Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Political Committee Funds: Not for Love Interests or Business Startups

A word to the wise: Just when you thought "silly season" ended with the election, it did not.
Last week, California's political watchdog agency imposed two fines on treasurers of political committees for misuse of funds. In the first case the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) fined a treasurer of a committee formed to support the decriminalization of prostitution for loaning dancer at a strip club money. Strangely enough (insert sarcasm here), a treasurer of a political committee cannot use committee's funds to make loans to love interests.
The loan was apparently to pay expenses related to a family law case and plastic surgery. Again, oddly enough, those expenses do not count as proper expenses for the political committee formed to decriminalize prostitution.
The FPPC acted quickly and fined Luke Briet almost $10,000. The apparent loan of $3,000 has not been repaid.
But the fun doesn't stop there. The FPPC also fined another treasurer, Michael Gunter, of a different political committee. Gunter's violation was based on using $10,000 of the committee's funds to start his own business. He was the treasurer for the Californians for Privacy Committee -- I'm guessing he would have preferred to keep many of his activities private (ba-dum ching!).
None of these violations rise to the level of now-infamous campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee. She, thanks in large part to the investigation and subsequent actions by the FPPC, was recently sentenced to eight years in prison and ordered to pay $10.5 million in restitution to her victims.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Did Super PACs Make a Difference in the 2012 Election?

Across the country during the last election cycle, billions of dollars in outside spending were put into races, and right here in Southern California, there is one race that appears to exemplify how much that influence can have on campaigns.

Incumbent Congressman Joe Baca recently lost to another Democrat, State Senator Negrete McLeod. Baca and McLeod had raised less than $1 million between the two of them. But then a funny thing happened on the way to Election Day. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg poured more than $ 3 million of his very sizable personal fortune (estimated at about $25 billion) into the San Bernardino County race.

Bloomberg's Super PAC, Independence USA, spent money on television advertisements and campaign mailers. Why? Well, Bloomberg is a staunch gun control advocate and Baca is a pro-gun Democrat.

While we may never know the true effects of outside campaign spending in races throughout the country, the Baca-McLeod race points to the strong influence that outside spending can have in some instances. In this case Bloomberg's Super PAC spent more than three times the amount raised by both candidate campaigns combined. It is possible that Independence USA simply grabbed the biggest microphone in the race and the people listened.

In addition, it is notable that paid forms of communication (television advertisements and mailers) are still the primary mode of electoral communication. Although members of the electorate may increasingly get their information on the internet, they are still watching and reading advertisements that cost money.

Finish reading this post on KCET.org.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

New court rules; clinic break-in

Quoted in this one in the Press Enterprise.

Picketing and proselytizing are prohibited at San Bernardino County courthouses under an order issued Nov. 19 by Presiding Judge Marsha Slough.

Does the new order trample the First Amendment?

The central courthouse has been picketed by people protesting judges’ decisions or county supervisors’ actions. Did that prompt the ban? No, picketers were not the target, Slough said.

The order came in response to complaints from people waiting in lines to get into the Rancho Cucamonga courthouse who were being aggressively proselytized by people for religious views.

Waits to get through security checkpoints can be as long as half an hour or more, and people who have business with the court were a captive audience, she said.

In order not to target any group or viewpoint, the order simply bars threatening, confronting, interfering with or harassing anyone entering any county courthouse.

I spoke to two First Amendment experts. Both said the order appears within constitutional bounds.

“Whenever the government makes restrictions on who’s speaking … we’re very nervous about censorship,” said Jessica Levinson, professor at Loyola Law School.

But if the order is neutral regarding the content of the speech, the court can place restrictions on “time, place or manner,” she said.

Terry Francke, general counsel for open-government advocates Californians Aware, said courts are allowed to control expressive activities on property they own. But that doesn’t extend to the public sidewalk.

Slough’s order applies just to the walkways where people gather to enter the courthouses. Volunteers who monitor the lines and help people with directions will watch for violators; deputies are in charge of enforcement.