Friday, March 30, 2012

The City of Angels: Where are the Women in L.A. Government?

A question in honor of women's history month: Do women now run Los Angeles?

I recently attended a lecture hosted by Zocalo Public Square in which author and journalist Liza Mundy asked, "What will happen to coupledom when most women out-earn their male partners?" In numerous big cities, like Los Angeles, a significant percentage of women are making more than their male partners.

This lecture made me think, what if we look not at earning among heterosexual couples, but at representation in government? So I'll ask again, do women run Los Angeles?

If we look just at elected government posts, the answer seems to be a clear "no." In the City Council fourteen of our fifteen representatives are male. The numbers are similar on the county level. Four of our five members of the Board of Supervisors are male. The pattern continues when we look at the makeup of the members of our state assembly. Of the seventeen Assembly members representing portions of Los Angeles, twelve are men. The numbers tell a similar story in the state's upper house. Of the twelve members of the California State Senate representing areas of Los Angeles only three are women. The numbers shift considerably, however, when we look at members of Congress representing Los Angeles. Half of the fourteen member of Congress hailing from Los Angeles are women.

What do those numbers tell us? Many things, but perhaps the most obvious being that most people in Los Angeles are represented by a male in city, county or state government.

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We the Corporations?: The Constitutionality of Limitations on Corporate Electoral Speech After Citizens United

My latest law review article, published in the University of San Francisco Law Review, is now available on SSRN here.

Here is the abstract:

Corporations are not, in fact, living, breathing human beings, and therefore should not be treated as such in the campaign finance context. While this may seem like an obvious statement and conclusion, a majority of the United States Supreme Court does not agree. In its much-maligned January 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Court held - in sweeping and conclusory language - that when it comes to spending money for or against political candidates, corporations should be treated identical to human beings. That conclusion is not only wrong, but is also ill-conceived.

This Article uses Citizens United as a vehicle to provide an initial look at the relationship between the theories of the First Amendment and the conceptions of the corporate form, studied through the lens of electoral speech. This Article broadly explores the interplay between the speech interests of corporations and their members in engaging in electoral speech and the different theories of the corporate personality. Against that backdrop, this Article discusses a number of reasons why - contrary to what the majority said in Citizens United - the government has a compelling interest in limiting corporate electoral speech.

In the campaign finance context, the Court should be concerned with the interests of distinct but overlapping groups - spenders' interests in speaking, the government's interest in curbing corruption and promoting speech rights, and non-spending speakers' and listeners' interests in speaking and hearing political speech. The interests of each of these groups are furthered by restrictions on for-profit corporate electoral spending.

In arguing that for-profit corporations should not be treated as identical to individuals and some non-profit corporations, this Article focuses on one type of speech by corporations - the ability of corporations to spend unlimited general treasury funds on advertisements advocating the election or defeat of candidates. The provision of federal law overturned by the Supreme Court in Citizens United addressed only this issue, but the Court made sweeping conclusions about the purported impermissibility of speaker-based identity restrictions.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Behested Contributions: Good, Bad or Ugly?

While we have campaign contribution limits in California, there are plenty of ways to spend substantial sums of money in an attempt to gain access to, or influence over, elected officials or candidates. Individuals and groups can, for instance, spend unlimited sums on advertisements supporting a candidate or denigrating her opponent, as long as those advertisements are not coordinated with the candidate's campaign.
Individuals and groups can also give so-called "behested contributions." These are contributions have been widely publicized lately. They are made to outside organizations at the behest (or request) of a candidate or elected official. This undoubtedly provides individuals or groups who have already given the maximum campaign contribution to a candidate with an avenue to attempt to curry favor with that candidate. In this way behested contributions can be seen as an end-run around contribution limits.
But behested contributions can do more than make a candidate look with favor upon a particular contributor, they can do a great deal of good to very needy and worthwhile causes. Officeholders and candidates form and support nonprofits and charities that provide scholarships, funding for schools, food to food shelters, and assistance preparing taxes.
As long as these charities are legitimate charities serving worthwhile causes it is difficult for me to argue that these contributions should be curtailed. If contributors are truly giving just to influence politicians and we decide to curtail the amount they can give to charities at the behest of those politicians, then contributors may simply start making independent expenditures instead. I would far prefer this money go to charities and nonprofits. Particularly now, in these difficult economic times, charities need all the money they can get.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Coliseum case widens; six are charged

I am quoted in this article on the front page of the Los Angeles Times.

In a public corruption scandal that has tarred one of the city's most treasured landmarks, six men were charged Friday with bilking the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum out of millions of dollars during a six-year spree of embezzlement, bribery and kickbacks.

Among those named in a 29-count indictment were three former managers of the taxpayer-owned Coliseum and two of the nation's most prominent rave promoters, Insomniac Inc. Chief Executive Pasquale Rotella and Go Ventures Inc. head Reza Gerami. Both staged major events at the historic stadium and companion Sports Arena.

Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who studies public corruption, likened the Coliseum case to the scandal in the city of Bell, where eight public officials were charged with enriching themselves through illegally inflated salaries and other means.

"This type of corruption and rank flouting of the law doesn't happen every day," Levinson said.

There's A Lack of Good (Political) News in Los Angeles

Goodbye winter, hello spring. In Los Angeles the change of the seasons is often imperceptible. One day with a high in the high 60s or low 70s dissolves into another with little ado. But there is another climate that I talk about in these blog posts: the political climate.

As I sat down to think about what to write about, almost all of the news seemed both predictable and discouraging. Let's take the local redistricting effort as but one example. Last week the Los Angeles City council approved a plan laying out new district lines. Almost all of the news articles about the new lines include words and phrases like, "corruption," "inside job," "lawsuit threats," "legal remedies," "joke,"
"pandering," "backroom deals," and "self-interest." That about describes too many redistricting efforts across the country -- particularly where an independent commission does not draw the lines. But the point is, there was little good news to write about on that topic.

The other big political story in Los Angeles this week seems to be about the Los Angeles Fire Department's (LAFD) problems regarding response times and how the department recently stopped providing the public with rescue response information. One of the more recent articles on this topic reports that Mayor Villaraigosa has asked the LAFD chief to disclose that information. That hardly seems like a happy tale.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Should Judges Have to Post Financial Disclosure Statements Online?

Sunlight is the best disinfectant, right? Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis thought so. I myself have repeatedly argued that to maintain (or rebuild) the integrity of the political and electoral processes we must have meaningful disclosure. This includes disclosure of campaign funding. If money is speech in the political marketplace then the public has a right to know who is speaking. But this also includes disclosure of economic interests. If elected officials purport to represent our best interests then I would like to know to which interests they might be indebted.

However, this argument in favor of disclosure has limits. Disclosure, for instance, should not come at the cost of bona fide security risks. The decision of when, how and what to disclose is, therefore, often a balancing act.

Just last week the state's political watchdog agency, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), heard testimony and considered how best to strike this balance in the context of financial disclosure forms submitted by California judges. One of the questions addressed by the FPPC was whether and how to make those forms available online.

Judges, quite obviously, face security threats that many others submitting financial disclosure forms do not. Criminal judges put people in jail. Civil judges often make rulings that lead to the unhappiness of at least one party to a suit. There are, in other words, numerous people who at any given time may wish judges harm. This is not a hypothetical or imagined threat. It is real and palpable.

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Would Adding More Politicians to the City Council Help Los Angeles?

I know what you're thinking: The last thing we need is more politicians. You might say, even if our elected officials didn't get us into this fiscal mess, they haven't done enough to get us out. Los Angeles needs money; it has too many expenses for its revenue. We've cut services for city residents and pay for city workers.

So why on earth should we hire more politicians? Should we consider expanding the size of our fifteen-person city council? A recent Los Angeles Times Editorial says yes.

Currently there are almost four million people living in Los Angeles, which means each city council person represents approximately 267,000 people. In the 1920s, when the size of the city council increased from 9 to 15 members, L.A.'s population was 576,000, less than the size of two of today's 15 city council districts. Back then each city council person represented about 38,000 people; today each represent 15 times more people.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

2012 Republican June Primary: California Could Matter

Time for me to eat my words? I recently wrote about the importance (or lack there of) of California in presidential politics. I essentially argued that California's importance in the 2012 election was limited to that of an ATM machine -- candidates come here to raise money, but not to serious campaign for votes.

Was I wrong? Well, not with respect to the general election. With 55 electoral votes, California has more electoral votes than any other state in the nation. Based on registration numbers -- Democrats comprise 44% of registered voters, Republicans constitute approximately 31% of that population and decline to state voters make up a little over 20% of registered voters -- there won't be much of a dog fight for California in the general election.

However, California could play a role in picking who President Obama's opponent will be. California does not hold its primary election until June 5. Typically this is late enough in the primary season that the parties have already picked their nominees. Maybe not this time!

As Sherry Bebitch Jeffe recently blogged, the Republican needs to take California seriously this time around. If Romney does not sow up the nomination by June, which seems entirely possible, California and its 172 delegates (yes, you read that right, 172) will be vitally important.

The City of Bell: The Never-Ending Scandal

Just when you thought the tales of bad behavior coming out of the city of Bell had come to an end, the scandals just keep on coming. The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), the state's political watchdog, is now investigating incidents involving former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo, former Mayor Oscar Hernandez and former City Councilman Luis Artiga.
The FPPC is smartly focusing its efforts on significant violations of the Political Reform Act. With limited resources the FPPC is initiating investigations and putting resources towards the larger potential violations of the act that could truly threaten the integrity of the political and electoral processes.

Unfortunately, the scandal-plagued city of Bell is proving to be a fertile ground for necessary inquiries and actions by the FPPC. Specifically, the commission is investigating potential significant violations of conflict-of-interest and gift laws. One focus, among other things, are Rizzo-funded trips to his Washington state horse ranch. According to allegations, the former city manager apparently paid for plane tickets for Hernandez (plus his girlfriend and her three children) and Artiga to travel up to his horse ranch.

You may ask how Rizzo could afford to own a horse ranch and pick up the tab for visitors. Well, during his time as Bell's City Manager Rizzo made, at one point, $1.5 million per year. That will no doubt buy a number of plane tickets to a horse ranch. Rizzo may be the poster child for bad behavior, but he was not alone. During his tenure council members were paid $100,000 per year to perform, at best, part-time work.

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Monday, March 5, 2012

California's Addition to Direct Democracy Continues

My latest post on KCET.

Suit up. It is almost time for another election in California. We all know what that means: more ballot initiatives. (Insert sighs, grumbles and other sounds of disappointment here).

In June we will be asked to vote on a proposed cigarette tax. Opponents of the measure -- big tobacco companies, including Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco -- have raised almost $15 million to defeat the measure. But if you're looking for ads from them, it will be much easier for you to look for the committee they have funded, Californians Against Out-of-Control Taxes and Spending. (Note to California legislators, time to improve disclosure and transparency for ballot measure spending).
Proponents of the measure have raised almost $3.2 million. The committee receiving those funds is called Californians for a Cure.

These costly electoral campaigns hardly capture the public's imagination. If anything, they perpetuate the feeling that our government doesn't function well and instead every election we must endure endless battles over the fate of ballot initiatives. For the many who may not differentiate between legislatively-initiated ballot measures and citizen-initiated ballot measures, it just feels like another expensive political campaign.

Here is an idea that will never happen. Let's treat these ballot initiative campaigns like lawsuits. Instead of duking it out and either failing to pass an initiative only to bring it back in the next election, or passing an initiative which will end up being litigated well past the next election, let's try settling. In the case of the cigarette tax, both sides would donate the amount they are prepared to spend supporting or opposing the initiative to the end goal of the initiative. Of course this won't always work (or let's be honest, mostly it won't even be feasible). But in this particular case, this would mean $18 million for cancer research 3 months before the election. There is no doubt that number will rise.

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More Latino Representation in Compton?

One of my recent posts on

Last week the city of Compton agreed to put a measure on the ballot, which would institute voting by district in city council races. Currently, Compton's city council members are elected based on at-large city-wide voting.

The decision came in reaction to criticisms that Latinos are massively underrepresented in city government. Critics of the current system filed a lawsuit under the California Voting Rights Act, contending that Latinos must have a larger voice in local government. Specifically, proponents of the lawsuit argue that the current at-large elections dilute Latino voting power, and that if elections occur on a district basis, there will be at least one majority-Latino district.

Latinos now account for almost two-thirds of the city's nearly 100,000 residents. However, only a percentage of those residents are eligible to vote, because of age and other factors. Latinos make up much less than two-thirds of the members of the city government.

Proponents of the lawsuit and the city agreed to settle the suit by placing a measure of the ballot that would create by-district voting. If the measure fails in June it will be back on the November ballot.

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