Friday, August 31, 2012

CBS This Morning

Scheduled to be on CBS This Morning on Monday 9/3 talking about, among other things, red light cameras. 

Political Fundraising in California Picks Up Steam, But Why?

Have you ever wondered why politicians seem to be able to raise more money at certain times, whether or not an election is on the horizon?

As the legislative session winds down in California tonight, there are dozens of bills waiting to be acted on. Many of these bills would have serious consequences -- for better or for worse -- for special interests across the state.

As the Los Angeles Times earlier this month, more than 70 fundraisers were planned for the first two weeks of August -- apparently during one hour two weeks ago nearly a dozen fundraisers were scheduled, even for legislators who are not up for reelection this November.
This is, of course, is no coincidence.
With so many bills pushed up against a deadline, lobbyists and special interests want to get the ear of legislators right before voting.
The level of fundraising must be disheartening for the vast majority of constituents who cannot spend thousands of dollars to pay for time at the racetrack, around the barbeque, or at a multi-day "policy retreat" with an elected official. It strains common sense to pretend that these fundraising events do not, at least in part, provide a way for those who would be affected by bills pending in the legislature to have the ear of elected officials. It similarly strains common sense to think that the average constituent can gain this type of access. Further, this end of the session fundraising fever does little to instill any confidence in our elected officials.
I wrote a lengthy law review article last year, in which I argued that just as the government can limit the size of campaign contributions, it should also limit when contributions can be given. Properly tailored temporal limits on campaign contributions could at the very least help to lessen the appearance of impropriety, which can arise from an increase in fundraising when many bills are being voted on.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Supervisors approve campaign finance ordinance

Quoted in this article.

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School and local government expert, called the ordinance a "good appearance position" for the county. 

"San Bernardino (County) has had a bad reputation, in many ways earned, as basically having public officials who don't serve the public's trust," Levinson said Tuesday. "So I think that limiting campaign contributions and campaign disclosure is a step in the right direction. I think it sends a message." 

But Levinson feels the limits are still too high. She said campaign contribution limits for state legislators do not necessarily translate well for candidates seeking local office, whose campaigns may be less expensive and have a smaller pool of supporters. 

Tuesday's board action comes roughly a month after Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law another of Rutherford's proposals: to have the state Fair Political Practices Commission enforce the county's campaign finance laws. 

Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley, backed the proposal and introduced the bill. 

"It's not right for us to try to appoint people to enforce our own ethics rules," Rutherford said Tuesday. "We need an outside watchdog - fair, independent, effective, nonpartisan - we believe we're going to get that in a contract with the FPPC." 

The county is still negotiating a contract with the state political watchdog, Rutherford said. 

Levinson said the county's move to have the FPPC enforce its campaign-finance ordinance is one of the most progressive things it has done in recent memory. 

"To me, if you're going to have these limitations and disclosure rules in place, you have to have some agency enforce it," Levinson said. "Unless there's an enforcement agency there, I'm not convinced there's any teeth to these laws and rules. I think it was a great decision."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY: Contribution limits approved

Quoted in this article

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles specializing in election law, said the county is seen, “whether it’s fair or not, as a hotbed of corruption.”
She said the new rules show that “the county is taking this seriously.”

Monday, August 13, 2012

California Reformers: Beware of Paying for Attorney's Fees

Less-than-wealthy and would-be litigants everywhere might be rightly reluctant to wage cases challenging portions of California's elections laws anytime soon.

Last week a California superior court judge ruled that a group of plaintiffs who unsuccessfully challenged California's new open primary, top-two election law should pay the attorney's fees of those arguing in favor of the law's validity. The price tag for those fees is close to one quarter million dollars.
Our story begins back in June of 2010 when California voters passed Proposition 14. That measure created our current open primary, top-two election system. In the primary election any voter can vote for any candidate, regardless of party affiliation. In the general election the two candidates who receive the most votes, again regardless of party affiliation, compete. The purpose of this measure was, in part, to elect more moderate lawmakers. That goal may or may not be achieved.
After the ballot measure was passed it was very predictably challenged in court. Among the challenges are claims that the law impermissibly prohibits the counting of write-in votes and harms the rights of minor party voters and candidates. (I authored a lengthy law review article on this second claim).
In essence, Prop 14 may be problematic for minor parties for two reasons. First, minor party candidates are unlikely to be among the top-two voter getters, and therefore will not appear on the general election ballot. Second, the easiest way to remain a ballot-qualified party is to obtain a certain number of votes in the general election. If candidates do not appear in the general election then they will need to tread more difficult paths to remain ballot qualified. If parties lose that ballot qualified status then minor party candidates will be forced to designate their party preference as "no party preference" when in fact they do have such a preference.
Plaintiffs were unsuccessful in their challenge to Prop 14, and now they may be forced to pay a huge price for their decision by paying for the attorney's fees of those defending the measure. Interestingly, plaintiffs sued the state and then Charles Munger and other proponents of Prop 14 intervened in the suit and argued in favor of the measure. It is the intervenors, not the state, who asked for attorney's fees.
Awarding attorneys fees to the winning side of a case makes all the sense in the world when litigants bring a frivolous case or sue in bad faith. However, the position of the plaintiffs in the Prop 14 suit was, while ultimately unsuccessful, neither. The judge awarded the attorney's fees based on a finding that the suit did not vindicate a public interest.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Attorney says he threatened councilman with recall; DA investigating

Quoted in this article in the San Bernardino Sun.

Attorney Tim Prince told Councilman Chas Kelley he would pursue a recall if and only if Kelley voted against putting charter repeal on November's ballot, Prince said Tuesday.
"I expressly told him, I don't expect you to personally support repeal of the charter. What I do expect and demand of you is that you give the people the right to vote," Prince said. "Despite all the errors he's made, despite driving us into bankruptcy, he could have just let the people have their say."
The District Attorney's Office received a complaint Tuesday and is investigating, said spokesman Chris Lee.
Kelley said he considered the threat to be an attempted bribe.
"Someone was trying to coerce my vote, and that's inappropriate, unacceptable, and I made that quite clear yesterday," he said on Tuesday.
California penal code defines a bribe as "anything of value or advantage" given or promised with a "corrupt intent to influence."
That probably wouldn't apply to a threat to do something that is legal, said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School.
"It's certainly a threat, but is it chargeable? I'm not sure," she said. "It's along the lines of, 'I'm not going to vote for Jerry Brown unless he pursues pension reform."'

Monday, August 6, 2012

Proposition 32: Another Money Pit?

One of my least favorite things about the ballot initiatives process is the huge sums that those in favor and against these measures typically shell out during the election cycle. This is particularly true for the initiatives which, like bad pennies, just keep coming back every few election cycles. Proposition 32, the so-called "Paycheck Protection" initiative is no exception.
The measure, if approved, would prohibit union and corporate contributions to state and local officials (which may be only a minor problem for these groups because they can just make independent expenditures), prohibit contributions from government contractors to politicians who have a say over their contracts, and prohibit corporations and unions from using automatic payroll deductions for political purposes without their members' permission. That last prohibition will likely cut the legs out from under unions when it comes to their ability to raise and spend political funds. Under our current campaign finance system such a decrease in fundraising and spending ability correlates to a marked drop in political power.
If Prop 32 sounds familiar, it should. We've seen it before in 2005 and in 1998. In less than fifteen years we've seen the same idea on the ballot three times. And yet, here we are again -- fundraising, spending, and fighting.
Those against Prop 32 have raised more than $18 million. Opponents of the initiative are likely to outspend proponents. (See who's funding both sides of the issue here.)
It is somewhat difficult to predict how Prop 32 will fare. Spending against proposed measures is typically more effective than spending for those measures. That would indicate that this proposal is headed for its third defeat. However, voters are likely harboring greater anti-union sentiments than they were in the past few years.
One has to wonder whether those whose paychecks are funding the anti-Prop 32 war, the paychecks that measure would purportedly protect, would have preferred not to wage this battle at all.