Monday, November 23, 2015

The Opinion Pages: Ann Ravel

Check out our amazing ‪#‎FEC‬ Chair Ann Ravel in the NYT! 

And here is what she generously said about who she is following:
"My new favorite site is, where members share links. It’s always interesting. I feel I’m becoming more informed about our culture. On Twitter, I follow reform groups like Campaign Legal Center, Democracy 21, Common Cause. But I also follow people like Gov Jerry Brown, Prof.Jessica Levinson, campaign finance lawyer Marc Elias and Ellen Weintraub, my fellow F.E.C. commissioner."

Sunday, November 22, 2015

"San Jose mayor hides calls with his 'kitchen cabinet'"

Great to speak with Ramona Giwargis for this piece. 

"If they are discussing city business," said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School and president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, "the people have a right to know."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Independent spending in California: Money talks, candidates listen"

More great reporting by Laurel Rosenhall. 

In a hotel ballroom blocks from the state Capitol, nearly three dozen wannabe legislators gathered recently to learn the ways of Sacramento. They were members of city councils and school boards, ranchers and attorneys, Republicans and Democrats, moms and dads -- all candidates for the Legislature who had signed up for this crash course in how things really work.
High on the agenda: money.

"The accountability behind that is much less," said Jessica Levinson, a professor of election law at Loyola Law School. "We have candidate campaigns and then we have these shadow campaigns."

"Lobbyist meetings missing from San Jose council calendars"

Wonderful to speak with Ramona Giwargis for this article

"It presents the public with a very misleading view about how their officials spend their day," said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School and president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission. "We're not asking them to tell us when they were at their kid's soccer game. It's in the public's interest to be able to know who the legislators are meeting with and how often."

"Tax Records Show Millions Raised For Police Youth Charity Went To Telemarketers"

Good to speak with Derek Shore for this piece

“Frankly, it’s just a disgusting misuse of the nonprofit forum, because people are in good faith saying ‘I want to help,’” said Jessica Levinson, a law professor and chair of the L.A. Ethics Commission.
“You’re seeing upwards of 80 percent not used for the charitable purpose. So used for paying telemarketers, used for overhead, miscellaneous expenses,” she said.

"Airbnb has spent more than $200,000 on lobbying efforts in LA"

A pleasure to be on KPCC to discuss.

"Airbnb is spending... a not insignificant amount of money lobbying the city of L.A.," said Jessica Levinson, the president of the L.A. City Ethics Commission. She said the money pays for access to local lawmakers, which lobbyists jockey for.

"A lot of it is paying for people’s time, it’s paying for people’s connections, it’s paying for people’s expertise in knowing who to talk to, how to talk to them and when to approach them," said Levinson.

"Garcetti email flap shows fuzzy line between governing, campaigning"

“The basic rule is, whatever happens on the taxpayer dime should be serving your constituents,” says Jessica Levinson, president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

Distinguishing between a candidate and an official can be complicated, and so can navigating local, state and federal law

It’s hard to say definitely where the public official ends and the campaigner begins, Levinson says.

“It’s all a line drawn in the sand on a windy day.... Those lines can be difficult because elected officials are public servants, but they’re also political animals.”

To illustrate the problem, Levinson poses a scenario: Should a mayor’s security detail be allowed to accompany him, for instance, to a fundraising event? “If we decide as a public that it’s important to protect this person and keep them safe, then that would be true regardless of what the elected official is doing,” Levinson says. “But the taxpayers are then facilitating a political activity.”

"Money and clout on the line for teachers union in 2016"

Always good to talk with Laurel Rosenhall for this.

A ruling against CTA at the U.S. Supreme Court could weaken all public employee unions because many workers will stop paying dues, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute. That would strike a significant blow to CTA, said Jessica Levinson, a professor of political law at Loyola Law School.

“The thing that makes unions powerful is the vast sums of money they can use to exert political influence,” Levinson said, so any reduction in funds “is going to be a loss to their power.”

"Suppression of public participation or greater efficiency? Inglewood makes council meetings earlier"

Terrific to speak with Angel Jennings for this one

Jessica Levinson, a clinical law professor at Loyola Law School who serves on the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, said Inglewood is not an outlier. In California, several city councils, including Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose, convene in the mornings and early afternoon.
“What strikes me as unusual is that they are moving from a time that was preferable for people who might have trouble getting there in the middle of the day to a less convenient time,” she said.

"Inside California lawmakers’ paid trips to Maui"

Great to speak with Alexei Koseff for this piece

It may not make much of a difference to voters, who see moneyed interests able to buy a different seat at the table than they get, Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson said.
“It strains common sense to think that a special interest would fund a lawmaker’s trip to Hawaii and the lawmaker wouldn’t feel some modicum of gratitude,” said Levinson, who is president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.
Legislators vehemently reject such a characterization.
“Especially on the left, whenever someone loses, they want to say it’s because the whole system is corrupt,” said Wright, who resigned from the Legislature last year after being convicted of eight felonies for lying about where he lived when he was elected. Now retired, he was attending the conference as a friend of Howle’s. “Maybe I just thought your idea was bull–.”

Read more here:

Saturday, November 7, 2015

"Children of Top DA Officials Get Coveted Jobs"

Good to talk to Adam Elmahrek for this one. 

Jessica Levinson -- a clinical professor of law at Loyola Law School and president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission – said candidates shouldn’t be disqualified just because their parents are high-ranking officials.
But it did give her pause that, of the handful hired out of a pool of 500, two happened to be children of top DA officials.
“You can definitely look at the numbers and ask would they have otherwise been hired?” said Levinson, whose husband works in the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office. “And that’s very difficult to answer.”

"AP Exclusive: Brown had state workers research oil on ranch"

Great to speak with Ellen Knickmeyer for this one

Jessica Levinson, a governance expert and professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said that if state regulators had done that kind of work before for private landowners, they should be able to provide examples.
Of Brown's request, Levinson said, "if no other private individual is able to avail himself of this opportunity, and it's clearly just for personal gain instead of public benefit, then it's clearly problematic."

Read more here:

"California Lawmakers Head to Maui with Lobbyists"

Breitbart article.

“Those corporations want to curry favor with elected officials,” Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor and president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission told theLos Angeles Times. 

"California Gov. Jerry Brown Ordered State Workers To Research Oil Drilling On His Ranch"

BuzzFeed article

Other experts agreed, saying that state officials typically do not provide private citizens with the kind of help Brown got. And Jessica Levinson — a governance expert at Loyola Law School — questioned the ethics of Brown’s request, telling the AP that “if no other private individual is able to avail himself of this opportunity, and it’s clearly just for personal gain instead of public benefit, then it’s clearly problematic.”

"L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti's endorsement of Hillary Clinton hits embarrassing snag"

Good to talk to Peter Jamison for this one
“I think that city and state law is pretty clear that you don’t use the taxpayer dime to send out campaign endorsements,” said city Ethics Commission President Jessica Levinson. “And the taxpayer dime includes both workers and infrastructure.”
Levinson declined to comment specifically on the mayor’s presidential endorsement, saying the incident could come before her panel for consideration of possible sanctions.

Monday, October 26, 2015

"Most City of Industry council members work for the city’s highest paid contractors"

Great to speak with Jason Henry for this article

Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Law School and president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, said the number of council members with conflicts seemed unusual, but that she would be more worried if they didn’t recuse themselves or disclose their ties.
“In a perfect world, you get invested, well-qualified people who don’t have any personal stake in the city other than wanting to do a good job, but no one lives in that perfect world,” Levinson said. “Some of this is bound to happen, but the number is particularly high in this case, and the relationship is particularly direct.”

"Merced mayor questions ethics of firm hired for HSR planning"

Nice to speak with Thaddeus Miller for this article

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School and president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, said as long as all the firms were allowed the opportunity for access to the members of the council, Hatch Mott MacDonald was not given special attention.
But she noted it’s best to compare apples to apples.
“What you’d want is rewarding a contract just based on who’s qualified, not who’s had the most contact and the best relationship with council,” she said.

Read more here:

"Political nonprofit spent nearly 100 percent of funds to elect Tillis in ’14"

Great to speak with Robert Maquire for this piece. 

“If a 501(c)(4) spends on a number of different candidates,” says Jessica Levinson, professor at Loyola School of Law in Los Angeles, “then it may be easier to argue with a straight face that they are touting an agenda, not a particular candidate.”
Levinson said that groups like Carolina Rising “can rest assured in the belief that the IRS and the FEC are unlikely to take any action.”

"Sacramento County elections chief tied to group chosen to review her office"

Great to speak with Brad Branan for this one

Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson said the Election Center should not conduct the review.
“Talk about undermining its credibility,” said Levinson, an expert in elections law and president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission. “You don’t want these questions of impartiality. ... It’s not the cleanest of arrangements.”

Read more here:

Friday, October 16, 2015

"Berkeley councilman profited from police chief's public home loan"

A treat to speak to Thomas Peele for this one. 

It is obvious that Capitelli "shouldn't have taken" Meehan as a client, said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola University law professor and the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission's president. "His vote ended up financially benefiting him."

"Regulators propose rules to prevent illegal coordination"

Wonderful to speak with Judy Lin of the AP for this one.

Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson said the state's proposal might simply push more of the fundraising to candidates and parties.

"California is trying to come out in front of this issue and, frankly, severely restrict the number of IEs that will be considered independent," Levinson said. "Increasingly it's a question of how and where do you want the money to flow, not whether it's going to flow."

"State Fines Fullerton Councilwoman $100 for Late Disclosure"

Great to speak with Adam Elmahrek for this piece

“A lot of times [the disclosures] are not particularly meaningful, and this is... a poster child example,” Jessica Levinson, president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, stated in the article.

"California Legislature's ballot power in court test"

Pleased to speak with Howard Mintz for this one

"It's a case of first impression," said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola University law professor specializing in election law. "This shouldn't be about whether you like Citizens United. It should be about what the Legislature gets to use the ballot for."

"Lt. Gov. Newsom rolls out tough new assault weapons ban"

Great to speak with John Wildermuth for this one.  

“There’s a huge benefit to putting out a ballot initiative,” said Jessica Levinson, who teaches classes in election law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “It’s a way to get out your positions and increase your visibility that isn’t subject to the same sort of campaign finance restrictions a candidate faces.”
There’s nothing illegal about blurring the line between an initiative and a would-be candidate who supports it, although it’s a way of gaming a system that treats the finances of ballot measures and office seekers very differently, Levinson said.
Newsom has always been incredibly good at political timing, she said, being out front of the same-sex marriage issue, marijuana legalization — also likely to be on the November 2016 ballot — and now gun control.
“Would he have been as involved if he wasn’t running for office? Possibly not,” Levinson said. “But is that anything nefarious? Probably not, it’s just the way politics is played.”

"In Sacramento, Limits Are Few on Revolving Door Between Government and Private Jobs"

Terrific to talk with John Myers for this one.

“This is somewhat different than just a private individual changing jobs,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola School of Law in Los Angeles and president of the city’s ethics commission. “The revolving door is more like a swing right now, where you can run through it pretty easily.”
In other words, a former adviser to a governor can immediately lobby the Legislature.

“That’s certainly an indication that the restrictions aren’t particularly stringent,” said Loyola Law School’s Levinson.
“When it comes to the revolving door, we are drawing these lines that just allow for an enormous amount of influence-peddling to still occur,” said Loyola law professor Levinson. “Part of this is, there is no perfect law.”

"Angelenos Never Much Cared About Local Politics"

My latest op-ed is up on Zocalo Public Square.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

"California Ballot Measure to Revolutionize Disclosure of Political Money"

Honored to have been asked to weigh in on this. 

"The public has the right to know who is spending money to try to sway their ballot box decisions. If money is speech, voters must know who is speaking to them," Jessica Levinson Clinical Professor of Law at Loyola Law School.

"GOP debate is a tug-of-war for the Reagan mantle"

Always such fun to speak with Carla Marinucci of the San Francisco Chronicle (soon to be moving to Politico).

Jessica Levinson, who teaches political ethics at Loyola Law School of Los Angeles, says winning the rights to the Reagan legacy isn’t even much of a contest.

“Who is the the next Ronald Reagan?’’ she asks. “None of them. It’s like, ‘Will the real Slim Shady please stand up,?’” evoking a famed question from rapper Eminem’s landmark work.

‘Movie star quality’

That’s because the vaunted Reagan shadow looms large over the culture, and the country — both among Republicans who hold him in awe, or Democrats who often hold him in contempt, she said.

“There was a movie star quality about him that appealed to the nation then,” in a way that will likely never be replicated in the age of social media, she said.

To his party, Reagan is still revered for his “ability to inspire, to make us feel better about the country we live in,” Levinson said. “And whether you think he was a positive or a negative, he did represent a sea change in terms of our expectations of what government should do for us — a paradigm shift.”

"Moderate Assembly Democrats emerge as powerful pro-business force"

Great to speak with Jessica Calefati for this piece. 

"Sophisticated, well-funded special interests are playing a long game," said Jessica Levinson, a campaign finance expert and Loyola Law School professor. "It makes a lot of sense to invest early in people who are attuned to your needs and are in position to vote your way when the time comes."

"Investigation: Candidates enrich themselves with campaign cash, gifts, travel"

Terrific to speak with Rachel Baye for this one

Even when legal, some expenses still might not be appropriate, said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School who specializes in campaign finance.
“The line should be drawn a bit more stringently to really say these are funds that were given to allow you, legislator, to get your message out to obtain voters, and these aren't funds that were given out so that you could obtain personal perks,” said Levinson, also president of Los Angeles' Ethics Commission. “A lot of what we're seeing here looks more like personal perks than bona fide governmental or legislative purposes.”

Thursday, September 10, 2015

"Carson mayor under investigation for not filing disclosure reports with the state"

Great to speak with Nathan Fenno, Paul Pringle, and Richard Winton on the Los Angeles Times for this one

Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor and president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, said it was unusual for an elected official to not file multiple statements, as opposed to submitting one past the deadline. "A penalty may very well be appropriate," Levinson said.

"San Jose commission will investigate nearly the entire City Council"

Great to talk to Ramona Giwargis of the San Jose Mercury News for this one

But a political ethics expert said the commission made a fair decision. "A comprehensive investigation seems like a rational response to the allegations," said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School and president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Marne Foster’s ‘a Mother First’ – for Better or Worse

Good to speak with Mario Koran of the Voice of San Diego for this piece.

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and vice president of the L.A. Ethics Commission, was more frank.
“What she did was clearly inappropriate,” she said. “I mean, is it treason? No. But when we take a step back and look at why we even create ethical rules, they’re meant for situations like this.” 

Compton mayor's charity tie-in to State of the City talk raises eyebrows

Good to speak with Angel Jennings for this important piece in the Los Angeles Times. 

Jessica Levinson, a clinical law professor at Loyola Law School and president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, said that charities that receive payment at politicians' behest should be scrutinized to ensure they are legitimate.

"You look for certain things, like is it closely associated with the politician or her family," she said. "In this case, yes it is.... The closer the nonprofit is to financially benefiting the politician, the more problematic it is."

Saturday, August 29, 2015

L.A. wants more details about business groups that donate to city campaigns

More great reporting by Emily Alpert Reyes for this piece in the Los Angeles Times. 

At a meeting Wednesday, commissioners said they wanted city staffers to come up with ways to require corporations, limited liability companies and other "non-individual" campaign donors to publicly disclose more information about who controls them. The concern, said commission President Jessica Levinson, is that "it is really difficult to follow the money."


Levinson said such information was useful, but that it didn't address the broader question of whether such donations were sufficiently transparent to the public.

Can Carly Fiorina overcome past political failures?

Great to speak with Kathleen Gray for this piece in USA Today.

“She had no record of civic engagement, she hadn’t voted or held a political office. There was a perception that she had jumped over people and not paid her dues,” said Jessica Levinson, a law professor with an emphasis on election law at Loyola University in Los Angeles. She also described the demon sheep ad as a "hail mary."

"We’re still talking about it, but it smacked of a political novice’s desperation,” Levinson said.


But that’s not going to work in a presidential campaign, Levinson predicted.

“Her experiences have not been rousing successes. Her biggest success has been the debate and by all accounts she won that,” she said. “She might be good enough for a vice presidential pick, but in terms of fundraising numbers and poll numbers, it’s still not good enough for the nomination.”

Sunday, August 23, 2015

"The insulting view of ‘the women’s vote’"

My latest op-ed is up in the Sacramento Bee. 

Here is the conclusion:

When asked about Donald Trump’s boorish and sexist comments toward women, Jeb Bush responded, “Do we want to insult 53 percent of all voters?” The assumption is that only women will be turned off by such comments. Apparently insulting women is just another “women’s issue.”

Read more here:

"Compton officials deny improperly inflating pay; D.A. investigation ongoing"

Good to talk to Marisa Gerber and Angel Jennings of the Los Angeles Times for this one.

Jessica Levinson, a clinical law professor at Loyola Law School who serves on the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, said Compton officials should work to change the city's charter if they want to pay themselves more.

"There are tons of laws that aren't indexed for inflation," Levinson said. "But that doesn't mean you just decide to work around them."

Saturday, August 22, 2015

"Trump's call to end abuse of US birthright citizenship divides GOP field, legal experts"

Great to speak with Joe Weber of Fox News for this one

“Trump thinks ‘our country is going to hell.’ Well, there is likely little more than a chance in hell that we are going to amend the Constitution,” Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola University of Los Angeles, said Wednesday. “Amending the Constitution is one of the most serious things that lawmakers can do. Therefore the path to doing it is rightfully arduous. I would put the chances … as beyond a longshot."

However, Levinson questions whether enough Americans will buy the argument.

“It may be politically popular with a certain segment of the electorate, but I do not believe this is a mainstream view,” she said, arguing two-thirds of Americans support a path to citizenship or permanent legal status for illegal immigrants. “This is an argument that is likely to gain traction in the primary elections, but I think it could be viewed quite differently in the general election."

"Tense times in government offices after Ashley Madison email leak"

Nice to speak with Abby Sewell for this piece in the Los Angeles Times. 

"Work email is created and set up and funded by the employer — in this case, the government — and it's inappropriate to use government email for personal purposes," said Jessica Levinson, a law professor and member of the city ethics commission.

Friday, August 21, 2015

"Compton officials have been illegally inflating their pay, district attorney says"

Always a pleasure to speak with Angel Jennings of the Los Angeles Times

Jessica Levinson, a clinical law professor at Loyola Law School, said the D.A.’s letter raises question about the meetings’ merit.

“It makes the advisory board meetings frankly sound like scam meetings,” Levinson said. “The D.A.’s office is saying they don’t pass the smell test.”

"Is this woman the new Lois Lerner?"

Spoke with Rudy Takala of the Washington Examiner for this one

Jessica Levinson, a campaign finance attorney and professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, disagrees, saying that an odd number of commissioners would be a good thing. "Given the gridlock and inaction that we've seen from the FEC over the past few years, I think that is an idea well with exploring. It is quite clear that the FEC is not functioning as is, and therefore that there is really no watchdog at the federal level. There is a reason that when appellate judges make decisions they sit on three-judge panels. For the same reason, there are nine Supreme Court Justices."

Monday, August 17, 2015

"Ticketed and towed: Owner of minivan hopes his court victory inspires others"

Great to talk with Laura Nelson of the Los Angeles Times for this piece.

Requiring that local governments post signs for every law on the books could "open a Pandora's Box" that would reach far beyond the 72-hour parking restriction, said Jessica Levinson, an associate clinical professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

From watering a lawn on a restricted day to not signaling a left-hand turn, "there are things we do every day that are legal or illegal and don't have a sign to advertise them," Levinson said. The Court of Appeals could accept the overturned citation as new evidence, she said. "But honestly, a traffic court's decision having any bearing?" she said. "I guess I'm kind of dubious."

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Talking about the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act

Looking forward to discussing the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, early voting, same day voter registration, gerrymandering, and more at 5:20 pm with Ian Masters on KPFK.

"L.A. hits the brakes on plan to allow Uber at LAX"

Good to talk with Alice Walton (aka @TheCityMaven) of the Los Angeles Times for this piece.

“In general, I think most campaign contributions and expenditures on lobbying are business judgments and the idea is that you spend money because you want to influence those who are making decisions that affect you, and that’s not necessarily evil,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School.

“Influence can also be a synonym for educate but I think that it kind of strains common sense to say campaign and lobbying money isn’t about trying to obtain favorable decisions,” she said.

Monday, August 3, 2015

"Inglewood files suit over disparaging videos of City Council meetings"

Good to talk to Angel Jennings of the Los Angeles Times for this piece

Jessica Levinson, a clinical law professor at Loyola Law School, questions the suit's merits. "It looks like the city is using taxpayers funds to try to insulate itself from criticism," she said.

Experts note that in copyright cases, judges often order the loser to pay the winner's attorney fees, which could increase the cost to taxpayers.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

"Is GOP resurrecting its ‘war on women’ image?"

More in this piece by Carla Marinucci in the San Francisco Chronicle

Jessica Levinson, a professor of politics and ethics at Loyola Law School of Los Angeles, says she’s not surprised that the GOP rhetoric over Planned Parenthood has ramped up, as more than a dozen presidential candidates aim to raise their poll numbers.

Defunding Planned Parenthood “may be a winner” for Republican candidates intent on energizing voters and donors and for “trying to get some of the oxygen away from Donald Trump,” who has big-footed their presidential race, she says.

GOP senators, including presidential candidates Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, are demanding a vote on defunding the organization as early as Monday — Cruz has even raised the threat of a government shutdown this fall over the issue.

Levinson says they — and their party — could pay the price in the general election next year. “This is not going to make a lot of new friends with female voters and young voters,” she said.