violence prevention in the matter prescribed. Requires that any material identifying individuals to only be used for research and statistical purposes and prohibits reports or publications derived from the material from identifying any specific individuals. Requires DOJ to establish procedures for these requests and allows researchers to be charged reasonable fees related to their requests.”

The Reload reported that the office of Attorney General Rob Bonta confirmed private information had been exposed and said they are examining the situation.

“We are investigating an exposure of individuals’ personal information connected to the DOJ Firearms Dashboard,” a spokesperson for the office told The Reload. “Any unauthorized release of personal information is unacceptable. We are working swiftly to address this situation and will provide additional information as soon as possible.”

The Reload published a statement from the California Rifle & Pistol Association, which they say “slammed the leak and said it was looking into potential legal action against the state.”

“Vindictive sore loser bureaucrats have endangered people’s lives and invited conflict by illegally releasing confidential private information,” Chuck Michel, CRPA President, told The Reload. “CRPA is working with several legislators and sheriffs to determine the extent of the damage caused by DOJ’s doxing of law abiding gun owners. Litigation is likely.”

Attorney General Bonta announced the new and updated firearms data available through the California Department of Justice (DOJ)’s 2022 Firearms Dashboard Portal in a press release Monday:

“Transparency is key to increasing public trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve. As news of tragic mass shootings continue to dominate the news cycle, leaving many with feelings of fear and uncertainty, we must do everything we can to prevent gun violence. One of my continued priorities is to better provide information needed to help advance efforts that strengthen California’s commonsense gun laws. Today’s announcement puts power and information into the hands of our communities by helping them better understand the role and potential dangers of firearms within our state.”

“Instead, the leaked private information of gun owners is likely to increase the risk criminals will target their homes for burglaries–something the state’s dashboard reports happened 145,377 times in 2020 alone,” the Reload reported.

Click here to read the full article at the California Globe

Pick-Your-Opponent Ploy Fails for Rob Bonta

It was a ploy, much like one first used in the modern era of California politics by the late Democratic U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston in his 1986 reelection bid. The tactic worked that time.

But radio ads that hit California airwaves in large quantities during May, as the primary election approached, did not work this spring.

The ads touted the state attorney general candidacy of previously little known Republican candidate Eric Early, the most conservative hopeful in the running and an unapologetic supporter of ex-President Donald Trump.

They were funded primarily by a pro-labor political action committee whose desire was to create as easy a path to election as possible for the appointed Democratic incumbent Rob Bonta, by far the most liberal candidate in the field.

Bonta backers did not want his November opponent to be the most credible Republican in the field, former prosecutor Nathan Hochman, a party-backed hopeful who pledges to be tougher on criminals than Bonta – a longtime supporter of the “no-cash-bail” system overwhelmingly nixed by voters in 2020.

Bonta has also threatened numerous cities with costly lawsuits if they don’t knuckle under by OKing large amounts of new housing construction as called for by the state Department of Housing and Community Development, whose figures have been labeled unreliable by the state’s nonpartisan auditor.

The radio ad sponsors plain hope was that California’s top two “jungle primary” would give Bonta an opponent far less electable than Hochman might turn out to be. But Hochman holds a significant edge over Early with most votes counted. The final count might not be known for weeks, but Hochman is Bonta’s apparent November opponent.

As an incumbent in a state where no Democratic statewide officeholder has lost a reelection bid since the 1980s, there was never much doubt Bonta would win the primary. But one nuance of top two is that even with a clear Bonta majority in the primary, he still would need to run again in November against the No. 2 finisher.

Knowing this, Bonta’s supporters wanted to split the Republican vote between Early and Hochman and allow no-party-preference candidate Anne Marie Schubert, the Sacramento County district attorney, to sneak into the fall runoff. That didn’t happen, as Hochman took second place and  Early third, both far ahead of Schubert.

Bonta backers figured Hochman could be tougher for Bonta to beat because he had major-party backing, while Schubert was strictly on her own and Early would be hurt by strong anti-Trump feeling in California.

The system is significantly different today than in the pre-top two days when Cranston, feeling threatened by the moderate Republican Silicon Valley Congressman Ed Zschau, encouraged backers to donate more than $100,000 to American Independent Party candidate Edward Vallen, who used it mostly for radio ads strikingly similar to this spring’s ads touting Early. They essentially said Zschau was dishonest, claiming Vallen and Cranston were the only candidates in the race with integrity.

Cranston eventually won reelection by just 104,000 votes, while Vallen pulled 109,000, including many that figured to go to Zschau if the ultra-conservative Vallen had not been a factor, albeit a minor one.

The ploy infuriated Republicans at the time, but it worked for Cranston, very likely responsible for the last of the four terms he served before Democrat Barbara Boxer won his old seat in 1992.

Click here to read the full article in The Sun