Friday, April 18, 2014

"Unusual arrangement? Honda’s campaign offices are right at home — in SEIU headquarters"

Quoted in this one in the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Jessica Levinson, who teaches election law and governance at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said that the arrangement raises concerns.
Regarding the appropriateness, “my main question is: is (SEIU) basically giving him a donation by letting him use the office for less than what a member of the public would pay?” she said.
But the decision also makes a political statement, she added. “It’s so clear he is aligning himself with the unions..its very visual,” she said. “I mean, they’re roommates.”
So in Congress, “as an optical matter, it will be hard to distance himself from them,” she said. “It gives the appearance he would be more reticent to vote against union interests. Because it would be really awkward to go back to your campaign office and find all those people you have potentially annoyed.”

"Justices Scalia and Ginsburg on the First Amendment"

C-SPAN link here.

"Longtime marijuana legalization advocate still seeing green"

Quoted in this one in the Press Enterprise. 

Jessica A. Levinson, an associate clinical professor for election laws and government political reform at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, says the two court rulings are not death blows for Prop. 215.
“It may have been watered down or eroded, but it still leaves jurisdictions some leeway” about brick-and-mortar stores and cultivation, she said. “It just gives them more discretion not to have them, and allows localities to make up their own minds.”
And, Levinson said, those issues may be pushed aside when California eventually considers statewide recreational marijuana use. “If you look at the demographics, I think this issue is only a matter of time,” she said. “Whatever happens to Prop. 215, it is not going to be the last proposition on the state ballot dealing with marijuana.”
Swerdlow said that’s where he has turned his energy. In 2012, he founded the Brownie Mary Democratic Club of Riverside County as an advocacy group for medical marijuana and marijuana legalization.
“It’s been chartered by Riverside County Democratic Central Committee,” Swerdlow said. “We are an official part of the Democratic Party. We now have clubs chartered in Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco.” The group went to the state Democratic convention in Los Angeles in March.
Swerdlow made the club a force to be reckoned with. The party for the first time endorsed marijuana legalization as part of its platform, calling on marijuana to be regulated and taxed similar to alcohol and tobacco.
“This is not a debate about stoners,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom told the convention. “You can be pro-regulation without being an advocate for drug use.”
Swerdlow said he wrote the original platform proposal — “they massaged the wording a bit from what I originally put in there,” but said he was pleased with the outcome. “It kind of sends a word to all the Democratic politicians who are on the fence. That might be enough to push them off the fence, on our side.”
It sounds like another uphill battle for Swerdlow.
Days before the platform language was considered, Gov. Brown talked about marijuana legalization on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or nation?” Brown asked.
While elected Democrats distance themselves about marijuana legalization, Swerdlow said he was convinced what he called the “grass roots” of the party supports it. “I used to look at the Democratic Party and think they were Republican light,” Swerdlow said. But he now sees the party as “really progressive, and the Democratic Party, I believe, will end marijuana prohibition.”
Californians most recently rejected marijuana legalization and regulation in 2010 by voting down Prop. 19. Poll numbers since then have shown growing support for legalization, when it’s combined with government oversight.
Loyola Law School’s Levinson said voters should expect to see legalization for recreational marijuana in the form of a ballot initiative, rather than by the Legislature. “This is the type of issue we typically see through the initiative process in California.”

Los Angeles "Ethics panel wants more public funding available to candidates"

Quoted in this one in the Los Angeles Times. 

Los Angeles' Ethics Commission is calling for an increase in public funding available to candidates seeking city office.

The city currently provides $2 for each dollar a candidate raises in primary elections, and $4 for each dollar contributed in two-way runoffs in general elections.

On Thursday, the panel recommended the city match be increased to $6 in both primary and general elections.

"You want to allow people to talk to constituents, not just donors, and I think that increasing the match will reduce the amount of time you have to spend fundraising," said Jessica Levinson, vice president of the commission and a professor at Loyola Law School.

She said that publicly financed programs are designed to reduce corruption, and as more office-seekers agree to abide by campaign spending limits to receive the money it should decrease the degree to which "money controls the game." 

The city paid approximately $10 million in matching funds to candidates in the 2013 elections.
The commission also announced it would no longer enforce aggregate contribution limits on individuals giving to city and school board candidates as a result of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The high court found limits on total giving to multiple candidates by contributors unconstitutionally infringes on their free speech rights. 

City caps on what donors can give to individual candidates will remain in effect. Those range from $700 to $1,300 per election, depending on the office. Because of that and other city regulations, the effect of the Supreme Court decision may no be as significant in Los Angeles as some other jurisdictions, Levinson said.  

The proposal to boost public funding of city campaigns, which must be approved by the City Council, would bring L.A. in line with New York City, which matches contributions at a six-to-one ratio. 

"California Democrats Face New Calculus After Scandals"

Quoted in this one in the Wall Street Journal. 

Members of both parties agree the scandals have left a stain on the capitol. The charges faced by Mr. Yee in particular may be damaging, said Jessica A. Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Marymount Law School in Los Angeles who focuses on the intersection of law and government.
"It is very troubling; this is the type of scandal that makes it look like all politicians are crooked," Prof. Levinson said of the allegations. "If you are trying to get people to engage in the political process, it is very difficult to do that now."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Rep. Mike Honda's latest hurdle: He can't vote for himself"

Quoted in this one in the San Francisco Chronicle

Seven-term Rep. Mike Honda faces some real challenges as he seeks re-election to his Silicon Valley congressional seat - one of the most unusual being that he can't vote for himself.
That's because Honda, a longtime resident of San Jose, doesn't live in the 17th Congressional District he represents. It's perfectly legal - but as fellow Democrat and former Obama trade representative Ro Khanna tries to wrest the seat away, there's the potential for it to become political ammunition.
Legally, "we have decided that it is OK if our federal representatives don't live in our district," said Jessica Levinson, a professor at the Loyola School of Law in Los Angeles. "But it's still something that bothers some constituents.
"And opponents will point it out," she said. "They'll say, 'When you vote for something, you're not even your own representative. Why aren't you dedicated enough to move?' "
Levinson, however, said that in some cases, a congressman's residency could become a "symbolic" measure of his performance.
"If you want to take it to the extreme, it's someone saying one vote (in an election) doesn't matter," she said. "Or, 'My house matters to me more than my vote.' "

Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Supreme Court's campaign money ruling makes Bay Area rich more influential"

Quoted in this one in the Mercury News. 

Theoretically, one person can now give $5,200 to each of the 535 members of Congress -- about $2.78 million -- though it's hard to imagine why anyone would do that. But there is no limit on how many PACs can exist, so there's practically no limit to how much influence a single donor can now wield through them.
"It starts to feel like a story that's so far removed not only from the average citizen but even the average citizen of the upper class," said Jessica Levinson, a money-in-politics expert at Loyola Law School.
"Now it essentially becomes the cost of business to give huge amounts of money," she said, adding only the richest will be able to keep up.
Some donors who made this rarefied list might want to change their telephone numbers.

"Political potential seen for Sheryl Sandberg"

Quoted in this one in the San Francisco Chronicle
Sheryl Sandberg may already have it all – she’s a Silicon Valleysuperstar, feminist icon, best-selling author and celebrity A-lister in nearly every ranking of the planet’s richest and most influential people.
But is the billionaire chief operating officer of Facebook quietly laying the groundwork for more – a campaign for elective office?

Read more here:
Jessica Levinson, a professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said that “‘Lean In,' yes – it’s important to take charge of your career and be the captain of your own ship.”
But many women lack the support systems and nurturing that Sandberg enjoyed, she said, so “a lot of people who struggle … will never reach the privileged moment of being able to ask, `I want a raise.“’
That means that should Sandberg want to get into politics, she will have to demonstrate that she “knows what milk and bread costs,” Levinson said. “She can’t be out of touch.”

Read more here:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

News from Arizona: "Spending soars as outside groups seek campaign influence"

Quoted in this one in the AZ Central.

Some have criticized the outside groups for allowing special interests, instead of constituents, to set the agenda for what an election is about.

"What the average voter is getting is a lot of commercials and radio ads, but what they are not getting is a lot of debate on the issues," said Jessica Levinson, who teaches election law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. "What it sets up is the candidates aren't necessarily the most important speakers. Sometimes it's these shadow campaigns of independent-expenditure groups. And many times it's not terrifically informative or educational. It sets up a world in which the voters need to be even more on alert to the true identity of these spenders and what their agenda might be."


"People might start pulling away from outside groups to give to candidates," said Levinson, the Loyola professor.

That could increase transparency, she said, as long as federal campaign rules remain in place that require candidates and committees to disclose their donors.

But it could bring politics even closer to pre-Watergate days, before campaign-finance limits were adopted to combat corruption, or at least the appearance of corruption, Levinson said.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

"Calif. Sen. Yee's staff keeping office open for now"

Quoted in this one in the San Francisco Chronicle

"This is a guilt-by-association moment for them," said Loyola Law School Professor Jessica Levinson of the staffers left behind by Yee and two other Democrats suspended last week by the state Senate following separate criminal scandals.

And even more on McCutcheon "How Will the Change in Campaign Finance Law Affect California?"

Here is my interview on the California Report on KQED.

The Supreme Court’s decision will surely change the flow of money into this year’s election. But how, especially here in California?

For that we turn to Jessica Levinson. She teaches election law at Loyola Law School. She’s also vice president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission -- that’s the elections watchdog in L.A.

SCOTT SHAFER: Professor Levinson, welcome.

JESSICA LEVINSON: Thank you so much for having me.

SHAFER: Well first of all, give us just, if you would, your impression of this week’s Supreme Court decision.

LEVINSON: So this is a big but totally anticipated decision by the Supreme Court. And what the Supreme Court said in its predictable 5-4 split along ideological lines is that it infringes on First Amendment rights to limit the total amount that individuals can give to candidates and committees that give to candidates. So this decision wasn’t about the base contribution limits; it’s not about if you want to run for office and I want to give you money. I’m still limited to a thousand or two thousand or three thousand or whatever the direct contribution limit is. But now I can give that two thousand to as many other candidates as I want and I can also give to committees that then give to candidates. And 24 hours ago or 36 hours ago that was not the case. We used to have a total amount limit that contributors could give to candidates and to committees that give to candidates.

SHAFER: So under Citizens United, which I think was a 2010 decision, we’ve seen certainly in the last presidential election very wealthy people spending, you know, lots and lots of money, tens of millions of dollars. So what difference does it make to have this additional avenue of contribution?

LEVINSON: What it shows is it’s just the eroding of the whole campaign finance scheme, the whole campaign finance program that was implemented in the wake of Watergate. So there are essentially three pillars of that program. And one was contribution limits, and that’s what McCutcheon vs. FEC overturns the aggregate contribution limits. Another was expenditures, and Citizens United in 2010 eroded a lot of the expenditure restrictions. And the third is disclosure. So I think disclosure laws now are going to have to do a lot more work than they did in the past.

SHAFER: Well, I think you know Democrats and the media often focus on the conservative Koch brothers, or Sheldon Adelson, people who tend to give money to Republican candidates and causes. But the Democrats have plenty of high rollers themselves, including right here in California -- people like Tom Steyer, Eli Broad, Jeffrey Katzenberg down in Los Angeles. So isn’t this just sort of an equal opportunity ruling in a Se?

LEVINSON: Well, I actually think the people who are going to be really excited after a few election cycles about the McCutcheon decision are the party leaders because now they can say to donors, “Don’t give to that independent group. You don’t know exactly what they are going to say. You want these specific candidates to be elected, come home, give to the party, we know how to control the money, we’re going to make sure it’s used in its most efficient way. And so I think this could really embolden party leaders.

SHAFER: Even before this decision came down this week, campaign finance has been getting renewed focus here in California with the FBI investigations of state Sens. Leland Yee and Ronald Calderon down in Los Angeles. There’s been talk of reform, talk of banning fundraising while the Legislature is in session, even public financing of campaigns. What do you think of the chances of that gaining steam?

LEVINSON: Honestly, it is a very good PR move for the Democrats to take this moment to put forth any sort of political reform package that they have, which frankly, I think, many of those were needed in the first place. I think this is absolutely the moment to say we’re going to bring more transparency to elections in California. Will we see something like public financing? Public financing is a very hard sell. And typically entities get public financing because it’s passed by the ballot initiative process. And I don’t think that we’re going to see a successful effort at public financing on the statewide level in California any time soon.

SHAFER: All right, Jessica Levinson. She teaches election law at Loyola Law School. She is also vice president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission. Thanks so much.

LEVINSON: Thank you.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

More on McCutcheon - "A tiny sliver of hope in an otherwise hopeless ruling?"

Quoted throughout this one in the Las Vegas Review Journal. 

But there’s a tiny bit of hope, as inadequate as it may be: disclosure. More of it. Lots of it.
Yes, it’s frustrating to say the very best we can do is figure out who’s buying our democracy, rather than, say, preventing them from buying it in the first place. But, as Loyola Law School associate clinical professor Jessica Levinson told me on Wednesday, it may be all we have left.

Help me, disclosure. You’re my only hope!
And that brings us back to the question I began with: What now?
I asked Levinson whether, in light of today’s decision, as well as 2010’s Citizens United, there was a way to write a campaign-finance law that could both limit the influence of money in politics and survive constitutional scrutiny from the court’s sitting majority. The depressingly brief answer: Nope.
“We no longer have the tools to regulate what we wanted to regulate in the first place,” said Levinson, who says she’s worried that even base contribution limits may fall soon, too. “I’m very pessimistic in the short term. I think this is our new normal.”
I asked if this ruling wasn’t really addressed to — and concerned about — the wealthy. After all, how many lower and middle class people can even afford to give the minimum donation of $2,600 per election, much less decide how to spend millions among multiple candidates? Regular people giving a nominal amount, say, $200, would have to number 490,000 simply to equal the $98 million that billionaire Las Vegas Sands CEO gave to candidates and causes in 2012 alone.
“Our voices are increasingly muffled,” Levinson said. “We should be speakers, too. … There are only five people in America who don’t think large amounts of contributions don’t influence elections, and they’re all on the court.”
Levinson noted that disclosure, while helpful, is only a partial remedy, and one that doesn’t stop wealthy donors from having an outsized voice in the political debate. But she said it may be the only remedy available, given the court’s recent rulings.
“At some point, I think the court will say that’s all you have left,” she said.

Levinson on Utah's campaign $ laws and today's SCOTUS ruling on caps.

Interviewed on KVNU re McCutcheon.

More on McCutcheon - "Local congressional campaigns could see big money after Supreme Court decision"

Quoted in this one in the SGV Tribune. 

With the recent court decisions killing campaign finance reform in a “death by 1,000 papercuts,” Loyola Law School Associate Clinical Professor Jessica Levinson said any reform out of Congress would likely come in the form of increased requirements for disclosure of contributions. Campaigns are already required to disclose direct contributions — the kind that could increase under Wednesday’s decision — in reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. But donations to outside groups responsible for most independent expenditures — the kind that have skyrocketed in the post-Citizens United world — are often not disclosed.
“Disclosure is going to have to do a lot more work than it used to,” Levinson said.

My discussion on Indy Politics re McCutcheon... here.

"Five Best Thursday Columns"

Thanks so much to the Wire for naming my op-ed in the Los Angeles Times as one of the Five Best Thursday Columns!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"U.S. Supreme Court ruling at center of Whittemore appeal"

Quoted in this one in the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Even more on McCutcheon: "Supreme Court ruling removes limits on campaign finance contributions"

Here is a link to my appearance on "Take Two" on KPCC this morning.

More on McCutcheon - "Campaign Finance, Sex Addiction in Film & Raw Milk Fight"

How often do you see "campaign finance" and "sex addiction" in the same sentence?

Here is a link to my appearance on KCRW's "Press Play."

#McCutcheon: " Supreme Court decision on campaign finance means we need more disclosure"

Mine on how McCutcheon shows the need for more disclosure...My piece in the Sac Bee is here.

Breaking: The Court hands down McCutcheon v. FEC

As predicted, the Court has struck down the limits on aggregate contribution limits. The opinion is here.

Here is a piece I wrote after oral arguments in the case. More thoughts to come.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

"San Bernardino County: Donations to DA candidate’s campaign criticized"

Quoted in this one in the Press Enterprise. 

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles specializing in campaign finance and ethics, said candidates for public safety offices such as district attorney or sheriff are generally careful about who they accept donations from.
“Legally, you’re welcome to take money from people who are under investigation and connected to those under investigation,” she said. “The second question is political: What is the smart move?”
The biggest drawback may be providing fodder for a political opponent and drawing scrutiny, said Levinson, who also serves as vice president of the city of Los Angeles’ ethics commission.
“I think a candidate who is flush with money does not accept those contributions,” she said.

News from Santa Ana, CA: "Pulido Investigation Puts Prior Deal In Focus"

ICYMI, quoted in this one in the Voice of OC. 

“I think that this would fall within the Political Reform Act that talks about use of official position for private gain,” said Jessica Levinson, associate clinical professor at Loyola Law School. “And specifically in this case, by financial gain.”

News from CA: "Santa Ana Mayor Had City Hall Meeting That Could be Illegal"

Quoted in this one in the Voice of the OC. 

Jessica Levinson, an associate professor at Loyola Law School, said one documented instance of using the office for a personal business meeting probably would lead to only a civil fine.

It could, however, also turn into a criminal issue if more instances are uncovered, Levinson said. “If you are running a consulting business out of the mayor’s office, there is a possibility for criminal liability,” she said.

California "State Sen. Leland Yee drops out of secretary of state race a day after his arrest"

Quoted in this one in the Mercury News. 

"No amount of public financing or contribution limits would remedy a situation like Leland Yee's," said Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson, an expert in campaign finance law. "He transgressed even the most basic rules."
Yee is charged with conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms, and six counts of scheming to defraud citizens of "honest services." Each corruption count is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000, while the gun-trafficking count is punishable by up to five years and $250,000.

News from Nevada: "Whittemore denies all wrongdoing, pleads not guilty on 4 felony counts"

Quoted in this one in the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Jessica Levinson, a Loyola professor who specializes in campaign finance law, said a sentence could also depend on the judge and how he wants to use the case.

"It will depend on how much and whether the judge wants to make this high-profile case an example," Levinson said. "If he does, it could increase the length of the sentence."

"Expensive special elections are often ignored by voters"

Interviewed for this one on KPCC. 

"We have way too many special elections, so they're actually not-so-special elections," says Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School. She makes the case for allowing the governor to fill vacancies in the Legislature.
"When we're talking about the alternative, when we're talking about appointments, it's important to remember that it's not a king or an unelected monarch that is potentially making the appointments," she said. "In the case of the California Legislature, it could be the governor, who everyone in California had the opportunity to vote [for]." 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sunday, March 9, 2014

My latest op-ed in the Sacramento Bee: "Maybe we should let Wright and Calderon get paid while on leave"

You can read the piece here.

Here are the beginning of the piece:

Everyone seems upset that California Sens. Roderick Wright and Ron Calderon are taking paid leaves of absences.
I get it. Both politicians have been, or have been accused of, behaving badly. A jury convicted Wright of eight felonies, including fraud and perjury, stemming from the fact that he did not live in his district when he ran for Senate, something that is required under the state constitution.
We can argue about the wisdom of the requirement. However, that is exactly what it is, a requirement that all candidates must abide by. More importantly, he lied about it.
A different kind of jury, a grand jury, indicted Calderon on 24 counts of bribery, money laundering, and tax fraud, things we don’t want our representatives to do.

Read more here:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

"Amid Capitol’s gift extravagance, Gatto sets standard for ethics"

Quoted in this one in CalWatchDog. 

Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who specializes in governmental ethics, said that the issue of elected officials accepting gifts is a balance between what is allowed versus what appears to cross the line of undue influence. “If the laws allows legislators to accept gifts, then is it improper or indecent for them to do so?” she asked. ”While some gifts are permissible, it can intuitively feel problematic when our elected lawmakers accept gifts when we all strongly suspect they would not receive those gifts were it not for their official roles, and the power they wield in those roles.”
That appearance of impropriety is exacerbated when lawmakers travel with lobbyists on extravagant junkets to exotic locales. Last year, California lawmakers collected passport stamps from Germany, Switzerland, Cuba, Mexico, Poland, Norway, Taiwan, Israel, China, Armenia, Sweden, Canada and South Korea, much of it on the dime of special interest groups.
“When it comes to traveling and attending conferences, I want our officials to leave the Capitol and learn from others,” Levinson said.  “I don’t necessarily want them to do all of that on the public’s dime. When the conferences look fishy, or the sources of the funds have substantial business before the state, it is certainly fair to ask questions.

Friday, March 7, 2014

"Billionaire backed education groups battle teachers unions in state races"

Quoted in this one

The high-profile donors help give prominence to the groups and their causes, according to Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Law School who serves on the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

But above all, these donors have money to spare — a lot of money to spare.


"RIVERSIDE COUNTY: No limits mean big campaign donations"

Quoted in this piece in the Press Enterprise

People who give big to political campaigns often have something to gain through a favorable relationship with an elected official, said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who specializes in campaign finance and ethics.
“I think it raises appearance questions,” said Levinson, a member of LA’s ethics commission. “Clearly it’s permissible (but) it makes it look like politics is a game for wealthy people because most people can’t give $10,000.”

"California Legislature considers ethics reform bills"

Quoted in this article in the Los Angeles Times

Trying to counter ethics scandals in which lawmakers stand accused of voter fraud, bribery, money laundering and other misdeeds, Democratic leaders Thursday proposed sweeping changes to state political laws aimed at restoring public confidence in the Legislature.

The proposals, which Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to embrace, would ban lawmakers and other state officials from accepting such gifts as spa treatments, golf games and tickets to Lakers games.
Officials could take other gifts, but only if their worth totaled $200 or less annually from any source — down from the $440 now allowed. And politicians would have to report campaign contributions more frequently.

The scandals of recent months have spawned more than a dozen measures by various lawmakers, addressing fundraising rules, lobbyists and travel by state officials. Thursday's more visible effort followed the back-to-back departures of two Democratic state senators, both now on paid leave, that this week cost the party its supermajority in the upper house.


The timing of the new package is no coincidence, said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who studies governmental ethics. "Oftentimes the only silver lining that comes as a result of scandals is reform."

The question, she said, is "whether this is real reform or politically expedient reform, or both."


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"David Jolly’s Clients Won Earmarks From His Old Boss, Bill Young"

Quoted in this piece in the Republic Report. 

“Yes, there are concerns raised when a former staffer appears to use his or her ties to his employer for personal gain,” says Jessica Levinson, associate professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.  ”The cooling off period prohibition is designed to prevent people from using their connections in government to obtain unfair or preferential treatment or access for private clients.”
“The idea,” says Levinson, is that “everyone, regardless of whether or not they are represented by former staffers or officials, should get a fair shot to persuade their officials.”

"Should politicians still get a paycheck while facing criminal charges?"

Here is a link to my appearance on 3/4/14 on AirTalk on KPCC. 

Two California politicians have been placed on paid administrative leave while they wait for their next days in court. Ron Calderon, who is facing two dozen charges of bribery, fraud and money laundering charges, announced this week that he will take a leave of absence rather than resigning from the state Senate. Calderon will continue to collect his salary while he's on leave, which is expected to stretch through the end of the legislative session in August.
Last week, Roderick Wright also announced he will be taking a paid leave of absence from the Senate after being convicted by a jury Jan. 29 of eight felony counts for perjury and voter fraud. Prosecutors said Wright falsely claimed to live inside his Inglewood district while really keeping a large home in Baldwin Hills. Wright plans to appeal his convictions at his sentencing hearing on May 16 but will continue to receive a paycheck from the state, despite already being convicted.
The California constitution prevents the state Senate from withholding pay from any senator but taxpayers are upset about being forced to continue to pay the salaries.
Is there any legal recourse for taxpayers to recoup the money from politicians convicted of felonies? What power does the state government have to withhold their paychecks, particularly once a politician has been convicted of a crime? Do constituents have any power to recall the senators?


"Newhall Land's gift of trucks to Fish and Wildlife raises concerns"

Quoted in this piece in the Los Angeles Times. 

The two California Department of Fish and Wildlife scientists charged with doing environmental work on the proposed Newhall Ranch development had a daunting task.

They were to help review whether and how the largest residential development ever approved in Los Angeles County — 20,000 homes stretching across a bucolic valley — could be built without undue harm to the environment, protected species and Southern California's last major wild river, the Santa Clara.
The project was controversial and dizzyingly complicated. It has already been the subject of multiple lawsuits and generated more than 110,000 pages of records.

But there was at least one perk for the scientists: new vehicles to get around in, courtesy of the developer, Newhall Land and Farming Co. The developer gave the 2008 Ford Explorer and the 2008 Ford 150 truck to the agency that year as the state employees dug into their review of the company's proposal. The state still has them.


Loyola law professor Jessica Levinson, vice president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, said the gift of the cars raises questions about a conflict of interest.

"The developer is giving something to the people who are making a determination as to a project that could benefit it," she said.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife has no record of having accepted other cars from a private company in the last decade, according to documents and spokeswoman Jordan Traverso.

"Central Basin Water customers pick up tab for board member's car accident"

Interviewed in this story on the local NPR. 

Central Basin Municipal Water District ratepayers are footing the bill to the tune of $79,000 to pay claims arising from a 2010 six-car automobile accident involving board member Art Chacon, despite a finding that Chacon was not working at the time of the accident and was at fault, according to insurance and other records.
The accident occurred around 5:40 p.m. on a Thursday in November 2010. Chacon was driving a Nissan Frontier home southbound in the usual rush hour traffic on the 710 freeway.
According to a report by the California Highway Patrol, Chacon was using a cellphone and driving at an unsafe speed. The resulting six-car pileup was so bad, the CHP shut down three lanes of traffic near the 710 and 105 interchange so ambulances could get in.
Although Central Basin's insurance authority determined Chacon was off the clock at the time of the crash, records show the water district has paid out $16,000 to settle a claim related to damages and injuries.
"This entire narrative raises a number of questions as to what was really happening as to the car accident that took place and whether Director Chacon should’ve been reimbursed and whether he should’ve been able to get worker’s compensation," said Loyola Law School Professor Jessica Levinson.
Central Basin board members Vasquez and Roybal said they were unaware of the lawsuit payout and Chacon's workers' compensation payment until KPCC informed them. Both said the board had not taken up either matter. Roybal said the lawsuit settlement should have come before the board.
Of the remaining board members, Phil Hawkins refused comment, and Bob Apodaca was unavailable.
The questions surrounding the handling of Chacon's accident are just the latest trouble for Central Basin, which serves more than 2 million customers in 24 southeast L.A. cities. The agency is also the subject of an FBI investigation into its handling of a $2.7 million trust fund
A car allowance but no license
Meanwhile, as Central Basin deals with the fallout from his accident, Chacon continues to receive a $590 monthly car allowance, even though as of last Friday, DMV records show he does not have a valid driver’s license. Chacon's license has been suspended numerous times since 2011, according to the records.
According to Central Basin’s Code of Conduct, board members must have a valid driver’s license and insurance in order to travel by private car while on district business.
"It is a somewhat of a sticky situation for the Central Basin to be paying for a car allowance for someone who shouldn’t be driving a car," said Loyola Law School’s Levinson.

Friday, February 28, 2014

News from Sacramento: "Judge tosses out STOP lawsuit on Kings arena"

Quoted in this piece in the Sacramento Bee

With a judge unwilling to overlook their mistakes, two Sacramento taxpayer groups lost their legal fight Wednesday to force a vote on the city’s planned $258 million contribution toward a new downtown Kings arena.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley, in a strongly worded decision, ruled the two groups had filed signature petitions “infected with errors” that violated state election laws. He also sided with city attorneys who argued the proposed ballot measure would violate the city charter because it sought “to restrict the City Council’s future power to manage its financial affairs.”

Read more here:
Jessica Levinson, an election-law expert at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said the ruling was remarkable in its decisiveness. While election law does excuse some errors in the signature-gathering process, Frawley went out of his way to note the seriousness of STOP’s errors, she said.
“This is not a judge saying … this is a close call,” she said. “This wasn’t a, ‘You forgot to indent this paragraph.’ ”

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News from San Diego: "Email Solicitations in DA Race Draw Complaints"

Quoted in this piece in the Voice of San Diego. 

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis notched a victory Tuesday when the union representing over 300 deputy district attorneys endorsed her re-election campaign.
But the announcement came after two drama-filled weeks of behind-the-scenes politicking, and allegations that some attorneys were being strong-armed into supporting their boss.
In particular, emails sent from deputy district attorneys to co-workers encouraging them to support Dumanis leading up to and during the union’s days-long endorsement vote have generated complaints.
Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and vice president of the L.A. Ethics Commission, said the inclusion of the recipient names on the emails that spurred complaints “probably doesn’t rise to the level of being legally actionable, but it lives in the subtle gray area where we know what it’s about.”
“Does this rise to ‘you need to endorse or else you won’t get plum assignments or a promotion?’ No, but everyone knows how to use BCC, right? I think this can be seen as a subtle tactic to feel pressure to endorse in a re-election,” Levinson said.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

How Democrats Learned to Stop Worrying and Love

Quoted in this piece by Michael Beckel in Slate (also available on the website for the Center for Public Integrity)

“Candidate-specific super PACs can help scare off opponents or signal to opponents and potential opponents that their favored candidate will have ample funding,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Rep. Henry Waxman Announces His Retirement

Enjoyed being on NBC LA today to discuss Rep. Henry Waxman's retirement. Rep. Waxman has been a member of Congress for four decades. He is the sixth most senior member of Congress, having been elected in the wake of Watergate. He has been a staunch advocate of broadening health care coverage (he helped to write the Affordable Care Act), increased environmental protection, and many other issues.

Kings arena subsidy foes sue city to get measure back on ballot

Quoted in this article in the Sacramento Bee
Insisting voters should get their say, the groups fighting the proposed $258 million public subsidy for a new Sacramento Kings arena sued the city Wednesday to overturn the city clerk’s decision to disqualify their proposed June ballot measure.
Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork (STOP) and Voters for a Fair Arena Deal filed suit in Sacramento Superior Court, arguing that their signed petitions achieved “substantial compliance” with election laws.

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“A lot of this comes down to who the judge is,” said Jessica Levinson of Loyola University Law School in Los Angeles. She added, “The more problems (there are), the more a judge is going to be inclined to say the signatures shouldn’t qualify.”

Read more here:

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Los Angeles: Be and Be Seen

My latest op-ed in the Huffington Post is here

Here is the first paragraph:

In Los Angeles there are essentially two reasons to do anything. The first is to accomplish something. The second is to be seen accomplishing something. This sounds simple, but it starts to get complicated. Is being seen accomplishing something an accomplishment in and of itself? This can get very meta indeed.

Jury finds Sen. Rod Wright guilty on eight felony counts

Quoted in this one in the Sacramento Bee

The state legislator who often says his constituents’ main concern is landing a “j-o-b” may be in need of a new one himself.
Los Angeles jury on Tuesday convicted state Sen. Rod Wright on eight felony counts in a case that challenged whether he lived in the district he represented, potentially sending the Democratic lawmaker to prison for up to eight years. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 12.
Prosecutors alleged Wright did not live in the Inglewood home he listed as his address when he ran for office in 2008, and instead lived in Baldwin Hills, a swankier community outside the boundaries of his working-class district. They charged him with eight felony counts – two counts of perjury, one count of filing a false declaration of candidacy and five counts of fraudulent voting.

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Jessica Levinson, an election law expert at Loyola Law School, said the difference in how cases are treated can reflect varying priorities among county prosecutors.
“These are very visible cases,” Levinson said. “When you bring a case against a legislator you want to be really sure you’re going to win, because it’s going to be in the paper.”

Read more here:

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Clerk rejects petitions for arena vote

Quoted in this article in the Sacramento Bee. 

The campaign to force a public vote on Sacramento’s downtown arena plan was dealt a considerable blow Friday, when the city’s top elections official rejected the measure for “major” legal flaws and ruled it should not appear on the June ballot.

Read more here: 

Jessica Levinson, an election-law expert at Loyola University in Los Angeles, said courts tend to interpret the petition requirements strictly.
“You have to dot your i’s and cross your t’s,” Levinson said. “Just because people signed (the petitions) doesn’t mean you don’t have to follow the provisions.”
She said courts have upheld decisions by city clerks to reject petitions over wording issues.
“There is absolutely case law that says, ‘This might sound picky, but we have these provisions for a reason,’ ” she said.

Read more here: