Sunday, March 30, 2014

"San Bernardino County: Donations to DA candidate’s campaign criticized"

Quoted in this one in the Press Enterprise. 

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles specializing in campaign finance and ethics, said candidates for public safety offices such as district attorney or sheriff are generally careful about who they accept donations from.
“Legally, you’re welcome to take money from people who are under investigation and connected to those under investigation,” she said. “The second question is political: What is the smart move?”
The biggest drawback may be providing fodder for a political opponent and drawing scrutiny, said Levinson, who also serves as vice president of the city of Los Angeles’ ethics commission.
“I think a candidate who is flush with money does not accept those contributions,” she said.

News from Santa Ana, CA: "Pulido Investigation Puts Prior Deal In Focus"

ICYMI, quoted in this one in the Voice of OC. 

“I think that this would fall within the Political Reform Act that talks about use of official position for private gain,” said Jessica Levinson, associate clinical professor at Loyola Law School. “And specifically in this case, by financial gain.”

News from CA: "Santa Ana Mayor Had City Hall Meeting That Could be Illegal"

Quoted in this one in the Voice of the OC. 

Jessica Levinson, an associate professor at Loyola Law School, said one documented instance of using the office for a personal business meeting probably would lead to only a civil fine.

It could, however, also turn into a criminal issue if more instances are uncovered, Levinson said. “If you are running a consulting business out of the mayor’s office, there is a possibility for criminal liability,” she said.

California "State Sen. Leland Yee drops out of secretary of state race a day after his arrest"

Quoted in this one in the Mercury News. 

"No amount of public financing or contribution limits would remedy a situation like Leland Yee's," said Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson, an expert in campaign finance law. "He transgressed even the most basic rules."
Yee is charged with conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms, and six counts of scheming to defraud citizens of "honest services." Each corruption count is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000, while the gun-trafficking count is punishable by up to five years and $250,000.

News from Nevada: "Whittemore denies all wrongdoing, pleads not guilty on 4 felony counts"

Quoted in this one in the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Jessica Levinson, a Loyola professor who specializes in campaign finance law, said a sentence could also depend on the judge and how he wants to use the case.

"It will depend on how much and whether the judge wants to make this high-profile case an example," Levinson said. "If he does, it could increase the length of the sentence."

"Expensive special elections are often ignored by voters"

Interviewed for this one on KPCC. 

"We have way too many special elections, so they're actually not-so-special elections," says Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School. She makes the case for allowing the governor to fill vacancies in the Legislature.
"When we're talking about the alternative, when we're talking about appointments, it's important to remember that it's not a king or an unelected monarch that is potentially making the appointments," she said. "In the case of the California Legislature, it could be the governor, who everyone in California had the opportunity to vote [for]." 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sunday, March 9, 2014

My latest op-ed in the Sacramento Bee: "Maybe we should let Wright and Calderon get paid while on leave"

You can read the piece here.

Here are the beginning of the piece:

Everyone seems upset that California Sens. Roderick Wright and Ron Calderon are taking paid leaves of absences.
I get it. Both politicians have been, or have been accused of, behaving badly. A jury convicted Wright of eight felonies, including fraud and perjury, stemming from the fact that he did not live in his district when he ran for Senate, something that is required under the state constitution.
We can argue about the wisdom of the requirement. However, that is exactly what it is, a requirement that all candidates must abide by. More importantly, he lied about it.
A different kind of jury, a grand jury, indicted Calderon on 24 counts of bribery, money laundering, and tax fraud, things we don’t want our representatives to do.

Read more here:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

"Amid Capitol’s gift extravagance, Gatto sets standard for ethics"

Quoted in this one in CalWatchDog. 

Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who specializes in governmental ethics, said that the issue of elected officials accepting gifts is a balance between what is allowed versus what appears to cross the line of undue influence. “If the laws allows legislators to accept gifts, then is it improper or indecent for them to do so?” she asked. ”While some gifts are permissible, it can intuitively feel problematic when our elected lawmakers accept gifts when we all strongly suspect they would not receive those gifts were it not for their official roles, and the power they wield in those roles.”
That appearance of impropriety is exacerbated when lawmakers travel with lobbyists on extravagant junkets to exotic locales. Last year, California lawmakers collected passport stamps from Germany, Switzerland, Cuba, Mexico, Poland, Norway, Taiwan, Israel, China, Armenia, Sweden, Canada and South Korea, much of it on the dime of special interest groups.
“When it comes to traveling and attending conferences, I want our officials to leave the Capitol and learn from others,” Levinson said.  “I don’t necessarily want them to do all of that on the public’s dime. When the conferences look fishy, or the sources of the funds have substantial business before the state, it is certainly fair to ask questions.

Friday, March 7, 2014

"Billionaire backed education groups battle teachers unions in state races"

Quoted in this one

The high-profile donors help give prominence to the groups and their causes, according to Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Law School who serves on the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

But above all, these donors have money to spare — a lot of money to spare.


"RIVERSIDE COUNTY: No limits mean big campaign donations"

Quoted in this piece in the Press Enterprise

People who give big to political campaigns often have something to gain through a favorable relationship with an elected official, said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who specializes in campaign finance and ethics.
“I think it raises appearance questions,” said Levinson, a member of LA’s ethics commission. “Clearly it’s permissible (but) it makes it look like politics is a game for wealthy people because most people can’t give $10,000.”

"California Legislature considers ethics reform bills"

Quoted in this article in the Los Angeles Times

Trying to counter ethics scandals in which lawmakers stand accused of voter fraud, bribery, money laundering and other misdeeds, Democratic leaders Thursday proposed sweeping changes to state political laws aimed at restoring public confidence in the Legislature.

The proposals, which Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to embrace, would ban lawmakers and other state officials from accepting such gifts as spa treatments, golf games and tickets to Lakers games.
Officials could take other gifts, but only if their worth totaled $200 or less annually from any source — down from the $440 now allowed. And politicians would have to report campaign contributions more frequently.

The scandals of recent months have spawned more than a dozen measures by various lawmakers, addressing fundraising rules, lobbyists and travel by state officials. Thursday's more visible effort followed the back-to-back departures of two Democratic state senators, both now on paid leave, that this week cost the party its supermajority in the upper house.


The timing of the new package is no coincidence, said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who studies governmental ethics. "Oftentimes the only silver lining that comes as a result of scandals is reform."

The question, she said, is "whether this is real reform or politically expedient reform, or both."


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"David Jolly’s Clients Won Earmarks From His Old Boss, Bill Young"

Quoted in this piece in the Republic Report. 

“Yes, there are concerns raised when a former staffer appears to use his or her ties to his employer for personal gain,” says Jessica Levinson, associate professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.  ”The cooling off period prohibition is designed to prevent people from using their connections in government to obtain unfair or preferential treatment or access for private clients.”
“The idea,” says Levinson, is that “everyone, regardless of whether or not they are represented by former staffers or officials, should get a fair shot to persuade their officials.”

"Should politicians still get a paycheck while facing criminal charges?"

Here is a link to my appearance on 3/4/14 on AirTalk on KPCC. 

Two California politicians have been placed on paid administrative leave while they wait for their next days in court. Ron Calderon, who is facing two dozen charges of bribery, fraud and money laundering charges, announced this week that he will take a leave of absence rather than resigning from the state Senate. Calderon will continue to collect his salary while he's on leave, which is expected to stretch through the end of the legislative session in August.
Last week, Roderick Wright also announced he will be taking a paid leave of absence from the Senate after being convicted by a jury Jan. 29 of eight felony counts for perjury and voter fraud. Prosecutors said Wright falsely claimed to live inside his Inglewood district while really keeping a large home in Baldwin Hills. Wright plans to appeal his convictions at his sentencing hearing on May 16 but will continue to receive a paycheck from the state, despite already being convicted.
The California constitution prevents the state Senate from withholding pay from any senator but taxpayers are upset about being forced to continue to pay the salaries.
Is there any legal recourse for taxpayers to recoup the money from politicians convicted of felonies? What power does the state government have to withhold their paychecks, particularly once a politician has been convicted of a crime? Do constituents have any power to recall the senators?


"Newhall Land's gift of trucks to Fish and Wildlife raises concerns"

Quoted in this piece in the Los Angeles Times. 

The two California Department of Fish and Wildlife scientists charged with doing environmental work on the proposed Newhall Ranch development had a daunting task.

They were to help review whether and how the largest residential development ever approved in Los Angeles County — 20,000 homes stretching across a bucolic valley — could be built without undue harm to the environment, protected species and Southern California's last major wild river, the Santa Clara.
The project was controversial and dizzyingly complicated. It has already been the subject of multiple lawsuits and generated more than 110,000 pages of records.

But there was at least one perk for the scientists: new vehicles to get around in, courtesy of the developer, Newhall Land and Farming Co. The developer gave the 2008 Ford Explorer and the 2008 Ford 150 truck to the agency that year as the state employees dug into their review of the company's proposal. The state still has them.


Loyola law professor Jessica Levinson, vice president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, said the gift of the cars raises questions about a conflict of interest.

"The developer is giving something to the people who are making a determination as to a project that could benefit it," she said.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife has no record of having accepted other cars from a private company in the last decade, according to documents and spokeswoman Jordan Traverso.

"Central Basin Water customers pick up tab for board member's car accident"

Interviewed in this story on the local NPR. 

Central Basin Municipal Water District ratepayers are footing the bill to the tune of $79,000 to pay claims arising from a 2010 six-car automobile accident involving board member Art Chacon, despite a finding that Chacon was not working at the time of the accident and was at fault, according to insurance and other records.
The accident occurred around 5:40 p.m. on a Thursday in November 2010. Chacon was driving a Nissan Frontier home southbound in the usual rush hour traffic on the 710 freeway.
According to a report by the California Highway Patrol, Chacon was using a cellphone and driving at an unsafe speed. The resulting six-car pileup was so bad, the CHP shut down three lanes of traffic near the 710 and 105 interchange so ambulances could get in.
Although Central Basin's insurance authority determined Chacon was off the clock at the time of the crash, records show the water district has paid out $16,000 to settle a claim related to damages and injuries.
"This entire narrative raises a number of questions as to what was really happening as to the car accident that took place and whether Director Chacon should’ve been reimbursed and whether he should’ve been able to get worker’s compensation," said Loyola Law School Professor Jessica Levinson.
Central Basin board members Vasquez and Roybal said they were unaware of the lawsuit payout and Chacon's workers' compensation payment until KPCC informed them. Both said the board had not taken up either matter. Roybal said the lawsuit settlement should have come before the board.
Of the remaining board members, Phil Hawkins refused comment, and Bob Apodaca was unavailable.
The questions surrounding the handling of Chacon's accident are just the latest trouble for Central Basin, which serves more than 2 million customers in 24 southeast L.A. cities. The agency is also the subject of an FBI investigation into its handling of a $2.7 million trust fund
A car allowance but no license
Meanwhile, as Central Basin deals with the fallout from his accident, Chacon continues to receive a $590 monthly car allowance, even though as of last Friday, DMV records show he does not have a valid driver’s license. Chacon's license has been suspended numerous times since 2011, according to the records.
According to Central Basin’s Code of Conduct, board members must have a valid driver’s license and insurance in order to travel by private car while on district business.
"It is a somewhat of a sticky situation for the Central Basin to be paying for a car allowance for someone who shouldn’t be driving a car," said Loyola Law School’s Levinson.