State ethics commission poised to help Democrats fight off recall effort

As reported by the L.A. Times:

The state’s campaign watchdog agency is poised on Thursday to open the spigot for large political contributions that would help an embattled Democratic state senator fend off a recall campaign, a change that opponents say is tainted by secret talks between a commissioner and a Democratic attorney.

The state Fair Political Practices Commission last month began the process of lifting the $4,400 limit on political contributions by elected officials to anti-recall campaigns. The change was requested by Democrats to help state Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), who is facing an effort to remove him from office after his vote in April for a $52-billion gas and vehicle tax package.

FPPC Commissioner Brian Hatch is facing criticism for communicating before the vote with an attorney for the Senate Democrats, Richard Rios, holding a private meeting and exchanging emails and text messages that appeared to strategize on passing the policy change.

Hatch, a Democrat and former firefighters’ union lobbyist, defended his communication with Rios, saying it was needed to counter what he saw as a bias in favor of keeping the existing policy — which Hatch said he saw as unfair — by commission staff and FPPC Chairwoman Jodi Remke. Hatch challenged the notion that a campaign to recall an official could receive unlimited contributions while those fighting a recall were subject to limits. …

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Ethics commissioner Brian Hatch had private meetings with Democrats over recall election rules

A former labor lobbyist who serves on California’s political watchdog agency met privately, talked on the phone and exchanged text messages with a lawyer working for Senate Democrats while advocating for the agency to flip a longstanding legal interpretation of campaign finance law in favor of Sen. Josh Newman.

The conversations between California Fair Political Practices Commissioner Brian Hatch, a Democrat and former lobbyist for the firefighters union, and Richard Rios, an attorney representing Senate Democrats, were revealed in a public records request seeking communications about the matter.

Senate Democrats are asking the FPPC to reverse its position on contribution limits in recall elections. If the agency approves the change next week, state candidates would be able to give unlimited sums of money to Newman. The Fullerton Democrat is fighting a Republican-led recall to oust him and upend Democrats’ supermajority dominance in the state Senate.

FPPC commissioners are prohibited from speaking privately with interests in enforcement cases. Commissioners are allowed to meet or discuss the agency’s legal opinion on state law and rule-making decisions with outside parties, but such one-on-one meetings are unusual and are supposed to be disclosed. None of the other commissioners reported private meetings with outside groups in response to the records request.

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

Jim Brulte: State ethics commission a partisan tool of Democrats

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California’s supposedly non-partisan political watchdog, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) has exposed itself as a partisan tool of the Democrats.

First the Democrat-controlled legislature changes the law to protect Senator Josh Newman from a recall election his constituents are calling for. And today the FPPC overturns years of established legal precedents, over the objection of their own legal counsel, to help Democrat Senator Newman withstand the recall election.

This is another step in the continued decline of the integrity of California’s elections. It is one more example of absolute power corrupting absolutely.

Jim Brulte is chairman of the California Republican Party. 

More shady politics from Sacramento Democrats

State Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, left, listens as Senate President Pro Tem Kevin del Leon, D-Los Angeles, right, urges lawmakers to approve a measure to change the rules governing recall elections, Thursday, June 15, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. Democratic lawmakers approved the bill that would let people rescind their signatures from recall petitions and let lawmakers weigh in on potential costs. Newman is facing a recall campaign over his vote to increase the gas tax. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Last week, the ostensibly nonpartisan California Fair Political Practices Commission agreed to remove a long-standing campaign contribution limit so that Democrats could better fight an upcoming recall election against one of their own. And you thought things were bad in Venezuela.

Earlier this year, frustrated taxpayers in Senate District 29 initiated a recall of state Sen. Josh Newman because of his vote to impose over $5 billion annually in new taxes on cars and gasoline. Within months, over 100,000 signatures were submitted in support of ousting Newman.

In a move to bolster Newman’s chances of surviving the impending recall, the Senate Democrats last month requested that the FPPC allow elected officials to contribute more than $4,400 — the legal limit — to Sen. Newman’s recall committee. Since 2003, the FPPC has maintained that the contribution limits that apply to candidate committees during regularly scheduled elections also apply to recall elections. In fact, back in 2008, that rule was applied against a Republican legislator, Jeff Denham, when he was fighting his own recall challenge. The justification for the limit is to prevent legislative leaders from using their power and influence over special-interest contributors to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, which could then be immediately transferred to the targeted legislator.

In response to the Democrats’ request, the FPPC’s own legal counsel reviewed the limit and concluded that the current interpretation is both “well-reasoned and legally sound.” However, in a 3-1 vote, the commission ignored its attorneys’ objection and gave preliminary approval to lift the contribution limit for recall candidates.

To be clear, many question both the efficacy and the constitutionality of political contribution limits. After reasoned debate, it may well be that the California Legislature would vote to lift the cap for future elections. But it is the method and timing of the revised interpretation that stinks.

First, the Democrats are hiding behind the FPPC. If they don’t like the contribution limits, they could simply pass a reform bill, which Gov. Brown would quickly sign. But, rather than be upfront about their political agenda, they asked their cohorts at the FPPC to do their dirty work for them via a regulatory amendment.

Second, and far more troubling, is the timing. If this particular contribution limit can’t be justified as advancing the public interest — and it may not be — why repeal it in a manner so transparently intended to help one particular political party, and one particular candidate? By not delaying the effective date of the regulatory change until some not-too-distant future election cycle, the FPPC loses the moral high ground, as well as the appearance of objectivity.

The upshot of this may not mean much. Sure, with lots more Democratic money to spend in the recall election, voters in the 29th Senate District will see their mailboxes filled to brim with misleading mailers, as well as nonstop radio commercials on every station, funded by special interests. But the anger on the part of working Californians over the massive tax increase, especially in Newman’s conservative district, is palpable — and even an unlimited supply of campaign cash may not be able to stave off voter wrath.

Nonetheless, the FPPC action is unseemly and wrong. Today, when cynicism over the political process is at an all-time high at both the national level and here in California, we should be assuring citizens that our democratic processes are fair and reflective of high standards of integrity. Unfortunately, the FPPC’s sudden rule change will only reinforce distrust on the part of voters.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register.

Legalized Marijuana Edges Closer to Reality

Buds are removed from a container at the "Oregon's Finest" medical marijuana dispensary in Portland, Oregon April 8, 2014. Over 20 Oregon cities and counties are moving to temporarily ban medical marijuana dispensaries ahead of a May deadline, reflecting a divide between liberal Portland and more conservative rural areas wary about allowing medical weed. Portland, Oregon's largest city, already has a number of medical marijuana clinics and has not moved to ban them. Picture taken April 8, 2014. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola (UNITED STATES - Tags: DRUGS SOCIETY POLITICS HEALTH) - RTR3KMHE

Despite a mixed bag of support for the many propositions on California’s voluminous ballot, legalized recreational in-state marijuana use appears to be headed from far-off dream to dawning reality.

“Last month, the two most prestigious California public opinion outfits — the Field Research Corporation and Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) — both pegged support for Proposition 64 at 60 percent,” Ed Kilgore noted at New York Magazine. “Field nostalgically noted that its first poll of California on the subject, in 1969, showed only 13 percent support for legalization. A new PPIC survey in October showed legal weed pulling a mere 55 percent with 38 percent opposed. That’s still a 17-point margin. Indeed, there has only been one bad poll for Proposition 64.”

A decisive year

Although California has long been forced into the role of bellwether state by policy activists hoping to go national with Golden State victories, broader change in a pro-pot direction has been largely recognized as nearly inevitable given the sheer size of the market for pot that Prop. 64 would legitimize and expand. “Californians are on the verge of tripling the number of American adults who can legally acquire marijuana without interference from doctors, dealers or cops,” Reason magazine’s Matt Welch observed at the Los Angeles Times. “If Maine and Nevada voters do likewise, as seems probable, that would further expand the zone of recreational freedom to cover nearly one-fifth of the U.S. population.”

Pro-pot advocates have cast a broad net this election season. “Voters in five states — Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada — will decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana for adults,” as NBC News reported. “Medical marijuana is on the ballot in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota.”

“Two national surveys released in mid-October confirm that, with the Pew Research Center revealing that 57 percent of U.S. adults say the use of marijuana should be made legal — while 60 percent were opposed a decade ago. The latest Gallup Poll showed that support for legalizing marijuana is at 60 percent, the highest ever recorded in this survey. After Colorado and Oregon became the first states to allow the recreational use of pot, in 2013, support for legalization reached a majority for the first time.”

Business first

Entrepreneurs have already begun a rush to fill current and perceived appetites for a new generation of recreational weed products and services. “Startups are cropping up throughout the Bay Area that put a signature Valley spin on the age-old practice of selling marijuana, offering sleek on-demand delivery apps for users and high-tech software for growers and dispensaries,” the San Jose Mercury News recently noted. “The business models are risky — marijuana is illegal under federal law and stigma around the drug prevents cannabis startups from scoring funding from many major investors. But with recent polls suggesting Californians are poised to expand marijuana consumption beyond medical use, experts expect cash to pour into the industry.”

Already, changes to state law governing how licenses are granted to new marijuana businesses have helped open the floodgates. “New pot businesses have been springing up under medical marijuana licensing rules signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last year,” the Sacramento Bee reported.

Jump ball

Analysts have remained divided, however, on the partisan implications of legalization. While many traditional Republican critics have suggested that more permissive drug laws are of a piece with an expansive entitlement state, libertarian supporters like Welch have countered that more free-market innovations are likely to follow in Prop. 64’s wake. “What’s the 2016 equivalent of medical marijuana shops?” he asked. “Charter schools come quickly to mind. Wherever the one size is not fitting all to the end user’s satisfaction, there is an opportunity for governmental bodies to allow for some real or metaphorical outside lab work. Beware any entity that would prematurely close such experiments down.”

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Sacramento ethics law getting long-due overhaul

Image converted using ifftoany

After 42 years of regulating the state’s political ethics, with countless updates and tweaks, the Political Reform Act is due for an overhaul — and stakeholders are set to begin the process next week.

On Thursday, July 14, Fair Political Practices Commission Chair Jodi Remke and John Mayer, president and CEO of California Forward (a government and political reform advocacy group), will host a webinar to kick off the first of two rounds of public participation to create a comprehensive overhaul of the act.

Incumbents and candidates complain of an overly complicated system. The FPPC receives between 15,000-to-20,000 requests every year for advice from candidates and public officials.

Numerous legislative and voter-approved updates have left an “overly complex, cumbersome and sometimes contradictory” law, Remke said.

“This process is designed to simplify and streamline the act without weakening it or losing any accountability,” Remke said.

Law students at UC Berkeley and UC Davis have also contributed to the process by reviewing the law and making recommendations to the FPPC. And California Forward will help raise public awareness of the coalition’s efforts.

The Political Reform Act was passed in 1974, just two months before President Richard Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal, with the protracted scandal highlighting the need for political ethics legislation.

The law created the FPPC and regulated campaign finance, among other things. The original ballot summary is here:

“Requires reports of receipts and expenditures in campaigns for state and local offices and ballot measures. Limits expenditures for statewide candidates and measures. Prohibits public officials from participating in governmental decisions affecting their ‘financial interests.’ Requires disclosure of certain assets and income by certain public officials. Requires ‘Lobbyists’ to register and file reports showing receipts and expenditures in lobbying activities. Creates fair political practices commission. Revises ballot pamphlet requirements. Provides criminal and civil sanctions for violations. Enacts and repeals statutes on other miscellaneous and above matters.”

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

​Union-backed organizations trying to dupe voters and taxpayers

Because of Proposition 13, the unions representing California’s government employees — employees that are the highest paid in all 50 states according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — have a huge stake in who is elected to the state Legislature.

While most Californians are aware that Proposition 13 limits increases in property taxes — they can be increased by 2 percent annually — they are less familiar with the requirement that new or increased state taxes receive a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature.  Proposition 13 authors Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann included this provision because they feared that if they were successful in saving taxpayers money, lawmakers, no doubt with union support, would turn around and attempt to increase the tax burden in other areas.

So the government employee unions are constantly working hard to increase their support in the legislature, with the goal of achieving a super-majority of compliant lawmakers to increase taxes and make even more money available for payroll.  This explains why the government unions have been making all-out efforts in special elections that are often overlooked by the general public.

For example, government union leaders have ramped up their efforts to influence the outcome in the upcoming May 17th special election for a vacant senate seat in the Bay Area.  Although the race is between two Democrats, they fear the election of Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer, a self-described fiscal conservative and social progressive. His experience in city government has taught him the importance of responsible budgeting, and this, to the unions, is intolerable. To assure his defeat and the election of union compliant Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, they are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of union dues to finance a mailing from a group calling itself “Working families Opposing Glazer for Senate.”

The problem is that the unions apparently do not want those who receive the mailing to know who is paying for it. State law requires that the top two contributors of more than $50,000 be listed on the mailer, but the names of the State Council of Service Employees, which gave $185,000, and the California School Employees Association, which gave $75,000 are nowhere to be found. Glazer has filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission, but more voters will see the misleading mailers than are likely to hear of a FPPC decision, and the damage is done.

Government employee unions being shy about public exposure is not unusual.  Unions back a number of organizations that at first glance appear to be looking after taxpayers’ interests.  In San Diego, they have set up the Middle Class Taxpayers Association that has opposed pension reform.

And, of course, there is the California Tax Reform Association, whose president, a former ’60s Berkeley radical, is dedicated to the overturning of Proposition 13’s taxpayer protections.  The group’s funding and board of directors come primarily from the government employee unions.

So when a group whose name makes it sound like a pro-taxpayer organization, or that it is representing average working folks, pushes policies that would raise taxes and the cost of government, it would be wise to look carefully for the union label.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’s rights.

Originally published by the HJTA.org