Sunday, July 19, 2015

"How a friendship between a California politician and a billionaire could shape climate policy"

Wonderful to speak with Laurel Rosenhall for the debut of Calmatters

This kind of coalescence is common in American politics, where campaign spending gives some advocates an outsized voice, said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School who sits on the Los Angeles Ethics Commission. “This is the story of politicians and their benefactors,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that it’s nefarious ... This is just the way it is. You get meetings and people pay attention because you can write checks that have a lot of zeros.”

Saturday, July 11, 2015

"Appeals Court Rips State Attorney for Misconduct at Trial"

Nice speaking with Brian Melley of the AP for this piece

Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson said the ruling was unusual in its anger, but seemed warranted based on descriptions of Bilotti's conduct.
"It could be that (Caltrans) should have won, but look what harm you did to your client, look what harm you did to yourself," Levinson said. "Attorneys push the boundaries, and that's different than just flagrantly going against the court and, frankly, just disrespecting the court."

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Aide To California Senate Leader Accepted Pot Gifts From Marijuana Lobbyist

Good to talk with Amanda Chicago Lewis of BuzzFeed for this
Loyola Law School professor and Vice President of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission Jessica Levinson agreed, saying she felt that having an adviser who is not under contract directly with the legislature and therefore is not subject to gift limits seemed to show a violation of the intent and spirit of the law.
“If it’s permissible, it shouldn’t be,” said Levinson. “He seems to be holding himself out as working for the Senate pro tem and enjoying the benefits of working for Kevin de León but not the burdens. Along with the privilege and power of working for a state senator, particularly one in leadership, comes certain responsibilities, and chief among those is filing disclosure reports and being subject to a variety of restrictions.”

Sunday, July 5, 2015

S.F. killing sparks national outrage, likely political fallout

Spoke to the terrific Carla Marinucci for this piece

“Politically, the timing is great for Trump, because he has this heinous crime to point to, a tragic incident that appears to be the poster child that he’s right,” she said. “But the truth is that undocumented immigrants are going to commit crimes ... as will the people who are born here.”

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Supreme vitriol in high court’s dissents

Great to talk with Bob Elegko for this piece by John Diaz in the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Their affection for one another was certainly not reflected in the past two weeks of opinions. As Loyola Law School Professor Jessica Levinson put it to my colleague Bob Egelko last week: “Justice Roberts is invested in upholding the integrity of the institution, and Justice Scalia is calling his colleagues morons.”

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

U.S. Supreme Court upholds redistricting by independent panels

Great to speak with Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle for this piece

The court majority was clearly aware that a contrary decision “would also call into question a host of other laws using direct democracy to affect congressional elections,” said Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

California GOP benefits from redistricting decision as bigger case looms

Wonderful to talk to Cathleen Decker of the Los Angeles Times for this piece

"In Arizona, the Republicans are upset today, but in California the Democrats might be a little less happy than they might have been otherwise," said Jessica A. Levinson, clinical professor of law at Loyola Law School, who specializes in election law. "Redistricting can sometimes make for strange bedfellows."

...

"The independent redistricting commissions typically do make life and elections harder for incumbents," Levinson said. "The losers today are self-interested incumbents."

Supreme Court rules that citizens commissions can draw congressional districts

My latest op-ed is in today's Sacramento Bee.

Monday, June 29, 2015

"Supreme Court upholds Arizona political map"

Great to speak with Rebekah Sanders of the Arizona Republic for this piece.

Election-law professor Jessica Levinson said she was surprised by the ruling after arguments in March appeared to favor the Legislature.

"I thought that they would give the constitutional provision a strict and narrow reading," said Levinson, of Loyola Law School. "I thought this was going to be another one of the cases where the court undermines voters rights and protections. This seems like it's a validation of citizens' ability to use their lawmaking power through the process of direct democracy."

After marriage, LGBT activists prepare for next challenge

Always a true pleasure to talk with Carla Marinucci of the SF Chronicle. 

Jessica Levinson, a clinical law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, says it is clear that “even if you have the right to be married, it doesn’t mean you are free from all discrimination — so the next frontier will be looking at discrimination laws.”

“You have to give couples the same rights in employment ... in hospital visits, and there are other instances of discrimination. It’s not the only question,” she said, “but it may be the biggest.”

More here. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

"O.C. college district foundation closer to OKing Saudi consulting deal"

Great to talk to Ruben Vives of the Los Angeles Times for this piece.

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School who specializes in good governance, said even if it was an honest mistake there are consequences to violating open meeting laws.

"The public is injured when there is a Brown Act violation like this," she said. "The public is deprived from taking part in their government's decisions."

Supreme Court upholds another challenge to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare)

The 6-3 decision, written by CJ Roberts, is here.

The Court rules that subsidies are available to those who bought their insurance on the federal exchange.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Cost of a Seat: California Legislators Raise More than $1,000 a Day

Great to talk to Marisa Lagos of KQED for this post. 

And they don’t even take into account the millions of dollars spent by independent outside groups to influence these legislative races, said campaign finance expert and Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson. Even though she studies these issues, Levinson said the numbers surprised her.

“That is an astronomical amount of money to raise every day,” she said. “It’s not just the absolute value of the money — which is high — but it takes a lot of time to raise money.”

Levinson noted that there are “only 24 hours in a day,” so fundraising must take attention away from other duties.

“You are either not sleeping or not legislating for a lot of time,” she said.

You also have to factor in campaign contribution limits, Levinson added. In 2014, legislative candidates could receive a maximum of $4,100 from an individual or business entity.

“Because we have contribution limits, you have to go to a lot of different people and ask for money to raise those amounts — so you are left, in effect, owing a lot of people,” she said. “The other thing is, who are you talking to when you are fundraising constantly? Only people who can give you money.”

California 'Kill the Gays' ballot blocked

Good to talk to Anita Chabria of the Guardian for this piece.

Professor Jessica Levinson of Loyola Law School said: “I am a little surprised because of the tradition, in California in particular, that we wait until measures are passed before ruling on their constitutionality. What we have here is a judge who is laying out a ruling saying that there is no world in which this is valid, so we are not going to waste our time. So it’s a very strong statement from both the attorney general and the judge.” 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

"California Gov. Jerry Brown notches another budget victory"

Great to speak with John Wildermuth of the San Francisco Chronicle for this one


“For voters, 2008 is still in the public memory,” said Jessica Levinson, who teaches political ethics at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “They still remember the days of deep budget cuts and state IOUs.”
... 
The governor can get away with issuing ultimatums and brushing aside legislators’ concerns because he’s, well, Jerry Brown, said Levinson. After decades as a high-visibility player in California politics, a record 13 years as governor and a reputation, deserved or not, for reversing the state’s financial woes, voters are far more comfortable with his plans for the state’s future than those of little-known, term-limited legislators.
Democrats, at least for now, can only make the best of what the governor gives them, she added.
Legislative leaders “can agree that they pushed for more programs, but you didn’t see them fight too hard for them,” Levinson said. “This is Jerry Brown’s budget.”

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"Kevin Johnson’s push for more staff reflects continued national ambitions"

Great to talk with Ryan Lillis of the Sacramento Bee for this piece
Loyola Law School professor and political ethics expert Jessica Levinson said that like many other big city mayors, Johnson has made no secret of his desire to increase both his own and the city’s national profile. And that’s not problematic, as long as he’s “not just trying to make a name for himself,” she said.
“You want to make sure you are raising your profile to help the city, not raising the profile to help yourself,” she said. “In an ideal world, there is something concrete where you can tell people this is how spending this money (on city staff and travel) helped you beyond the broad platitude that it helped put the city on the map.”




Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article23552944.html#storylink=cpy

"Measuring the impact of new rule preventing 'pay to play' in fighting traffic fines"

Great to be on KPCC's AirTalk to discuss.

Monday, May 25, 2015

"California Assembly leaders single-handedly dictate spending"

Great to talk to Fenit Nirappil of the AP for this piece.

“This allows one person to have complete power of the purse strings,” said Jessica Levinson, a government ethics expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

"Arcadia City Attorney Responds to Criticism of Council’s Nonpublic Decisions"

More here

Jessica Levinson, a governance attorney and professor at Loyola University Law School, took issue with Deitsch’s policy versus procedural distinction.
“That’s not the distinction that we make to determine a Brown Act exception,” she said in an interview.
“‘In light of pending litigation’ is the hook as to why they should go into closed session, but it strikes me that the decisions they made, whether structural or procedural seem to be attenuated enough from the lawsuit that they could be discussed in a regular open session,” Levinson said. “The purpose [of exceptions] is to allow for a government agency to make litigation decisions in private so that they don’t have to tip their hand to other side, so that all of the normal evidentiary confidentialities can be maintained.”

Sunday, May 24, 2015

"Kevin de León called about job for daughter at nonprofit he helped with bill"

Good to talk to Patrick McGreevy of the Los Angeles Times for this article.

Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson said de León's action appeared inappropriate for an elected official. "Parents pick up the phone for their kids all the time. But they are not leaders of the Senate who are carrying sponsored bills," said Levinson, who is vice president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

"Water district found itself drowning in steep legal fees"

Good to talk to Ruben Vives of the Los Angeles times for this piece.

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School who specializes in good governance, said public agencies need to do everything they can to control legal costs.

"You just don't get to take your eyes off the ball, especially when you've paid for an expensive ball," Levinson said.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Details Hidden on Legislative Lawyers Drafting Bills for Influential Groups"

Great to speak with John Myers of KQED for this piece

“Legislators are outsourcing their jobs to people in the shadows that we don’t know,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor of governance and ethics at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “I think the least they can do is give the public some information.”

"Hacked Sony Emails Reveal Behind-the-Scenes Political Dealings in L.A."

Good to talk to Robert Faturechi of ProPublica for this piece with Jack Dolan of the Los Angeles Times. 

In any case, election law experts said, if a donation is pledged but only publicly revealed after an election, it sidesteps the spirit of disclosure laws. "It deprives the voters of really important information‚...(about) what interests politicians may be beholden to," said Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

"Indicted Paul Tanaka expected to ask for leave as mayor of Gardena"

Good to talk with Hailey Branson-Potts of the Los Angeles Times for this article.

Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who specializes in good governance, said she does not expect Tanaka to step down as mayor.

“In this case, history has indicated that Paul Tanaka is not going to go quietly into the night,” she said. “My guess is it’s going to take a lot of political pressure for him to step down,” she said, stressing that controversy has not stopped him from seeking public office in the past.


Levinson said that it’s unlikely voters in Gardena, who elected Tanaka even as controversy swirled around him, are unaware of his history. As a result, she said, it remains to be seen whether an indictment would be enough to create a major push among residents to pressure the mayor to step down.

“There have been rumors and discussions and chatter of serious wrongdoing for a very long time, so it cannot be that the voters of Gardena were utterly oblivious to that,” Levinson said. “And they elected him anyway. My guess is that he has a lot of loyal voters who might think he was wronged and might say they want to see the process play out."

"Advocates push lawmakers to help social programs in California budget"

Great to talk to Judy Lin of the AP for this article.

“I don’t think the governor is in a handing-out-money sort of mood,” said Jessica Levinson, who has written about state budgets and teaches at Loyola Law School. “It’s a normal human response to say let’s spend the money. And I think time and time again, he’s hit the brakes on that impulse.”

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Land deal has been costly debacle for City of Industry

Great to talk with Paul Pringle of the Los Angeles Times for this one. 

"If elected officials steer work to companies in which they or their families have a financial interest, it could represent a misuse of public funds," said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who studies public corruption.

"The mayor should only be making decisions that benefit his constituents, not himself," she said. "It raises a lot of questions about the potential misuse of his position."

"Bills ‘Sponsored’ in Sacramento by Outside Groups Usually Become Law"

Great to speak with John Myers of KQED for this. 

“Whenever people try to influence elected officials, I think it is better for the public to know,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who specializes in governance ethics. “When bills are sponsored, the key is to give the public as much information as possible.”

Open wide: California dentists pony up for state Senate candidate

Great to speak with Carla Marinucci of the San Francisco Chronicle for this one.

Jessica Levinson, who teaches law and political ethics at Loyola Law School of Los Angeles, said the dentists’ efforts on Bonilla’s behalf dramatize how state interest groups — just like big national players — rely on special expenditures to boost their legislative agendas.

“It’s the way we do business now in Sacramento. It’s the way we do business in city halls, county seats and the nation’s capital,” Levinson said. “Independent expenditure groups spend money ... because they think candidates will do something beneficial for them.” And for legislators who chair key committees, she said, “It’s 'I have this business before you — and you’re in control of a decision.’”

Friday, April 10, 2015

"Ex-district attorney suggests ways to bolster ethics rules"

Good to talk with Imran Ghori of the Press Enterprise for this piece.   

“You can’t just have a code,” she said by phone last month. “You have to make sure the code is enforced, otherwise it will be largely ignored.”

Thursday, April 9, 2015

"California lawmakers’ campaign debt piled high in 2014"

Great to talk to Jim Miller of the Sacramento Bee for this article

“You’re not giving to them so they run a competitive campaign. You’re not giving to them so they can get their message out,” campaign-law expert Jessica Levinson, vice president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, said of campaign donors. “The purpose is, ‘Help me out. I need to retire my campaign debt.’ It’s much more of a specific goal.”

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article17581991.html#storylink=cpy

Saturday, April 4, 2015

"Kamala Harris’ 'bizarre’ move: no press at kickoff event"

Always wonderful to talk to Carla Marinucci of the San Francisco Chronicle. 

“I think, frankly, it’s not a bad calculation. ... She needs time to ramp up and know all the issues. She definitely doesn’t want a 'Katie Couric-Sarah Palin’ moment,” Levinson said, referring to the disastrous interview when Palin was a vice presidential candidate in 2008.
“There’s a big difference between being an attorney general and a U.S. senator,” and answers to the complex questions ahead may require a lot of in-depth preparation, Levinson said. That’s especially true in the age of social media, where answers live forever on YouTube and other sites.
Levinson said there’s no danger that Harris will be put in the same camp as Meg Whitman, the 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate who famously sidestepped reporters’ questions, literally running away from them at one point.
Harris “has seen the microphone before and seems to enjoy it,” Levinson said. “I don’t think she will implode, but she has kicked off her campaign much earlier than other candidates and she is someone who wants finessed answers.”
Harris may also be betting that it is “more harmful for her to have a fairly substantive mistake than it is not to invite the press” to a fundraiser, though she added that in the future, media access will be vital to her perception as a credible candidate.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

"Thanks to Obama, the New World of Campaign Finance Is Unlimited and Undisclosed"

Great to talk to Michael Bender of Bloomberg News for this one

“If you really want to influence a candidate, or a future candidate, you give to an outside group,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who specializes in election law. “Direct contributions and bundling are increasingly becoming a way of the past.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"Kamala Harris challenge to 'kill the gays' initiative may fail but still looks shrewd"

Nice to speak with Anita Chabira for this piece in the Guardian.   

“It’s not about the winning,” says Loyola law professor and election law expert Jessica Levinson about Harris’s decision to go to court. “She may feel that this is morally the right thing to do, but I think this is more of a move to impress upon everyone that you have left no stone unturned.”

"California Lawmakers' Spring Break Destinations: Japan, Cuba"

Great to talk to Ben Adler for Capitol Public Radio for this piece.

“We can absolutely look at some of these trips and say, oh, come on, you just wanted a vacation that was paid for by your campaign contributors,” Loyola Law School Professor Jessica Levinson.

But she says it’s important to judge each trip on its own merits. “Not every trip is like that. I think some of these trips are actually useful, fact-finding missions.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"California attorney general to ask judge to halt 'shoot the gays' initiative"

Nice to speak with Anita Chabira for this piece in the Guardian.   

Loyola law school professor and election law expert Jessica Levinson agreed with that opinion, adding that Harris would likely ask the judge to “kick it off because it is clearly unconstitutional”. Levinson added that it is unclear how the court would rule, however. California judges have traditionally been loath to interfere with the initiative process, preferring to wait until an issue becomes law.

But she adds: “If there is ever a case where a judge would throw something out, this is it.”

"Rep. Mike Honda’s granddaughter a transgender icon at 8"

Wonderful to speak with Carla Marinucci of the San Francisco Chronicle for this one. 

“Politicians make their families part of the political debate all the time ... but once you thrust the family into the public forum, they are fair game for the debate,” said law Professor Jessica Levinson, who teaches politics, ethics and privacy issues at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “And in this case, you’re thrusting an 8-year-old into the public debate at a really delicate time.”

Levinson said Honda deserves credit for publicly supporting his granddaughter, but she noted that in doing so, he has exposed her to a harsh limelight, possibly for years, at a time when she may be “really below the threshold for knowing consent.”

Oftentimes, “8-year-olds and 28-year-olds have different understandings of repercussions,” especially with regard to social media, Levinson said.

"Police Advocacy Group Leaves Few Fingerprints"

Great to talk with Rachel Baye for this piece in Time.

In down-ballot races like those for state supreme court, the secrecy of such nonprofits is particularly problematic, because the groups may be the only ones offering information about the candidates, according to Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who specializes in election law.

“People typically aren’t as ill-informed about who’s running for president or governor or even secretary of state as they are about judicial races,” Levinson said. “A few well-placed radio or TV ads can make a big difference because that can be the only thing that people remember about the candidate.

"Learn An Entire Semester Of Campaign Finance Law In Less Than 4 Minutes"

Thanks to Huffington Post Live for having me on to discuss. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

"Sen. Janet Nguyen’s misguided notion of banning bans"

My latest op-ed in the Sacramento Bee. 

Let’s talk about people who have served and continue to serve our country. Let’s talk about making sure that they have jobs, educations and health care. Let’s have a debate about how best to treat those Americans who risk their lives to keep us safe. Those are actual and important issues that need attention. The same is not true of the ability of a student council to vote for the removal of an American flag.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/article14787707.html#storylink=cpy

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"Will the Supreme Court Allow Legislators to Dilute Voting Power?"

My latest op-ed is up on Pacific Standard Magazine. 

Here is an excerpt:

The substantive issue in the case essentially boils down to whether the word “legislature” can include the public when it exercises its power to enact laws via the initiative process and repeal laws via the referendum. Put another way, does the term “legislature” just refer to the group of elected lawmakers who sit in state capitols, or can it also include the people when they act like lawmakers? If it is the former, the ability of Arizona and likely California’s independent redistricting commissions to draw congressional district lines is, as the kids say, “so over.”

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Who will replace Senator Barbara Boxer? Who won in Los Angeles last week?

I will be on NBC's "News Conference" on Sunday at 7:45 a.m. talking about elections in Los Angeles and who is likely to replace Senator Barbara Boxer.