Voters beware: Dubious “taxpayers association” reaches new low for slate mailers

Dana Point Mayor Lisa Bartlett is no friend of taxpayers.

In 2009, the Orange County Republican voted to create a special tax on local businesses to fund a tourism marketing campaign for her city. Earlier this year, she voted to raise development fees in Dana Point and sided with public employee unions on contracting out government projects.

So, when Bartlett launched her campaign for Orange County Supervisor, it didn’t take long for the Orange County Republican Party and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association to rally behind her opponent, Robert Ming.Mailer-California-Republican-Taxpayers-Association-300x336

“We believe you will be an excellent representative for taxpayers and look forward to working with you in the years ahead,” Kris Vosburgh of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association Political Action Committee said in a press release endorsing Ming for the 5th Supervisorial District.

Nevertheless, some Republican voters will head to the polls next month and cast their ballot for Bartlett– under the misguided belief that she’s the anti-tax candidate who is endorsed by the local Republican Party.

It’s not their fault. Conservative Republican voters in Orange County received a recent Bartlett campaign mailer touting the endorsement of the “California Republican Taxpayers Association.” It even included an official-looking seal, modeled after the California Republican Party’s logo. (Pictured above)

There’s just one problem: the California Republican Taxpayers Association isn’t a real organization.

In 2006, Steven Greenhut, the state’s preeminent California political journalist, couldn’t find any documentation to support the organization’s existence.

“I found no evidence of the group ever being mentioned in a US newspaper at any time in a search of the Nexis database,” wrote Greenhut, then with the Orange County Register.

Pay-to-Play Slate Mailers

Every election cycle, political slate mailers inundate voters with mailers touting a list of endorsed candidates under the guise of various issues, community groups and political ideologies.

“Slate mailers are as much a part of the election season as red, white and blue bunting,” Brad Racino of iNewsSource wrote of the slate mailer business in 2012. “It can be confusing. It can be deceptive. It’s been part of the California political landscape for decades and it is perfectly legal.”

Measure F GilroySlate mailers aren’t a new campaign tactic, and they’re appropriately protected as a form of political speech. But, this cycle, the California Republican Taxpayers Association has reached a new low in the slate mailer business, and potentially, run afoul of state law.

An investigation into the self-described “Republican taxpayer” group shows repeated support for tax measures, a violation of the state’s slate mailer disclaimer law, potential violations of the state’s campaign finance disclosure laws and the blatant misuse of the California Republican Party’s protected copyright.

California Republican Taxpayers Association backs tax increases

Since January 1, the California Republican Taxpayers Association has collected $366,085 from dozens of political campaigns. On its website, it assures the public that the candidates and campaigns that pay for space on the mailer comply with its low-tax, Republican ideology.

“Only those candidates who hold firm the values of small government, less regulation and less taxes are represented on our voter guide,” the California Republican Taxpayers Association promises on its website.

Yet, from Gilroy to Stanton, the California Republican Taxpayers Association is urging voters to support tax increases and school bond measures.

For the low price of $237, the “taxpayer” group sold its support for Measure F, a half-cent sales tax increase in Gilroy. Just a few hundred miles away in Atascadero, the California Republican Taxpayers Association accepted $356 to support Measure F-14, which would raise the city’s sales tax by half a percent.

Perhaps the most egregious example of the group selling its endorsement is Measure GG in Stanton. The controversial measure would allow the city to impose an additional 1 percent sales tax. It’s opposed by both the Orange County Republican Party and the trusted Orange County Lincoln Club.

Hesperia Measure M“Enough is enough,” the OC Lincoln Club writes in its voter guide. “Taxes should not be raised on working class consumers just to pay for the bloated compensation packages of the public employees who are supposed to serve them.”

The California Republican Taxpayers Association happily supports raising taxes on working families for the bargain-basement endorsement price of $175.

Support for School Bond Measures

In addition to tax increases, the phony taxpayer group has endorsed multiple school and construction bond measures, which are frequently opposed by the state GOP and legitimate taxpayer groups.

This November, Manteca voters will consider Measure G, a $159 million school bond on behalf of the Manteca Unified School District. According to state disclosure reports, a $608 payment secured the phony group’s endorsement.

It’s a similar story in Hesperia, where voters are considering Measure M, a $207 million bond measure to improve school district facilities. Support from the California Republican Taxpayers Association — bought for $582.

In Orange County, the local Republican Party has aggressively opposed new school bonds, including Fullerton’s Measure I and Orange Unified Measure K. But, proponents of both measures needn’t fear the party. They purchased support from the California Republican Taxpayers Association: $1,120 for Measure I and $1,525 for Measure K.

Green, Democratic candidates buy support from “GOP” group

Michael FeinsteinIt’s the same story in local candidate races across the state.

In the City of Lake Forest, Scott Voigts and Andrew Hamilton have been endorsed by the OC GOP, while Tom Cagley paid $822 for the phony endorsement.

In Newport Beach, the OC GOP has backedDiane Dixon, Duffy Duffield, Scott Peotter and Kevin Muldoon, not Rush Hill who paid $1,412 for the phony endorsement.

In Brea, Steve Vargas and Cecilia Hupp are both endorsed by local Republicans for city council; opponent Mike Kim paid $460 for the California Republican Taxpayers Association’s endorsement.

In the City of Laguna Niguel, Elaine Gennawey and John Jennings have the endorsement of the OC GOP, while Matt Clements and Fred Minegar paid $600 for the deceptive endorsement.

Some endorsements are particularly egregious cases of deception. In Santa Monica, Michael Feinstein, a spokesman and co-founder of the Green Party of California, is listed as the choice of the “California Republican Taxpayers Association.”

The California Republican Taxpayers Association is willing to endorse Democrats, too, such as Gila Jones, a candidate for the Capistrano Unified School District. Jones, a registered Democrat, has been endorsed by the Democratic Party of Orange County. In 2010, Jones was theDemocratic nominee for the 38th Senate District against GOP State Senator Mark Wyland. Yet, GOP voters will see her listed as the choice of the California Republican Taxpayers Association thanks to her $340 check to the group. Her opponent, Ellen Addonizio, has been endorsed by the OC GOP.

The misleading endorsements have drawn the ire of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the state’s leading grassroots taxpayer group.

“In the current election cycle, a group we’ve never heard of before is selling its endorsement in favor of local tax hikes and left leaning candidates,” Jon Coupal, president of the state’s preeminent anti-tax group, wrote in his weekly commentary at the Flash Report. “The so-called “California Republican Taxpayers Association” has no bona fides as a legitimate taxpayer association.”

Failure to comply with slate mailer law

The First Amendment appropriately protects slate mailers as a form of political speech and association. Courts have repeatedly thrown out attempts by state and local governments to limit slate mailers. Consequently, slate mailers operate in the Wild West of campaign finance laws.

But, the California Republican Taxpayers Association has somehow managed to run afoul of the few laws governing slate mailers. One of the few state laws governing slate mailers still on the books is a mandatory disclaimer. According to the California Government Code, slate mailers must include a specific 80-word disclaimer, which reads:

NOTICE TO VOTERS

THIS DOCUMENT WAS PREPARED BY (name of slate mailer organization or committee formed to support or oppose one or more ballot measures), NOT AN OFFICIAL POLITICAL PARTY ORGANIZATION. Appearance in this mailer does not necessarily imply endorsement of others appearing in this mailer, nor does it imply endorsement of, or opposition to, any issues set forth in this mailer. Appearance is paid for and authorized by each candidate and ballot measure which is designated by an *.

Multiple slate mailer samples published on the California Republican Taxpayers Association’s website show a substantially shorter disclaimer– just 52 words. One sample from the June 2014 primary reads:

THIS DOCUMENT WAS PREPARED BY CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN TAXPAYERS’ ASSOCIATION VOTER GUIDE, NOT AN OFFICIAL PARTY ORGANIZATION. Appearance in this mailer does not necessarily imply endorsement of other candidates or ballot measurers (sic) in this mailer. Appearance is paid for and authorized by each candidate and ballot measure which is designated by an *.

The organization’s substantially shorter disclaimer – with 35 percent fewer words – makes it smaller on the page, and thus, is less likely to be noticed. According to the organization, these mailers are “carefully constructed” to persuade voters.

“The carefully constructed Voter Guide strategy maximizes your exposure to those people most likely to vote,” the slate mailer claims on its website, “and presents you as the best Republican Taxpayer-approved candidate for your race.”

In other words, there’s no need to obtain the party’s endorsement, because, the slate mailer “presents you as the best Republican Taxpayer-approved candidate for your race.”

Late filings with FPPC

Although the California Republican Taxpayers Association’s voter guide is “carefully constructed,” it’s less careful with its compliance with state campaign finance disclosure laws.

The state’s campaign finance disclosure system, Cal Access, shows the slate mailer organization has repeatedly filed late disclosure reports. The organization’s 2014 semi-annual disclosure report, which is required to be submitted by July 31, was posted on the state’s website on August 14.

FPPC Violation Late FilingSimilarly, the pre-election report, which was due on October 6, wasn’t posted on the state’s disclosure website until October 14.

CA GOP retains right to use “Republican”

Just like business trademarks or corporate brands, political parties consider their name a precious commodity. The California Republican Party’s bylaws reserve the common law right to control the use of the “Republican” brand in California.

“The Committee retains the common law right to control and authorize the use of the party name ‘Republican’ in connection with official political activity within the State of California, in particular any use that in any way implies, states or misrepresents an affiliation or relationship with, or endorsement by, the California Republican Party,” the bylaws state.

The California Republican Taxpayers Association isn’t chartered by the state party and thus does not have permission from the California Republican Party to use the words “California Republican” in their title and seal.

In a recent mailer, Bartlett’s supervisorial campaign, created an official-looking seal in an effort to convince voters she has the party’s endorsement. The OC GOP has backed her opponent Ming. Bartlett’s campaign offers a unique glimpse into the organization.

Lisa Bartlett 12kThis year, Bartlett’s campaign consultants, Venture Strategic, Inc., have paid the California Republican Taxpayers Association $12,006 in fees. Jeff Corless, the managing partner of Venture Strategic, Inc., also serves as a partner of Frontline Strategies. In the first quarter of 2014, according to state campaign finance disclosure forms, the California Republican Taxpayers Association PAC paid Frontline Strategies $15,000 in consulting fees.

Abel Maldonado praises deceptive slate mailer

Despite the money transfers between companies and political campaigns, the organization boasts high-profile supporters, including a prominent California Republican.

“There is no other voter guide I value more than California Republican Taxpayers Association Voter Guide,” former Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado states on the organization’s website.

In June 2006, Maldonado was prominently featured on the slate mailer during his contested Republican primary for state controller. A fitting endorsement — during his time in the state legislature, Maldonado voted for billions of dollars in higher taxes.

This article was originally published on CalNewsroom.com

Astounding number of tax increases on November ballots

When voters go to the polls November 4, they will decide the fate of a large number of school bonds, parcel taxes, sales taxes, utility users’ taxes and other measures that will impact their family budgets.

Despite the improving state economy that is increasing government revenue under existing tax rates, 53 jurisdictions are seeking sales tax increases, 40 are asking voters to approve parcel taxes, and school districts have placed 113 school bond measures on the ballot. If all of the school bonds are approved, taxpayers will have to repay more than $11.7 billion in new bond debt, plus interest.

While an overwhelming number of tax and bond measures have the support of local newspapers, as is historically the case, several of the measures on the November ballot have drawn opposition from newspaper editorial boards.

For example, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, which often supports tax increases, urged readers to reject Measure N, a utility users’ tax increase that the newspaper said would “fuel a growing chasm between richly funded public safety agencies and all other city services.” The newspaper said a previous ballot measure set a guarantee for police and fire spending that has hamstrung the city because the measure “didn’t account for an historic recession or the skyrocketing cost of retirement benefits.”

As is often the case, many local governments are using taxpayer-funded resources to campaign for tax measures. The Albany Unified School District’s website, for example, has a “news and announcements” section that describes a parcel tax measure as the “Preserve Funding for Albany Schools Act of 2014,” and states that “concerned parents, educators, and community members are joining together to support a replacement parcel tax.”

CalTax’s table summarizes the local tax and bond measures on the ballot in every county where such a measure will go before voters:  www.caltax.org/homepage/101714_elections.html

This article was originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily.

Two Nov. 4 races critical for maintaining Prop. 13

It’s late October and that means there are a lot of people out there wearing masks. But this isn’t about Halloween. This is about all the fake taxpayer interests – organizations and candidates – who are trying to gain an advantage in the upcoming election by portraying themselves as defenders of homeowners and Proposition 13.

At some level, we at Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association ought to be pleased that others are attempting to use our name and the Prop. 13 label. This fakery, if nothing else, is an acknowledgment that taxpayer issues are very important to voters – even in a left leaning state like California. After all, isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

Perhaps.  But we should not – and will not – countenance deception.

Exhibit A in the “fake” category is in the hotly contested state senate race in Orange County between Janet Nguyen and former Assemblyman Jose Solorio.  Nguyen is a solid pro-taxpayer candidate and Solorio is a typical liberal politician who would, if given the chance, repeal Prop. 13 in a heartbeat.  The problem for Solorio is that this district is in Orange County whose voters are more conservative and hostile to higher taxes.

That is why Solorio has enlisted the services of none other than Governor Jerry Brown himself to do both radio and television ads in a flailing effort to convince voters that, no – he really does like Proposition 13.  But recent polling suggests that Orange County voters aren’t fooled and that HJTA’s strong endorsement of Janet Nguyen is far more powerful than the Governor’s push for Solorio.  (The fact that Solorio consistently received “Fs” on HJTA’s legislative report card while he was in the Assembly makes his attempt at deception particularly difficult.)

This contest is critical for the preservation of Proposition 13.  It is the most high stakes race in the entire state because if Janet Nguyen wins, this will prevent the tax-and-spend California Legislature from passing tax increases at will and placing anti-Proposition 13 constitutional amendments on the ballot.

In addition, it’s not just candidates who attempt to hold themselves out as pro-taxpayer just to fool voters.  In the current election cycle, a group we’ve never heard of before is selling its endorsement in favor of local tax hikes and left leaning candidates.  The so-called “California Republican Taxpayers Association” has no bona fides as a legitimate taxpayer association.  Moreover, its use of the word “Republican” has party officials incensed and strongly considering litigation for trademark infringement.

Finally, the most unusual attempt at deception we’ve seen this election is a mail piece from Democrat Sharon Quirk-Silva who is running against pro-taxpayer Republican Young Kim.  Like the Nguyen-Solorio race, this is a battle being fought in mostly conservative Orange County. And, like Solorio, it is hard for Quirk-Silva to hide her anti-Prop 13 animus.  So what is her strategy?  Simple – she puts her name beside Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association in a mail piece which simply notes that both she and HJTA support Proposition 2 – a mostly meaningless initiative on the November ballot.  (Prop. 2 is a marginal improvement to the state’s existing “rainy day” fund law so we support it.  Note, however, it is not the hard spending limit we would prefer).

By putting her name next to HJTA, is Quirk-Silva attempting to associate herself with the “gold standard” of California taxpayer groups Apparently so.  But this plan could easily backfire by giving Young Kim an opening to inform voters that it is she who has the endorsement of the HJTA Political Action Committee.

These examples are but a few of the often silly efforts at attempting to trick voters into believing that anti-taxpayer interests are not what they really are.  Voters need to be aware of this treachery.  Fortunately, most know who to trust.  And it sure as heck isn’t the candidates and groups who are “Jarvis Jesters.”

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’ rights.

Covered CA caught in Prop. 45 crossfire

On Proposition 45, some Democrats are feeling as if they got a transfusion of the wrong blood type. The initiative would give the state insurance commissioner the power to approve changes in health-insurance policies, including those by Covered California, this state’s implementation of Obamacare.

Normally Democrats back more regulation, and plenty support Prop. 45. But it would affect not only private health insurance companies, but Covered California as well. Yet Covered California’s smooth success, unimpeded by state second opinions, is crucial to Obamacare’s national success.

Few have admitted it, but the roots of the conflict ultimately stretched back to the very nature of Covered California’s successful establishment. At a time when other state exchanges, such as Oregon’s, were failing in a way that imperiled Obamacare’s implementation, the success of Covered California had become all-important. Without enough signups, insurers whose products were mandated for purchase under Obamacare couldn’t deliver rates the public would accept.

As a result, Covered California became a crash effort to tap California’s substantial population for exchange signups. Enrollees without adequate paperwork or identification were provisionally allowed into the program. No-bid contracts went out to close associates of Covered California officials, who knew how to leap regulatory hurdles quietly and quickly. Once the publishable number of signups rose high enough, and Obamacare stabilized, the administrative cleanup could begin. A central part of that effort would include revisiting rates negotiated with insurers.

A political curveball

But if passed, Prop. 45 would scramble such planning. Incumbent Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones holds a strong interest in supporting Prop. 45, which would give him new powers if he’s re-elected. He’s running against Republican Ted Gaines, a state senator from Roseville. Gaines opposes Prop. 45 and has challenged Jones to a debate on it.

Embracing Prop. 45 was an apparently safe bet for Jones, who had powerful Democrats in his corner, including both of California’s Democratic U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

Insurance companies, to no one’s surprise, were opposed. The dynamic had all the makings of a predictable election-season matchup if there had been no Covered California.

The current train wreck could have been predicted by observers thinking a few steps ahead. The unsettled scope of Covered California’s regulatory authority teed up a classic bureaucratic turf war of the kind routinely on display in Washington, D.C.

For Covered California officials, it was essential to ensure  they could pursue their organization’s agenda unimpeded. That meant establishing direct negotiations with insurance companies themselves — without interference by state-level bureaucrats.

Adding to the administrative jockeying were the implications of the state health exchange itself. Though nominally a market in health care merely established by California through federal law, the exchange inherently politicized the cost of health insurance.

In a free market, for insurance, rates are set by company calculations. In a state-supervised exchange, by contrast, rates become subject to price manipulation based on the imperatives of keeping the exchange economically viable and politically palatable.

Shifting battle lines

From the outset, Prop. 45 threatened to complicate the ability of Covered California officials to independently pursue those imperatives. As the Sacramento Bee reported this summer, at least some influential exchange officials explicitly argued against Prop. 45 on the basis of politics. Diana Dooley, an HHS official who also chairs the board of Covered California, warned against the measure’s provision allowing challenges to rates Covered California negotiated.

For Dooley and her allies, the nightmare scenario involved activist conservatives using the challenge system to undermine trust in Covered California and reduce its efficacy.

But objections to rate-setting without adequate insurance commission oversight have been raised most frequently by Consumer Watchdog, the frequent opponent of large corporations that sponsored Prop. 45 to begin with. Because Covered California officials failed to imagine that anti-corporate sentiment would turn Californians against their plans, they walked into an election-year morass.

The predicament has left opponents of Prop. 45 falling back on a familiar strategy: advocating for additional time before Obamacare is judged wanting. In an editorial dismissing Prop. 45, the Los Angeles Times argued, “Covered California should be given the chance to fulfill its mission to the best of its ability before the state adds another layer of complexity to an already complex process.”

For his part, Jones is remaining adamant in favoring an initiative that would increase his office’s powers. He wrote on his Facebook page, “Vote YES on Prop 45 and make health insurers justify their rates!”

But the split within his own party, combined with plentiful insurance-company ads against the measure, could thwart his wishes.

This piece was originally published on CalWatchdog.com.

Hurray for Hollywood Tax Credits?

Is California’s political establishment trying to crush the Golden State’s economy and punish Hollywood movie moguls? That’s one interpretation of Governor Jerry Brown’s decision to sign a $330 million movie tax credit into law, but only if you take seriously the argument that tax increases—as opposed to tax credits—have driven the so-called California Renaissance. Recall how Brown, legislative leaders, and prominent columnists lauded voters’ approval of Proposition 30, which significantly raised sales and income taxes two years ago. The best businesses, they said, don’t mind California’s high tax burden so long as the weather stays nice. But if that’s so, then why the giveaway to Tinsel Town?

The Film and Television Job Creation and Retention Act more than triples the current $100 million-a-year movie tax credit for five years beginning in fiscal year 2015–16. The new law allows studios to use the credits for television pilots and eliminates a lottery system for selecting beneficiaries. It also removes the existing credit’s cap of $75 million on production budgets, according to a state senate analysis.

The California Teachers Association opposed the bill for self-interested reasons: the union doesn’t want any money potentially taken away from public schools, which currently eat up more than 40 percent of the state’s general fund. Despite the CTA’s opposition, the legislation enjoyed broad bipartisan support. Republicans usually argue that tax credits are much less important than a more favorable overall tax climate, but they agreed to these special credits, just as they supported tax credits for a proposed Tesla electric-car battery plant, which wound up going to Nevada. More unusual was the support from the otherwise tax-credit-averse Democrats. “This legislation will keep the cameras rolling in California and strengthen our position as the entertainment capital of the world,” claimed Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat and new leader of the state senate. Governor Brown, who had criticized the credit in the past, said at the bill signing that SB 1839 “helps thousands of Californians—from stage hands and set designers to electricians and delivery drivers.” At least Democrats are tacitly recognizing the value of lower taxes—even if only for a handpicked industry that happens to support them.

But politicians’ assertions notwithstanding, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office in April released a report questioning the effectiveness of the existing tax credit. The LAO argued that studies promoting the credit’s economic benefit “vastly overstate” its advantages: “A return of $0.65 in state tax (excluding unemployment insurance) revenue for each $1 in tax credits may or may not be a good return compared with other state programs. However, it is incomplete—and, arguably, not accurate—to claim that the tax credit program pays for itself.”

Tax-credit supporters point to the loss of 16,000 California film-industry jobs over an eight-year period and blame other states, such as New York, for offering large subsidies that are supposedly stealing away movie productions. Just because other states lavish subsidies on movie companies doesn’t make it a great economic idea. “The state government in New York has dished out well over $2.5 billion in film industry tax incentives since their program began in 2004,” noted Christopher Thornberg, founder of Beacon Economics in Los Angeles. “And for that payout, New York has ‘stolen’ a total of roughly 10,000 jobs from California . . . Do that math! New York has paid $250,000 for each new job.”

The LAO pointed out another flaw in the case for Hollywood giveaways: “Other industries—such as manufacturing or software development—also could become the target of aggressive state subsidies. If this were to occur, would California also provide subsidies to retain these businesses? Doing so could be prohibitively expensive. Instead of approaching economic policy on an industry-by-industry basis, the Legislature may take actions that encourage all businesses to stay or relocate to California, such as broad-based tax reductions or regulatory changes.”

Unfortunately, a political party addicted to taxing and regulating happens to control California’s legislature. It’s funny how Democrats can rationalize tax hikes on the one hand and tax credits on the other. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer David Cay Johnston mocked claims that higher taxes destroy jobs: “Some research into tax rates indicates that high tax rates have the opposite effect: People may work harder, trying to make more money to achieve a desired after-tax income and may slough off if tax rates are lowered.” In other words, high tax rates aren’t detrimental to the California economy—they may even be the cause of its recent growth.

Johnston’s pro-tax argument is popular in Sacramento. Recently, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Santa Barbara Democrat, argued in support of a bill that would base corporate tax rates on CEO compensation—with higher rates imposed on companies that pay executives more. Yet Jackson joined her colleagues (only two voted no in both houses) in supporting the Hollywood tax credits.

Tellingly, policymakers have been unwilling to consider less costly ways to encourage film production in the state. None of the discussions surrounding SB 1839, for instance, pointed to the pernicious effect of Hollywood’s union-dominated work rules. Think of the TMZ, or Thirty-Mile Zone, the radius the various movie and TV unions use to determine per diem rates and driving distances for crew members. Nor did any of the bill’s sponsors have a word to say about the creative accounting Hollywood studios employ to show profits and losses.

So even as they peddle the fiction that California is booming because of high tax rates, legislators feel compelled to subsidize one of the state’s signature industries. Maybe they should have raised taxes on Hollywood instead. After all, it would be good for the economy: the higher taxes would make the studios work harder.

Nanny of the week: More gun control in Chicago?

Chicago is home to some of the toughest gun control rules in the country.

It’s also home to some of the most frequent gun violence in the country.

But officials in the Windy City are not giving up hope just yet — surely, one more go at tougher gun laws is all the city needs to tip the scales in the other direction and turn Chicago into a modern day Miranda, free from any and all violent thoughts or actions.

That’s why there will be not one, but two gun control issues on voters’ ballots in Cook County on Nov. 4. The first would impose stricter background checks for legal gun purchases — “legal” being the key word there, as we’ll get to in a moment — and the second would ban assault weapons.

Gov. Pat Quinn, who is also facing re-election this November, is pushing for similar laws at the state level in Illinois, though he hasn’t had much success getting the Legislature to embrace those ideas.

Quinn has tried to turn gun control into a campaign issue against Republican opponent Bruce Rauner.

As the Chicago Sun-Times noted, “Recently, Quinn’s campaign released a new online video juxtaposing TV news reports on Chicago gun violence with footage of Rauner stating he believes gun owners should be free to use assault weapons for “target practice … on their property as they choose fit.

That makes complete sense, because even though I’m no expert on gun violence in Chicago, I’m guessing legal gun owners practicing on their own property are probably responsible for a sizable portion — maybe 85 percent, I’m sure — of the 415 murders reported last year.

What? You disagree?

Politicians in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois and everywhere else can add as many layers of regulations for legal gun owners as they can dream up, but criminals who are going to use guns to commit crimes are probably not too concerned with staying inside the boundary of gun control laws.

But the nannies just keep on pushing. Democrats on the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to put the gun control measures on the ballot.

Luckily, this is one time where voters can have the final say over the nannies. Polls indicate the measures are headed for defeat in November, perhaps because voters have realized additional rules don’t make anyone safer from those who have no regard for the rules.

For their efforts, the Cook County Board of Commissioners is this week’s winner. The board members’ prize is a landslide defeat in November and a plaque with that famous quote from Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.”

This article was originally published on Watchdog.org

‘Disadvantaged’ counties fight for cap-and-trade dollars

In the fictional town of Lake Woebegon, all of the children are above average. But in the real world of California, all of the counties are disadvantaged.

Or so it seemed at a recent California Air Resources Board meeting as officials from all over the state poor-mouthed their districts to gain a share of cap-and-trade funds set aside for “disadvantaged communities.”

Cap and trade is one of the main greenhouse-gas-reduction components in the implementation of AB32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. It’s projected to raise $832 million in the current fiscal year that will be doled out to various state agencies.

Senate Bill 535, passed in 2012, mandates at least 25 percent of cap-and-trade spending must benefit disadvantaged communities, with at least 10 percent going to projects located in those communities.

CARB, which implemented and administers the cap-and-trade program, identifies “disadvantaged communities” based on their California Environmental Protection Agency CalEnviroScreen score. Each of the state’s 8,000 census tracts are scored from 0 (least disadvantaged) to 100 (most disadvantaged), based on 12 pollution and environmental factors and seven population characteristics and socioeconomic factors.

The most disadvantaged communities are generally those with the highest levels of pollution and the poorest population. They are predominantly in the agricultural Central Valley from Sacramento to Bakersfield, along with urban pockets in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego.

“CalEnviroScreen shows clearly what we in the San Joaquin Valley know all too well: that many of our communities are among the most disadvantaged in the state,” said Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin,  as quoted in a CalEPA press release. “By reinvesting funds in areas of the state with high pollution levels, California is demonstrating its commitment to a cleaner and more prosperous future for all.”

In the November election, she is running for state controller as a Republican against Democrat Betty Yee, a member of the state Board of Equalization.

Angry

But not so fast, said numerous officials and advocates who spoke at CARB’s recent hearing on the issue. Particularly angry was CARB member and San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts, who produced a map:

San Diego affordable housing tracts, censusColor code:

  • White indicates an area is not that disadvantaged
  • Dark purple marks the more disadvantaged areas.
  • Light purple indicates intermediate areas.

Roberts didn’t like the CalEnviroScreen white coloration on the southern end of his county near the Mexican border. “Where those two freeways come together in that white zone is the busiest border crossing in the world,” he said.

Interruption

As Roberts was talking, CARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols interrupted, “You don’t have a hard time convincing me. You need to go take this argument to CalEPA.”

“The fact that’s not a bright purple, it is disadvantaged in every way, shape, or form,” said Roberts.

Nichols again interrupted, “All I can tell you is –“

“Let me finish,” said Roberts. “The EnviroScreen may be good for some things, but this is being missed. That whole area should be bright purple, not just the white. The fact that it’s not, should signal somebody that the model we have is not accounting for what’s happening on the ground. There is no way that I can support something that basically ignores the situation like this.

“That’s one of our most impacted areas in the whole county, for certain, and it’s one of our lowest income areas. This is a miscarriage of justice. And you talk about environmental justice, and there is none in that map right there.”

Northern California

There is also disadvantaged disgruntlement from officials at the other end of the state. Alan Abbs, the Tehama County air pollution control officer, is concerned  his county’s census tracts are in the 25-30 percent most disadvantaged ranking, although the cutoff for funding might be at the 20 percent most disadvantaged level.

“Tehama County as a whole has a population with a median household income 33 percent below the state median,” Abbs told the board. “We have the highest asthma rates in the north state. And like any county in California, we have pockets that are significantly less well off than other pockets. So at the outset, I would urge the board to consider going beyond the 20 percent level when you’re looking at disadvantaged communities.

“When we look in the future about how rural areas of California are going to be receiving funds through cap and trade, especially when fuels get added into cap and trade [starting in 2015], I think we’ll find out a lot of rural areas of California are going to be [left] out, even though the residents in those areas are going to be paying into the program through higher fuel costs.”

Also concerned that the CalEnviroScreen rankings may not provide the whole picture, particularly in rural areas not in the Central Valley, was Tehama County Supervisor Bob Williams, representing the Rural County Representatives of California.

“CalEnviroScreen multiplies pollution burdens by the social and economic characteristics of the community, basically eliminating areas of the state with good air quality from being defined as disadvantaged communities, no matter their socioeconomic status,” said Williams.

“Using strictly the CalEnviroScreen as a source for recognition could potentially eliminate a minimum of counties from consideration, including counties such as Lake, Modoc, Plumas, and Lassen. If you’ve been to those counties, you would be hard pressed to deny they have disadvantaged areas.

“RCRC recommends that additional flexibility be allowed so local jurisdictions can demonstrate that a community smaller than a census tract can meet the definition of a disadvantaged community. Rural areas cannot compete in many AB32 programs because projects usually cost more to complete in more remote areas. Being excluded from the disadvantaged community designation all but eliminates these counties from access to funds.”’

Sympathetic

Nichols was sympathetic to their concerns. “We do understand this issue about rural areas, which undoubtedly are among the poorest of areas within the state of California, but are not the ones that fit the criteria of being impacted the most in terms of multiple sources of pollution,” she said.

“And we agree that it’s not just an issue of fairness. It’s an issue of addressing opportunities that are there to do things that could ultimately benefit all of us when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. So we want to make sure that there is a way to appropriately recognize and make sure there are funds flowing to rural communities in the overall AB32 cap-and-trade spending program.”

But advocates for poor urban areas aren’t keen on spreading the disadvantaged money around to less disadvantaged areas. They want the most disadvantaged communities, particularly those with minority populations, to get most of the money.

“I think all of us here understand that historically low-income communities of color have been disproportionately burdened with pollution, which remains true today,” said Bill Magavern with the Coalition for Clean Air. “So we have the opportunity now to go a little ways towards redressing that inequity, that environmental injustice, with some of the funds that are available.”

Monika Shankar, representing Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, argued for “a ranking system to prioritize investments in communities with the greatest needs. For example, many of the census tracts in the top 5 percent score markedly worse than the next set of census tracts in the top 6 to 25 percent. And we need to be cognizant of that.”

Also in favor of concentrating the money where it’s needed most was Marybelle Nzegwu, a Public Advocates attorney representing the SB535 Coalition.

“We would like to see the guidelines at least provide guidance that scoring and ranking should prioritize certain types of projects, should prioritize projects that benefit the most disadvantaged communities, should also prioritize projects that provide the most benefits in the most significant way,” she said.

CARB voted 9-1 (with Roberts voting no) to adopt the disadvantaged communities spending guidelines outlined in their staff report. They also agreed to send a message to CalEPA that they feel there are some discrepancies in the CalEnviroScreen map ratings they would like addressed.

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com

Prop. 1 Roots Go Back to Water Bonds that Built California

You might say that Proposition 1, the water bond, carries the DNA of bonds that promoted a growing and prosperous California. Water bonds helped build the Los Angeles Aqueduct in the early 1900s to make possible the growth of one of the world’s great cities. Another bond helped build the State Water Project half-a-century later, which, among other things, helped spur the state’s agricultural abundance. With the state facing a drought of staggering proportions, Proposition 1 would continue California’s long history of providing and caring for precious water resources.

The seven-plus billion dollar bond contains money for protecting watersheds, cleaning contaminated groundwater, and water recycling among other projects. But unlike water bonds passed in the last decade, the heritage that the Prop 1 bond shares with the bonds that helped build California is the $2.7 billion set aside for water storage projects, dams and reservoirs, almost 40-percent of the total bond.

As Governor Pat Brown’s biographer, Ethan Rarick, points out his book, California Rising, the Life and Times of Pat Brown, the physical aspects of the Central Valley and Southern California are good for neither plants nor people. Rarick dedicates a chapter of the book to the history of the State Water Project and the campaign for the bond that narrowly passed. Pat Brown set out to, in his own words, “correct an accident of people and geography.”

Pat Brown’s State Water Project stored water behind dams and moved the water to where it was needed. The storage aspect of Proposition1 is essential for building up the water supply as the drought deepens.

The dams that stored the water to help create the California we know today were considered so important that President John F. Kennedy came out to California to help dedicate not one but two dams.

President Kennedy dedicated the San Luis Dam that created the San Luis Reservoir in August of 1962. He was back a year later to dedicate the Whiskeytown Dam six miles west of Redding before a crowd of 10,000 people. Fox and Hounds contributor Joe Mathews wrote a history of Kennedy’s visit to the Whiskeytown Dam on the Zocalo Public Square website last year, which you can read here.

Kennedy talked about conservation during his Whiskeytown Reservoir speech. But he also said the dam would allow water to be used to “irrigate crops on the fertile plains of the Sacramento Valley and supply water also for municipal and industrial use to the cities to the south.”

In environmentally conscience California, dam building has been controversial. It was in the 1960s and opposition has certainly grown over time. Interestingly, the State Water Project was built with revenue from both the bond passed by the voters and from state money earned from offshore oil wells. Can you imagine such a proposal being pushed today? Certainly, it would meet loud opposition.

Still, voters and politicians recognize the need to have a safe and adequate water supply. Pat Brown’s son, Governor Jerry Brown, recognized the need and included storage in the water measure he negotiated.

That day in Whiskeytown, President Kennedy, speaking of the dams and reservoirs, acknowledged “the wise decisions that were made by those who came before, and the wise decisions that you are making now.” We will see if the voters of today continue to make wise decisions about water.

This piece was originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily.

Nurse union exploits Ebola crisis in negotiations

Seizing on the growing concern about the deadly West African virus, the California Nurses Association, one of the state’s most powerful unions, has added several Ebola-related provisions to its list of demands in its ongoing dispute with Kaiser Permanente. The two sides have been at an impasse for months over a new four-year contract for nurses at Kaiser’s Northern California hospitals.

In addition to more training about the Ebola virus and full-body hazardous material suits, the union wants hospitals to carry an extra life insurance policy that would make a cash payout for any Ebola-related death or injury.

“We are asking in our contract negotiations for an extra insurance policy,” Diane McClure, a Kaiser Permanent nurse, told KQED. “We’d like to have an extra supplemental coverage, specifically for Ebola, if we were to contract Ebola while we’re at work.”

The nurses say their new contract demands are merely a matter of health and safety.

“They went in with full Hazmats,” McClure said, explaining why the union was seeking access to the expensive equipment. “We want the same high standard for health care workers that are directly dealing with patients who are very ill.”

California Nurses Association blocked surgical masks mandate

The union accused the hospitals of spreading lies about Ebola.

“We’ve been lied to in terms of the preparation in the hospitals,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the CNA, at an Ebola-related union rally this week.

The same could be said about the nurses union.

The union that’s now demanding full Haz-Mat suits just two years ago rejected a requirement that nurses wear surgical masks. Back in 2012, the CNA blocked common-sense legislation that would have decreased the spread of the flu in hospitals.

Senate Bill 1318, authored by Senator Lois Wolk, D-Davis, would have required employees in health clinics and hospitals “to either annually receive an influenza vaccination or, as an alternative to the annual influenza vaccination, wear a clinic-provided surgical or procedural mask.”

“These individuals regularly come in contact with health care personnel, and are at higher risk of flu complications and death,” Wolk said in a press release about her bill. “My legislation is an essential step toward preventing unnecessary deaths. The goal of SB1318 is to decrease deaths from influenza and make California hospitals and health care facilities safer places for patients and workers.”

You’d think workers in the health industry, who have a greater risk of infection, would understand the benefits of vaccinations and see the deadly effects of the flu and would be motivated to get a flu shot. However, based on data from the California Department of Public Health and a report by California HealthLine, four out of every 10 hospital workers were not vaccinated during the 2010-11 flu season.

“As a doctor of internal medicine, I would like nothing better than to tell this medical assistant to get a flu shot or stay away, but I have no such authority. Nor does my healthcare organization, which employs this medical assistant,” wrote Dr. Charity Thoman, an internal medicine physician in Southern California, in a piece at Zocalo Public Square.

Nurses worried about Ebola, but not flu

Organized labor came out in full force to stop the bill.

The CNA, the AFL-CIO, the California Labor Federation, Laborers’ Locals 777 and 792, the Service Employees International Union and the United Nurses Associations of California lobbied lawmakers that the surgical mask requirement was harmful to workers who, according to the legislative analysis, “should not be forced to wear the ‘Scarlett Letter’ of a mask just because they’ve chosen not to get a flu shot.”

Eventually, the bill was amended to remove the surgical-mask requirement. The watered-down version of the bill simply mandated that clinics and health facilities have a 90 percent or higher vaccination rate. That mandate — with no enforcement — was eventually vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

“Health care workers are protected by union contracts, and unless the state of California overrides a given provision, the contract determines what employers can demand,” explained Dr. Thoman. “As things stand, if you want a healthy nurse, you have to keep your fingers crossed.”

Public health threat: Flu vs. Ebola

From a public health perspective, the flu is a greater threat to public safety than the Ebola virus. In 2010, 53,826 people died from influenza, making it the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control. By comparison, the global death toll from the 2014 Ebola outbreak stands at 4,500 people — with just a single death in the United States.

The flu, which doesn’t get the same headlines as Ebola, isn’t a concern for the nurses union.

On Ebola: “We’re scared because as nurses we are the front line people to first come in contact with these types of patients,” Carol Kisner, a Sacramento nurse representing the CNA, told News 10 this week.

On the flu: The CNA told Fox 11 News earlier this year the nurses “strongly encourage voluntary vaccinations, but oppose forced vaccinations or the scarlet-letter type wearing of masks under threat of job loss or other discipline.”

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com

Meet Cory Gardner’s Most Unlikely Top Campaign Contributor

Among Republican Colorado Senate candidate Cory Gardner’s top campaign contributors is an unlikely name — Ultimate Fighting Championship.

UFC, which stages mixed martial arts cage-fighting matches, is the Republican candidate’s seventh largest contributor, having donated $18,100 to his campaign, according to Open Secrets.

The sports organization is included in a list of more typical contributors like Elliot Management, a hedge fund founded by billionaire Paul Singer; Charles and David Koch’s Koch Industries; and oil and gas company Anadarko Petroleum.

It wasn’t immediately clear what interest UFC has in the outcome of the Colorado Senate campaign, where Gardner holds a slight edge over incumbent Democrat Mark Udall; neither Gardner’s campaign nor UFC representatives responded to emails from The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The UFC has been active in lobbying since 2008, Open Secrets reported, using the catapulting popularity of the sport to push for an end to restrictions on cage matches on a state-by-state basis.

“By moving into federal lobbying efforts, [UFC] are behaving exactly as one would expect a mainstream sport would behave,” a 2010 Open Secrets blog quotes Marie Hardin, associate professor of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State University, as saying.

The site reports that UFC donated to eight Senate and congressional campaigns this election cycle, benefitting both Democratic and Republican candidates, up from one each in 2012 and 2010.

Many of the candidates are in Nevada, where the sport is headquartered.

On its website, UFC calls itself the fastest growing sport in the world.

“UFC produces more than 40 live events annually and is the largest Pay-Per-View event provider in the world,” the site says, “broadcast in over 149 countries and territories, to nearly one billion homes worldwide, in 30 different languages.”

This piece originally appeared on The Daily Caller News Foundation.