Friday, June 28, 2013

Got Prop 8? The VRA? And Voter Registration?

Here are links to my most recent SCOTUS-related op-eds.

The Supreme Court Rules There Is No One Left Standing To Appeal Prop. 8

Who’s Killing the Voting Rights Act, Congress or the Supreme Court?

Did Justice Scalia Just Make It Easier To Register To Vote?

The Supreme Court Rules There Is No One Left Standing To Appeal Prop. 8

My latest op-ed is up on Jurist, here

Here is the introduction:

In a 5-4 opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the US Supreme Court has ruled that there is simply no one left standing to appeal California's infamous 2008 ballot initiative, Proposition 8. Prop 8, as the entire world now knows, amended the California State Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman to the exclusion of same-sex marriages.

In the much-anticipated case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Court avoided the larger, and more politically charged issue potentially presented by the case: whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits California from defining marriage as between a man and a woman. This question raises the issues of whether gays and lesbians are members of a so-called "suspect class" and whether there is a "fundamental" right to marry.

Chief Justice Roberts ruled on narrower grounds, finding that proponents of ballot initiatives lack the "standing" under Article III, ¨ 2 of the Constitution. Standing, the Court reiterated, is necessary to appeal a case in federal court.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Battle Over CA's Public Records Act Was Actually a Budget Deal

Some of you may have gotten whiplash following the latest kerfuffle over California's Public Records Act (CPRA).
First, as part of the budget deal it looked like there would be limited access to government documents. Why? Because the deal provided that the CPRA would be suspended, instead of paid for from state coffers. Specifically, the state is required to reimburse local agencies for the cost of compliance. The anticipated cost of the CPRA totals in the tens of millions of dollars.
Under the budget plan, local agencies would have the ability to opt out of certain portions of the law, those requiring local agencies to help people trying to access information, provide respond to record requests within 10 days, and furnish people with electronic records when they are obtainable.
Then, predictably, there was a significant backlash. And then, equally predictably, legislators reacted. At the end of last week two State Senators introduced a constitutional amendment purportedly intended to strengthen the CPRA. State President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D - Sacramento) and State Senator Mark Leno (D - San Francisco) introduced an amendment, which would require that local agencies comply with and pay the costs of complying with the CPRA.

Who’s Killing the Voting Rights Act, Congress or the Supreme Court?

I have a new op-ed in Pacific Standard. 

Here is the last paragraph:

What Congress gave voting rights activists with the creation and re-authorization of Section 5, it took away with its inaction regarding Section 4. And now the Supreme Court has done its part.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What will the Supreme Court say re DOMA & Prop 8?

I'll be on the local ABC news (@ABC7) tonight at 6pm talking about what the Supreme Court is likely to do tomorrow re DOMA and Prop 8.

Down goes Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act

Today, in Shelby v. Holder, the Court's much-anticipated decision regarding the Voting Rights Act, the Court ruled that Section 4 of that act is unconstitutional. Section 4 contains the so-called "coverage formula," used to determine which jurisdictions will be subject to Section 5. Section 5, in turn, requires that certain jurisdictions "pre-clear" any voting changes with the federal government. The Court ruled that the coverage formula, based on voter registration and turnout information from the '60s and '70s, is invalid.
Much more to come. 

Ms. Ravel and Mr. Goodman Go to Washington?

My latest piece on the Huffington Post is here.

Here is an excerpt:

President Obama recently announced the nomination of Democrat Ann Ravel and a Republican Lee Goodman to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Ravel is currently the Chairwoman of the California's watchdog agency, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). She previously served as deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Division of the Department of Justice and was the County Counsel for Santa Clara County, in California.

Goodman is an attorney at the LeClair Ryan law firm who served as an adviser for Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign and who has argued for the overturning of campaign finance laws.

Many of you may be asking what the FEC does. Great question. I have a short answer for you: virtually nothing. The FEC is an independent regulatory agency charged with administering and enforcing federal campaign finance laws. Small problem, the FEC doesn't do that.

In the 1970s, in the wake of the Watergate scandals that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, Congress enacted the nation's first comprehensive campaign finance framework, the Federal Election Campaign Act. Congress created the FEC to administer and enforce the provisions of the Act. Essentially the FEC should, among other things, work on issues related to campaign disclosure, restrictions on campaign contributions, and public financing of Presidential elections. These issues are vitally important to the integrity of our electoral and political processes.

One of the problems with the FEC is that it is set up to allow for partisan deadlock. The FEC is comprised of six members, there can be no more than three members of the same political party, and four votes are required for the agency to take any action.

Another problem is that the five current members of the FEC are all serving expired terms. These "holdovers" include three Republicans and two Democrats.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Supreme Court, Rusty the red panda, and Snowden...

As the morning wears on I have grown increasingly concerned that Rusty the red panda has absconded with the Supreme Court's much-anticipated decisions re DOMA, Prop 8, and the VRA, and has headed out trying to find Snowden, who wants to publish the opinions himself. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Pres. Obama taps FPPC Chair, Ann Ravel, for the FEC

President Obama just announced that he nominated Ann Ravel, the Chairwoman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, to the Federal Elections Commission. I have every confidence that Ann would be a terrific commissioner. She has fought hard for increased disclosure and transparency during her tenure at the FPPC. She continues to wage battles against so-called "dark money" and to push for greater civic engagement. She is smart and practical and I believe she'd make an enormously important contribution as a commissioner on the FEC.

Did Justice Scalia Just Make It Easier To Register To Vote?

My latest op-ed is up on Jurist

Here is the last paragraph:

So for those seeing Justice Scalia's decision as a clear statement in favor of easing voter registration requirements, that is simply not the case. This case dealt with whether a federal statute preempts a state law. And the majority gave states a clear roadmap for establishing more stringent voter registration requirements.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The SEC and Dark Political Money

Ciara Torres-Spelliscy blogs re the SEC and dark money here.

Are San Bernardino Recall Efforts Worth the Time and Money?

There is a concerted effort underway to toss out the majority of the City of San Bernardino's elected officials. The recall is targeted at the mayor, the city attorney, and all seven members of the city council. This is significant if only for the sheer number of elected officials that recall proponents are seeking to toss out of office.
I discussed this issue during a "live chat" hosted by the Los Angeles News Group.
Proponents of the recall contend that San Bernardino's elected officials are responsible for driving the city into bankruptcy. Those opposed claim that the recall is actually about the desire of the proponents to sell the city's water system for their own benefit. Opponents are busy circulating an "anti-recall" petition. I will not weigh in here on the propriety of either argument.
Those pushing for the recall are undoubtedly taking an aggressive, partly symbolic stand. The mayor and three City Council members are already up for re-election in November, when the recall election would be held. Further, the mayor has already stated that he will not run for another term.


The Supreme Court handed down one decision related to election law today. You can find it here.

Justice Scalia wrote the opinion for a 7-2 majority of the Court. The majority found that federal law, the National Voter Registration Act, preemptions state law in this area. The Arizona law required proof of citizenship prior to registering to vote.

More to come.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Total recall -- what does it take to boot elected officials from office?

Looking forward to taking part in this on Monday 6/17/13. 

"Tensions are running high in San Bernardino, where 10 elected leaders are targeted in a massive recall that could change the face of local government and send a pointed message to officials statewide - shape up or face voters' wrath.

Join Loyola professor Jessica Levinson, reporter Ryan Hagen and editorial writer Jessica Keating at noon Monday for a live, interactive chat about the recall process in light of the recent attempt to remove all the elected officials from office in the bankrupt city of San Bernardino.

Pose a question or share your thoughts on the recall and its implications. You can join the conversation here Monday, or send your questions in advance to"

Thursday, June 13, 2013

FBI raid reveals need for – and hurdles to – reform

Here is my latest op-ed in today's Sac Bee.

"Calderon is perhaps the latest poster child for politicians behaving badly, but unless there are significant, structural reforms made to our electoral and legislative processes, he will certainly not be the last."

Read more here:"

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Illegal or Immoral? FBI's Look into Legislator Shines Light on Possible Loopholes

Read the beginning of this article on 

The brothers contended that the gifts improved legislative relations between them. It appears that this is all perfectly legal, as is much of Sen. Calderon's activities. For instance, years ago he apologized after inviting hundreds of lobbyists to a fundraiser for the "banking and finance" sector. The reception was held after he was named chairman of the Assembly's Banking and Finance Committee and cost $3,200 per couple. While seemingly distasteful, it does not appear the fundraiser was illegal.
Sen. Calderon also gained some attention recently when he sought upgrades costing approximately $500 to his state-provided car prior to buying that car for personal use.
Does this mean that we should insist on tighter rules regulating gift giving, fundraising, and other activities? Well, no doubt, many of these laws deserve a hard look and the state's watchdog, the Fair Political Practices Commission, has already been doing a wonderful job of doing just that. All of these laws must balance the need to ensure that public officials serve the public, and not themselves, all while not having them work under an overly burdensome, complex, or even confusing regulatory framework. We should not regulate our officials into oblivion or assume that they will always push regulations to the extreme.
But let me be clear, I do not think that regulations are futile. It sometimes feels that with every regulation another loophole will arise and be exploited. But regulatory work is, as I said, a delicate balancing act. And too often regulators are working against the greedy aspects of human nature.
It appears that Calderon used the benefits of public office to his advantage in a fashion that many find somewhere between distasteful and immoral. But not all of his actions are illegal. It in fact remains to be seen whether any are.
Calderon will be termed out in 2014. He is now raising money for possible runs for Assembly or state controller. If you do not like his behavior, a quick way of sending a message to Calderon and others who may share his philosophy is not to vote for him. There is no regulation that can make up for apathetic voters who fail to voice their opinion at the ballot box.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Money Spent on Losing Candidates and Props Makes a Difference

It is estimated that over $50 million was spent on the May 21, 2013 Los Angeles City elections. Approximately 20 percent of registered voters, or 400,000 people, cast a ballot, meaning that more than $100 was spent on each voter. This should be a staggering amount.
People often ask me if money spent on behalf of losing candidates or losing ballot measures makes a difference. There is a common misconception that money spent to support candidates or ballot measures that were unsuccessful is merely wasted. I disagree.
Money spent in elections, whether for victorious or unsuccessful candidates and measures, matters. When large sums are spent in political campaigns, even when that money is used to support candidates or causes that ultimately lose, the money changes the issues discussed in the campaign. Take, for instance, the heavy spending by LADWP's union to support Wendy Greuel. She lost, but it help shape the tenor of the campaign debate throughout the last several months. Candidates responded, in advertisements and debates, to the union's stated concerns.
Additionally, heavy spenders can help dictate the issues addressed once a candidate ultimately becomes a public official. Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti is, at the very least, well versed in the needs and desires of the LADWP union, as well as those who supported him.
(The flip side here is that other issues import to less-well-funded groups were not given the same level of attention.)
Finish reading this post on

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Whittemore verdict: Citizens United allows big PAC donations, but individual donations still capped

Quoted in this one.  

But some experts said Friday that the McCutcheon focuses on total contributions to all federal candidates, not individual donations to single candidates, so the high court may not talk about the concerns in the Whittemore case.

“There is certainly chatter that the case could put individual contribution limits — the limits that say any person cannot give more than $2,500 to a candidate each election — on shaky ground,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who specializes in campaign finance law.

Monday, June 3, 2013

More Campaign Disclosure Coming to California, But It's Not Enough

As we finish celebrating the unofficial beginning of summer, those in favor of more robust campaign disclosure can already start looking forward to the unofficial end of the season. 
By Labor Day, California's campaign finance database will be downloadable, Secretary of State Debra Bowen has announced.
This is a big step forward for advocates of campaign disclosure and transparency. As it stands the Cal-Access database (which should perhaps be re-named the Cal-Lack-Of-Access Database) allows visitors to download information by committee. This imposes a significant burden on any users seeking to obtain a comprehensive view of campaign finance data. The change will allow visitors to download the entire campaign finance database in one sheet.
This marks a difference between information that is disclosed online and information that is disclosed in a way that is actually useful for visitors.
Bowen's decision marks an about-face from her previous position that this change would not be cost-effective. After discussions with members of the reform community, Bowen apparently changed her mind. The prior request for the database change was signed by media outlets and nonprofit organizations including MapLight, the Los Angeles Times, the Sacramento Bee, Common Cause, California Forward, and the Sunlight Foundation.
Although campaign disclosure is vitally important, this database is not a panacea. In an era of PACs and SuperPACs that do not disclose their donors we need more than information that is easy to download. We need that information to be useful and understandable. To use a fictional example, the utility of knowing that Americans for Apple Pie spent $14 million in races throughout California may pale in comparison to knowing who is actually behind Americans for Apple Pie. The Chairwoman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, Ann Ravel, has been among those leading the charge for smarter disclosure in California.