Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Appearances Matter in Politics, Especially When You're Under Investigation

Here is another entry for the "politicians exercising questionable judgment" file cabinet, which, unfortunately, continues to fill up on a daily basis.
California State Senator Ronald Calderon is the subject of a federal corruption investigation. Let that sentence linger for a moment, shall we? Calderon is a public servant; by definition he should be serving the public, in this case his constituents. His first responsibility is to represent those in his state senate district. But there is now some question as to whether he is doing that, or whether he used his office for personal gain.
In this situation it would behoove any representative to be particularly thoughtful and careful, to attempt to make decisions which give no fodder to an already-distrustful public. Unfortunately, Calderon appears not to have done that.
Calderon has chosen another scandal-plagued individual, former Bell Gardens City Councilman Mario Beltran, to be the public face of Calderon's office. Beltran is his chief spokesperson. Beltran served on the Bell Gardens city council. He pleaded guilty to misusing campaign money and was convicted of filing a false police report.
Let's assume, because we must, that Calderon is innocent until proven guilty. Let's also take Beltran at his word that he is a changed man and assume he reformed. And let's do more than that. Let's believe, as I do, that people can change and mature, and therefore deserve second chances. The question still remains, is it wise for someone Calderon's position pick someone with Beltran's history to represent him when the public already looks at their representatives with a wary eye? Appearances matter in politics.

Finish reading this post on KCET.org

Saturday, August 24, 2013

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner to resign on Aug. 30

Quoted in this article in Reuters re San Diego Mayor Filner's resignation. 

Jessica Levinson, an associate clinical professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said Filner's only bargaining chip in discussions with the city had been his threat to remain in office.
"It sounds like it's an actual compromise, both sides get something," she said. "Ultimately what San Diego needs is for Filner to step down and for them to have a functioning mayor who's allowed in City Hall, and that the city doesn't fear that if he's allowed around women something bad is going to happen."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

RNC doesn’t want you to hear from their presidential candidates

My latest piece appears on The Hill's Congress Blog

Here is an excerpt:

Last week the Republican National Committee (RNC) unanimously passed a resolution to prevent NBC and CNN from hosting Republican primary debates unless those networks halt production of films about former first lady, senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In response to this news I have three words, “get over it.”

The RNC believes that both projects will essentially be endorsements of Clinton, a possible (likely? probable? almost certain?) Democratic candidate for the 2016 presidential election, and that therefore NBC and CNN will not be able to fairly host Republican presidential debates. It is worth pointing out that at least in the case of NBC’s planned miniseries, the entertainment division of the network would be responsible for the project, and the news division would be in charge of any debates. Will viewers appreciate the difference? Maybe not.

Still, the RNC’s move is more than a little ironic for a number of reasons.

Monday, August 19, 2013

An Open Letter to San Diego Mayor Bob Filner

Dear Mayor Bob Filner,

You do not know me, but like the rest of the sane individuals following your sexual harassment scandal, let me tell you, it is time to resign. Actually, allow me to restate that: It was time to resign weeks ago.
First, let me say I do believe in the fundamental principle that people are innocent until proven guilty. You have yet to have been found liable or guilty of anything in a court of law. But here is a news flash for you: You are an elected official. Members of the electorate went to the ballot box and put their faith in you to represent them fairly and honestly. You are failing to do that.

Now, you may ask, does it set a bad precedent to tell an official to resign just because he is accused of wrong doing? The answer is, it absolutely would if that were what I'm advocating, but I am not. The sheer volume of the complaints lodged against you is stunning. The substance of the complaints -- a myriad of unwanted sexual advances -- is deplorable.
As you well know, appearances matter in politics. Appearances also matter in government. Yes, those two things are still somewhat different. When your constituents have lost faith in your ability to govern, not to mention be alone with any woman, it is time to go.

It is increasingly difficult to get members of the electorate to go to the polls and take part in local, state, and federal government. People feel disconnected from their representatives. While this is a real problem, and it is long past the time to change the public's low regard of government, I only wish more of your constituents felt more disconnected from you. Your decision to stay in office is doing nothing to help the people's view of their elected representatives.

The only silver lining here is that the complaints lodged against you are shocking. Thank goodness there is nothing routine or acceptable about what so many women now claim you have subjected them to. 

Finish reading this post on KCET.org.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Bites Lack of rules allow Sacramento politicians to blur private, public interests

Quoted in this one in the Sacramento News and Review:

Sacramento City Council members keep inventing new, creative ways to collect money and funnel it into their own political “brands.” And we need new rules to keep up with their inventions.

Last week, some local pro-labor Democrats asked the California attorney general and Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate Mayor Kevin Johnson’s 501(c)(3) organizations, and the collection of hundreds of thousands of dollars from Walmart, leading up to the vote on Sacramento’s contentious big-box store policy this week.

But when the Walmart battle is over, the problem will remain: These nonprofit organizations lack transparency, they lack clear rules, and they mix public resources with the council members’ political interests.
City Councilman Jay Schenirer’s organization, WayUp Sacramento, has gotten considerably less attention than the mayor’s efforts. But it blurs plenty of lines.

WayUp helps to fund programs for at-risk youth in Oak Park, and that’s a perfectly good thing to do.

But last year, Sacramento City Manager John Shirey said it was inappropriate for outside nonprofits—such as Johnson’s education nonprofit Stand Up, or his arena-booster group Think Big Sacramento—to operate out of City Hall or use city resources.

In some ways, Schenirer’s WayUp looks quite similar to Johnson’s groups. WayUp has a website, paid staff and receives big donations through the city’s “behest” system, just as the mayor’s nonprofits do—including checks from businesses like Walmart, AT&T, and Sutter Health, along with foundation support from the California Endowment. WayUp has taken in nearly $800,000 since Schenirer was elected in 2010.

So, why does WayUp get to operate in City Hall after K.J.’s nonprofits were shown the door? The short answer is that WayUp isn’t really a nonprofit, not yet. According to Schenirer, it’s a “brand.”


“It’s somewhat curious that ‘brand’ is the word they use,” says Jessica Levinson, professor of election law at Loyola Law School. “’Brand’ can certainly be seen as PR for the candidate.”

Like when Schenirer toured his district during National Night Out last week, handing out WayUp tote bags and buttons.

She’s not sure Schenirer is doing anything wrong, though, she adds, “The thing that feels a bit funny is that it is using government resources.”
Schenirer says “brand” applies to the community work WayUp does. But of course it’s an extension of Schenirer’s brand as a politician, and an extension of his professional brand, too.

Schenirer is an education consultant; that’s how he makes his money. Among WayUp’s stated goals are “an ambitious, rigorous, and comprehensive strategy of reform” for schools in Schenirer’s district. He told Bites that school reform is “a generic term,” and that, in this case, it means noncontroversial things like school nutrition programs.

But the project description that WayUp sent to the U.S. Department of Education advocates policies that are related to the work done by Schenirer’s consulting business, Capitol Impact LLC, and its principals.

The WayUp brand seems to be where Schenirer’s interests as a public office holder, politician and professional education consultant all intersect. How much intersection is OK? That’s where some sort of city policy would be helpful.


They might want to keep an eye on Schenirer’s variation as well, which Levinson says makes for a “fascinating” but potentially problematic new tool for politicians.

“Until there’s more guidance, politicians will continue to do this. They’d be foolish not to,” she said.

Following GOP cash leads to questions

Quoted in this one in the Modesto Bee

Here is an excerpt:

In 2011 and 2012, Stanislaus County's Republican Party quietly became a player in state political finance, taking $1.7 million from big spenders and funneling most of it to superheated campaigns throughout California.
The metamorphosis was so hushed that some members of the county's central committee, the very group used by state party leaders to distribute the money, were unaware.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission, a state agency enforcing campaign ethics, confirmed to The Bee that the Stanislaus group's role in pooling and distributing cash is under investigation.
News of the probe has caused an uproar in the committee, particularly among members seated in January. Some say they got involved to help their party and were disturbed to find out about the money flow.


Jessica Levinson, a campaign finance and ethics expert at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said, "We live in a system where the number of permissible constraints is increasingly decreasing."

Read more here: http://www.modbee.com/2013/08/17/2869600/where-the-money-goes-head-here.html#storylink=cpy


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Millions Wasted on Upgrading Voting Systems

Voting is called a preservative right, meaning it helps to preserve other rights.

The ability to exercise one's right to vote is a fundamental part of any functioning democracy. What does this ability entail? For one, those who are eligible to be able to vote should be able to do so easily. Further, once registered, voters should be able to go to the polls or mail in a ballot with relative ease as well. Finally, voters should be assured that when they cast their ballots the voting systems accurately read and record their votes. It should go without saying that each vote must be fairly and correctly counted.

Allegations of voting problems abounded in the 2000 presidential election between former Vice President Al Gore and former President George W. Bush abounded. That election, among other things, exposed problems related to punch card ballots. In the wake of that election, Congress passed in the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002. As part of HAVA states receive money to help update voting systems. California received $380 million -- no small sum.

Now comes word here, here, and here that money received to upgrade voting systems have been wasted.

A state audit released last week found that, under the direction of the Secretary of State's Office, millions of dollars set aside for the improvement of voting systems have been misused.

Among the state's shortcomings are lack of clear and workable standards for satisfactory voting systems, lack of transparency in the distribution of funds, and money spent on projects that were not fully implemented.

Finish reading this post on KCET.org.

Should Legal Immigrants Be Allowed to Work at Election Polls?

In my book, the majority of people who pass certain eligibility requirements and wish to serve as poll workers should be welcomed and thanked, not excluded and turned away. Working at the polls is important, often tedious and monotonous job. Election day is virtually guaranteed to be a long day for anyone serving at the polls.

There is now a bill headed to Gov. Jerry Brown that would let some legal immigrants to serve as poll workers. Which legal immigrants you may ask? Well, legal permanent residents who would be eligible to vote if they were citizens.

Assembly Bill 817 places a limit on the number of non-citizen poll workers in each district. Election officials would be able to appoint five non-citizen poll workers in each precinct.

Democratic Assembly member Rob Bonta (Alameda) introduced the bill. He and democrats have argued that the bill would increase the number of multi-lingual poll workers who could then help multi-lingual voters who are not proficient in English. Republicans, who oppose the bill, have countered that the increase in the number of multilingual poll workers would not be particularly helpful as poll workers are prevented from doing things like reading the ballot to voters, or helping the voters understand the content of the ballot. In addition, there appears to be some disagreement as to how many eligible voters are not proficient in English because naturalized citizens must pass a written and verbal English test.

Finish reading this post on KCET.org.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Spokesman for California Assembly Speaker John Perez wears many hats

Quoted in this piece in the Sacramento Bee

Here is an excerpt: 

It's an unusual arrangement, even in a Capitol that thrives on close relationships between elected officials and the interest groups they govern.
"It seems like he's serving two masters," said Jessica Levinson, an expert in political ethics at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
"He may be doing a great job serving both of them, and he may not be doing anything improper. But at the very least it feels uncomfortable and improper because he is serving a legislator and serving clients who seek to influence that legislator."
Even with the distinction between lobbying and communications, Levinson said, working for the Assembly leader likely helps Maviglio solicit business from interest groups.
"As a private sector client, it makes all the sense in the world to hire someone who has the ear of a powerful legislator," she said.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Six California lawmakers took trip to Cuba with Capitol lobbyist

Quoted in this one in the Los Angeles Times. 

Six California lawmakers used political funds to take part in a March trip to Cuba with a top Capitol lobbyist, raising eyebrows among state government watchers.
The legislators disclosed the “cultural exchange” trip in campaign finance reports filed this week, visiting the communist country with lobbyist Darius Anderson, who heads a nonprofit group called Californians Building Bridges.
Anderson’s lobbying firm, Platinum Advisors, represents clients including AT&T, Anthem Blue Cross,DirecTV Group and Pfizer, some of which have also made political contributions to the lawmakers on the trip.
Those who dipped into campaign funds to pay for their trip included Sens. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) and Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) and Assembly members Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo), Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins (D-San Diego). Calderon has been in the news because his Capitol office was raided by the FBI in June as part of a corruption probe. Calderon declined to comment.
Loyola Law School Professor Jessica Levinson, who studies government ethics, said it is a concern when lawmakers "spend a lot of time with a certain lobbyist. It means they may be more educated and attentive to the concerns of the lobbyist."

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Democrats seize super PAC crown

Quoted in this one, by the Center for Public Integrity. 

“Despite ideological opposition to super PAC spending, I don’t see Democrats wanting to play on an uneven playing field,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in California. “This is the political reality.”

Cupid's work gets complicated as California lawmaker dates lobbyist

Quoted in this piece in the Sac Bee. 

"We are talking about a relationship where one person's job is to try to influence people in the other person's position: a lobbyist representing a certain constituency over which this lawmaker has some decision-making power," said Jessica Levinson, an expert in political ethics at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
"The concern is always the same – is this elected official doing a good job? Is he serving the public? Or is there any chance the elected official is serving himself and making decisions based on who he is dating?"
A review of legislation the California Medical Association is lobbying this year shows Maienschein frequently – but not always – votes its way.
Levinson and other government watchdogs said Maienschein should step down from committees that routinely vote on bills the medical association lobbies, such as the health and business panels.
"I don't think we can say, 'Drop out of office, or stop dating this person,' but I think we can suggest, 'There may be a more appropriate committee for you to sit on,' " Levinson said.

Read more here: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2013/07/31/2608471/cupids-work-gets-complicated-as.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2013/07/31/2608471/cupids-work-gets-complicated-as.html#storylink=cpy