Friday, December 20, 2013

13 Things We Learned about Money in Politics in 2013

Ciara Torres-Spelliscy blogs here. Well worth a read. 

In Chacon political dynasty, deceit hits close to home

Quoted in this article in the Los Angeles Times. 

Montebello school board member Hector Chacon learns brother Arturo, a Central Basin Municipal Water District board member, used his name in an arrest


Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School specializing in election law and governance issues who was appointed to the L.A. Ethics Commission, said although the DUI arrest itself may not reflect on Arturo Chacon's ability to do his job as a public official, using his brother's identity raises serious questions.

"What you're doing is creating a narrative that's very troubling while representing an agency that's already tainted by corruption issues," she said.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Steinberg says governors should fill CA legislative vacancies

California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg says we should allow the Governor to fill legislative vacancies.

I agree, and proposed this in a Los Angeles Times op-ed last week. 

Slippery Slope Between Campaigns And Super PACs In San Diego Mayoral Race

Quoted in this one on KPBS. 

Here is the article:

There’s been a brief break from campaigning in the special election for San Diego’s next mayor, but the new year is sure to bring with it more political television ads and glossy mailers clogging up mailboxes.
Often those aren’t paid for by the candidates themselves – but by independent expenditure committees, colloquially known as super PACs.
In San Diego, the first leg of the special election was crowded. There were multiple candidates in the race and some had multiple super Political Action Committees behind them. That isn’t really a surprise, but there was one name that kept popping up in all the groups supporting Republican candidate and San Diego City Councilman Kevin Faulconer.
All those groups, even the ones that were supposed to be independent from each other, shared a treasurer -- April Boling.
Jessica Levinson is a campaign finance expert at Loyola Law School. I asked her if super PACs and campaigns had to be separate. She said a lot of people would be “surprised to know that an organization that is supposed to be independent from a candidates campaign can actually share a treasurer.”
To understand, Levinson said, you have to go back to 2010 when a new era in politics was ushered in -- the era of the super PAC. Because of the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, super PACs could run a shadow campaign, throwing unlimited amounts of money toward a candidate’s campaign with one condition: they can’t coordinate with the candidate.
Levinson said that is proving true only in theory. “In reality super PACs are very attendant to candidates needs," said Levinson. "And this idea of independence really is all but a legal fiction.”
Levinson says its fictional nature is due, in part, to the newness of the Citizens United ruling and the super PACS it spawned. “Because they are new” she said, “we are still really writing the law as to what they can do and we still are creating and refining regulations with what exactly coordination means.”
The key word is coordination, but Levinson said it just hasn’t been well defined by regulators or by the courts.
Gary Winuk is the chief of enforcement for the California Fair Political Practices Commission, which means he oversees regulations of super PACs and campaigns.
Winuk said there are a number of factors that they look at to determine what is coordination.
"How much communication was occurring between the campaigns, do they share common staff?” said Winuk.
So sharing staff can be coordination, but Winuk says that isn’t set in stone either, especially when it comes to outside professional staff, like lawyers and treasurers.
“Sharing campaign staff can mean a lot of different things,” Winuk said. “For example, a lot of people hire professional treasurers, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re coordinating.”
The fact that April Boling is the treasurer for both the super PACs supporting Kevin Faulconer and his campaign does not necessarily mean coordination is occurring. Part of that is because a treasurer just takes in money – they don’t do strategy.
Boling choose not to talk to KPBS for this story about her role in the campaigns.
Campaign finance expert Jessica Levinson says Boling’s example is part of a larger pattern of slipperiness in what constitutes coordination. She says what it really reveals isn’t that there is any wrong doing in San Diego. It's that the idea of independence between all these groups is a political farce.
“What this situation shows,” Levinson said, “is really that candidates and super PACs can have connections and relationships, and that this idea that they can’t coordinate is really a thin idea.”
Levinson says this thin idea is allowing for a lot more money to flood into politics in the era of super PACs.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Special elections: They mostly just waste money

Here is my latest op-ed, which appears in the Los Angeles Times. 

Here is an excerpt:

There was a special election in Los Angeles County last week. Didn't know? Didn't vote? Didn't care?
Well, you're in the majority. Less than 9% of registered voters in the 54th Assembly District bothered to show up at the polls or mail in ballots. Angelenos, a generally disunited bunch, coalesced around apathy. But what does it say about us that the one thing we can agree on is indifference?
The appalling turnout last week is a symptom of a much larger problem.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thanks to Congressional Inaction, Seeking Clarity From the IRS Is No Joke

My op-ed in Roll Call is here.

Here is an excerpt:
A few months ago, the Internal Revenue Service was accused of improperly targeting conservative nonprofit organizations for special scrutiny. Whoops. Now the IRS and the Treasury Department have proposed new rules to curb the political influence of one type of nonprofit organization.
This is a significant step towards increasing transparency in politics. So-called “dark money” flows freely throughout our political system. Outside groups with innocuous sounding names raise and spend unlimited sums, much of it undisclosed, to influence voters.
This system of secrecy significantly hinders voters’ ability to evaluate the credibility of speech aimed at influencing their ballot box decisions. Knowing the source of the spending is arguably the most important piece of information that a voter can receive. A group called “America Now” does not convey anything useful. However, the knowledge that America Now is funded by Monsanto, General Electric, Sheldon Adelson or George Soros would provide voters with helpful information.