Thursday, April 24, 2014

CA News: "State Sen. Tom Berryhill fined in political money laundering case"

Quoted in this article in the Los Angeles Times. 

“To the extent you circumvent campaign finance laws and you do it knowingly, this is serious,” said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who specializes in government ethics. “It looks like there was an intentional setup to flaunt the law.”

Berryhill becomes the fourth senator in recent months to be accused of misconduct, although unlike the other three, he does not face criminal charges.

Last month, the Senate suspended Democratic Sens. Ronald S. Calderon of Montebello, Leland Yee of San Francisco and Roderick Wright of the Inglewood area after they were hit with criminal charges. Wright was found guilty of lying about living in his Senate district, while Calderon and Yee have been indicted by federal authorities in separate cases for offering legislative favors for money.

Having a fourth case of misconduct reflects poorly on the Senate, Levinson said, although she does not think Berryhill's actions rise to the level of the criminal allegations against Yee and Calderon.
The scheme by Tom Berryhill disguised the true source of the money received by Bill Berryhill’s campaign and allowed Sen. Berryhill to circumvent the $3,600 contribution limit to a legislative candidate.

"FDA moves to regulate e-cigarettes"

Here is a link to my appearance on "Take Two" on KPCC.

The Food and Drug Administration proposed a new rule today regarding the regulation of e-cigarettes. Under the new rule, the FDA would mandate the following.
  • Register with the FDA and report product and ingredient listings;
  • Only market new tobacco products after FDA review;
  • Only make direct and implied claims of reduced risk if the FDA confirms that scientific evidence supports the claim and that marketing the product will benefit public health as a whole; and
  • Not distribute free samples.
In addition, under the proposed rule, the following provisions would apply to newly “deemed” tobacco products:
  • Minimum age and identification restrictions to prevent sales to underage youth;
  • Requirements to include health warnings; and
  • Prohibition of vending machine sales, unless in a facility that never admits youth.
Whether this will actually go into effect or not is up in the air. The rule is now open for public comment for 75 days, so things could possibly change.
Megan McArdle covers the industry for Bloomberg View and she joins the show with more.   
This is not the first time the FDA has taken up the issue of e-cigarettes and it certainly won't be the last, but what authority does the Food and Drug Administration have when it comes to regulating these products? For more on that, we turn to Jessica Levinson professor of law at Loyola University. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

"Fundraising effort key in campaigns to succeed Rep. Henry Waxman"

Quoted in this one in the Daily Breeze. 

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School who studies the intersection of money and politics, said the actual fundraising difference among top-tier candidates probably doesn’t matter that much when it comes to hiring staff or making purchasing decisions. But she said it means a lot for public perception.
“What’s the difference between $650,000 and $700,000?” Levinson said. “Maybe some ‘slate mailers.’ But it’s also nice to say, ‘I have raised more money than anyone else, so I have more support than anyone else.’ There’s something sad about money being a proxy for support. It’s leaving out the vast majority of the electorate.”
As for which metric is best? Levinson said it can be helpful to look at cash on hand.
“It shows two things, Levinson said. “One is, ‘can you keep your fiscal house in order?’ And second, it shows how much money you already had to spend. It may indicate that you jumped the gun and spent the money too early.”

Friday, April 18, 2014

"Unusual arrangement? Honda’s campaign offices are right at home — in SEIU headquarters"

Quoted in this one in the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Jessica Levinson, who teaches election law and governance at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said that the arrangement raises concerns.
Regarding the appropriateness, “my main question is: is (SEIU) basically giving him a donation by letting him use the office for less than what a member of the public would pay?” she said.
But the decision also makes a political statement, she added. “It’s so clear he is aligning himself with the unions..its very visual,” she said. “I mean, they’re roommates.”
So in Congress, “as an optical matter, it will be hard to distance himself from them,” she said. “It gives the appearance he would be more reticent to vote against union interests. Because it would be really awkward to go back to your campaign office and find all those people you have potentially annoyed.”

"Justices Scalia and Ginsburg on the First Amendment"

C-SPAN link here.

"Longtime marijuana legalization advocate still seeing green"

Quoted in this one in the Press Enterprise. 

Jessica A. Levinson, an associate clinical professor for election laws and government political reform at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, says the two court rulings are not death blows for Prop. 215.
“It may have been watered down or eroded, but it still leaves jurisdictions some leeway” about brick-and-mortar stores and cultivation, she said. “It just gives them more discretion not to have them, and allows localities to make up their own minds.”
And, Levinson said, those issues may be pushed aside when California eventually considers statewide recreational marijuana use. “If you look at the demographics, I think this issue is only a matter of time,” she said. “Whatever happens to Prop. 215, it is not going to be the last proposition on the state ballot dealing with marijuana.”
Swerdlow said that’s where he has turned his energy. In 2012, he founded the Brownie Mary Democratic Club of Riverside County as an advocacy group for medical marijuana and marijuana legalization.
“It’s been chartered by Riverside County Democratic Central Committee,” Swerdlow said. “We are an official part of the Democratic Party. We now have clubs chartered in Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco.” The group went to the state Democratic convention in Los Angeles in March.
Swerdlow made the club a force to be reckoned with. The party for the first time endorsed marijuana legalization as part of its platform, calling on marijuana to be regulated and taxed similar to alcohol and tobacco.
“This is not a debate about stoners,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom told the convention. “You can be pro-regulation without being an advocate for drug use.”
Swerdlow said he wrote the original platform proposal — “they massaged the wording a bit from what I originally put in there,” but said he was pleased with the outcome. “It kind of sends a word to all the Democratic politicians who are on the fence. That might be enough to push them off the fence, on our side.”
It sounds like another uphill battle for Swerdlow.
Days before the platform language was considered, Gov. Brown talked about marijuana legalization on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or nation?” Brown asked.
While elected Democrats distance themselves about marijuana legalization, Swerdlow said he was convinced what he called the “grass roots” of the party supports it. “I used to look at the Democratic Party and think they were Republican light,” Swerdlow said. But he now sees the party as “really progressive, and the Democratic Party, I believe, will end marijuana prohibition.”
Californians most recently rejected marijuana legalization and regulation in 2010 by voting down Prop. 19. Poll numbers since then have shown growing support for legalization, when it’s combined with government oversight.
Loyola Law School’s Levinson said voters should expect to see legalization for recreational marijuana in the form of a ballot initiative, rather than by the Legislature. “This is the type of issue we typically see through the initiative process in California.”

Los Angeles "Ethics panel wants more public funding available to candidates"

Quoted in this one in the Los Angeles Times. 

Los Angeles' Ethics Commission is calling for an increase in public funding available to candidates seeking city office.

The city currently provides $2 for each dollar a candidate raises in primary elections, and $4 for each dollar contributed in two-way runoffs in general elections.

On Thursday, the panel recommended the city match be increased to $6 in both primary and general elections.

"You want to allow people to talk to constituents, not just donors, and I think that increasing the match will reduce the amount of time you have to spend fundraising," said Jessica Levinson, vice president of the commission and a professor at Loyola Law School.

She said that publicly financed programs are designed to reduce corruption, and as more office-seekers agree to abide by campaign spending limits to receive the money it should decrease the degree to which "money controls the game." 

The city paid approximately $10 million in matching funds to candidates in the 2013 elections.
The commission also announced it would no longer enforce aggregate contribution limits on individuals giving to city and school board candidates as a result of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The high court found limits on total giving to multiple candidates by contributors unconstitutionally infringes on their free speech rights. 

City caps on what donors can give to individual candidates will remain in effect. Those range from $700 to $1,300 per election, depending on the office. Because of that and other city regulations, the effect of the Supreme Court decision may no be as significant in Los Angeles as some other jurisdictions, Levinson said.  

The proposal to boost public funding of city campaigns, which must be approved by the City Council, would bring L.A. in line with New York City, which matches contributions at a six-to-one ratio. 

"California Democrats Face New Calculus After Scandals"

Quoted in this one in the Wall Street Journal. 

Members of both parties agree the scandals have left a stain on the capitol. The charges faced by Mr. Yee in particular may be damaging, said Jessica A. Levinson, a law professor at Loyola Marymount Law School in Los Angeles who focuses on the intersection of law and government.
"It is very troubling; this is the type of scandal that makes it look like all politicians are crooked," Prof. Levinson said of the allegations. "If you are trying to get people to engage in the political process, it is very difficult to do that now."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Rep. Mike Honda's latest hurdle: He can't vote for himself"

Quoted in this one in the San Francisco Chronicle

Seven-term Rep. Mike Honda faces some real challenges as he seeks re-election to his Silicon Valley congressional seat - one of the most unusual being that he can't vote for himself.
That's because Honda, a longtime resident of San Jose, doesn't live in the 17th Congressional District he represents. It's perfectly legal - but as fellow Democrat and former Obama trade representative Ro Khanna tries to wrest the seat away, there's the potential for it to become political ammunition.
Legally, "we have decided that it is OK if our federal representatives don't live in our district," said Jessica Levinson, a professor at the Loyola School of Law in Los Angeles. "But it's still something that bothers some constituents.
"And opponents will point it out," she said. "They'll say, 'When you vote for something, you're not even your own representative. Why aren't you dedicated enough to move?' "
Levinson, however, said that in some cases, a congressman's residency could become a "symbolic" measure of his performance.
"If you want to take it to the extreme, it's someone saying one vote (in an election) doesn't matter," she said. "Or, 'My house matters to me more than my vote.' "

Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Supreme Court's campaign money ruling makes Bay Area rich more influential"

Quoted in this one in the Mercury News. 

Theoretically, one person can now give $5,200 to each of the 535 members of Congress -- about $2.78 million -- though it's hard to imagine why anyone would do that. But there is no limit on how many PACs can exist, so there's practically no limit to how much influence a single donor can now wield through them.
"It starts to feel like a story that's so far removed not only from the average citizen but even the average citizen of the upper class," said Jessica Levinson, a money-in-politics expert at Loyola Law School.
"Now it essentially becomes the cost of business to give huge amounts of money," she said, adding only the richest will be able to keep up.
Some donors who made this rarefied list might want to change their telephone numbers.

"Political potential seen for Sheryl Sandberg"

Quoted in this one in the San Francisco Chronicle
Sheryl Sandberg may already have it all – she’s a Silicon Valleysuperstar, feminist icon, best-selling author and celebrity A-lister in nearly every ranking of the planet’s richest and most influential people.
But is the billionaire chief operating officer of Facebook quietly laying the groundwork for more – a campaign for elective office?

Read more here:
Jessica Levinson, a professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said that “‘Lean In,' yes – it’s important to take charge of your career and be the captain of your own ship.”
But many women lack the support systems and nurturing that Sandberg enjoyed, she said, so “a lot of people who struggle … will never reach the privileged moment of being able to ask, `I want a raise.“’
That means that should Sandberg want to get into politics, she will have to demonstrate that she “knows what milk and bread costs,” Levinson said. “She can’t be out of touch.”

Read more here:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

News from Arizona: "Spending soars as outside groups seek campaign influence"

Quoted in this one in the AZ Central.

Some have criticized the outside groups for allowing special interests, instead of constituents, to set the agenda for what an election is about.

"What the average voter is getting is a lot of commercials and radio ads, but what they are not getting is a lot of debate on the issues," said Jessica Levinson, who teaches election law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. "What it sets up is the candidates aren't necessarily the most important speakers. Sometimes it's these shadow campaigns of independent-expenditure groups. And many times it's not terrifically informative or educational. It sets up a world in which the voters need to be even more on alert to the true identity of these spenders and what their agenda might be."


"People might start pulling away from outside groups to give to candidates," said Levinson, the Loyola professor.

That could increase transparency, she said, as long as federal campaign rules remain in place that require candidates and committees to disclose their donors.

But it could bring politics even closer to pre-Watergate days, before campaign-finance limits were adopted to combat corruption, or at least the appearance of corruption, Levinson said.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

"Calif. Sen. Yee's staff keeping office open for now"

Quoted in this one in the San Francisco Chronicle

"This is a guilt-by-association moment for them," said Loyola Law School Professor Jessica Levinson of the staffers left behind by Yee and two other Democrats suspended last week by the state Senate following separate criminal scandals.

And even more on McCutcheon "How Will the Change in Campaign Finance Law Affect California?"

Here is my interview on the California Report on KQED.

The Supreme Court’s decision will surely change the flow of money into this year’s election. But how, especially here in California?

For that we turn to Jessica Levinson. She teaches election law at Loyola Law School. She’s also vice president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission -- that’s the elections watchdog in L.A.

SCOTT SHAFER: Professor Levinson, welcome.

JESSICA LEVINSON: Thank you so much for having me.

SHAFER: Well first of all, give us just, if you would, your impression of this week’s Supreme Court decision.

LEVINSON: So this is a big but totally anticipated decision by the Supreme Court. And what the Supreme Court said in its predictable 5-4 split along ideological lines is that it infringes on First Amendment rights to limit the total amount that individuals can give to candidates and committees that give to candidates. So this decision wasn’t about the base contribution limits; it’s not about if you want to run for office and I want to give you money. I’m still limited to a thousand or two thousand or three thousand or whatever the direct contribution limit is. But now I can give that two thousand to as many other candidates as I want and I can also give to committees that then give to candidates. And 24 hours ago or 36 hours ago that was not the case. We used to have a total amount limit that contributors could give to candidates and to committees that give to candidates.

SHAFER: So under Citizens United, which I think was a 2010 decision, we’ve seen certainly in the last presidential election very wealthy people spending, you know, lots and lots of money, tens of millions of dollars. So what difference does it make to have this additional avenue of contribution?

LEVINSON: What it shows is it’s just the eroding of the whole campaign finance scheme, the whole campaign finance program that was implemented in the wake of Watergate. So there are essentially three pillars of that program. And one was contribution limits, and that’s what McCutcheon vs. FEC overturns the aggregate contribution limits. Another was expenditures, and Citizens United in 2010 eroded a lot of the expenditure restrictions. And the third is disclosure. So I think disclosure laws now are going to have to do a lot more work than they did in the past.

SHAFER: Well, I think you know Democrats and the media often focus on the conservative Koch brothers, or Sheldon Adelson, people who tend to give money to Republican candidates and causes. But the Democrats have plenty of high rollers themselves, including right here in California -- people like Tom Steyer, Eli Broad, Jeffrey Katzenberg down in Los Angeles. So isn’t this just sort of an equal opportunity ruling in a Se?

LEVINSON: Well, I actually think the people who are going to be really excited after a few election cycles about the McCutcheon decision are the party leaders because now they can say to donors, “Don’t give to that independent group. You don’t know exactly what they are going to say. You want these specific candidates to be elected, come home, give to the party, we know how to control the money, we’re going to make sure it’s used in its most efficient way. And so I think this could really embolden party leaders.

SHAFER: Even before this decision came down this week, campaign finance has been getting renewed focus here in California with the FBI investigations of state Sens. Leland Yee and Ronald Calderon down in Los Angeles. There’s been talk of reform, talk of banning fundraising while the Legislature is in session, even public financing of campaigns. What do you think of the chances of that gaining steam?

LEVINSON: Honestly, it is a very good PR move for the Democrats to take this moment to put forth any sort of political reform package that they have, which frankly, I think, many of those were needed in the first place. I think this is absolutely the moment to say we’re going to bring more transparency to elections in California. Will we see something like public financing? Public financing is a very hard sell. And typically entities get public financing because it’s passed by the ballot initiative process. And I don’t think that we’re going to see a successful effort at public financing on the statewide level in California any time soon.

SHAFER: All right, Jessica Levinson. She teaches election law at Loyola Law School. She is also vice president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission. Thanks so much.

LEVINSON: Thank you.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

More on McCutcheon - "A tiny sliver of hope in an otherwise hopeless ruling?"

Quoted throughout this one in the Las Vegas Review Journal. 

But there’s a tiny bit of hope, as inadequate as it may be: disclosure. More of it. Lots of it.
Yes, it’s frustrating to say the very best we can do is figure out who’s buying our democracy, rather than, say, preventing them from buying it in the first place. But, as Loyola Law School associate clinical professor Jessica Levinson told me on Wednesday, it may be all we have left.

Help me, disclosure. You’re my only hope!
And that brings us back to the question I began with: What now?
I asked Levinson whether, in light of today’s decision, as well as 2010’s Citizens United, there was a way to write a campaign-finance law that could both limit the influence of money in politics and survive constitutional scrutiny from the court’s sitting majority. The depressingly brief answer: Nope.
“We no longer have the tools to regulate what we wanted to regulate in the first place,” said Levinson, who says she’s worried that even base contribution limits may fall soon, too. “I’m very pessimistic in the short term. I think this is our new normal.”
I asked if this ruling wasn’t really addressed to — and concerned about — the wealthy. After all, how many lower and middle class people can even afford to give the minimum donation of $2,600 per election, much less decide how to spend millions among multiple candidates? Regular people giving a nominal amount, say, $200, would have to number 490,000 simply to equal the $98 million that billionaire Las Vegas Sands CEO gave to candidates and causes in 2012 alone.
“Our voices are increasingly muffled,” Levinson said. “We should be speakers, too. … There are only five people in America who don’t think large amounts of contributions don’t influence elections, and they’re all on the court.”
Levinson noted that disclosure, while helpful, is only a partial remedy, and one that doesn’t stop wealthy donors from having an outsized voice in the political debate. But she said it may be the only remedy available, given the court’s recent rulings.
“At some point, I think the court will say that’s all you have left,” she said.

Levinson on Utah's campaign $ laws and today's SCOTUS ruling on caps.

Interviewed on KVNU re McCutcheon.

More on McCutcheon - "Local congressional campaigns could see big money after Supreme Court decision"

Quoted in this one in the SGV Tribune. 

With the recent court decisions killing campaign finance reform in a “death by 1,000 papercuts,” Loyola Law School Associate Clinical Professor Jessica Levinson said any reform out of Congress would likely come in the form of increased requirements for disclosure of contributions. Campaigns are already required to disclose direct contributions — the kind that could increase under Wednesday’s decision — in reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. But donations to outside groups responsible for most independent expenditures — the kind that have skyrocketed in the post-Citizens United world — are often not disclosed.
“Disclosure is going to have to do a lot more work than it used to,” Levinson said.

My discussion on Indy Politics re McCutcheon... here.

"Five Best Thursday Columns"

Thanks so much to the Wire for naming my op-ed in the Los Angeles Times as one of the Five Best Thursday Columns!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"U.S. Supreme Court ruling at center of Whittemore appeal"

Quoted in this one in the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Even more on McCutcheon: "Supreme Court ruling removes limits on campaign finance contributions"

Here is a link to my appearance on "Take Two" on KPCC this morning.

More on McCutcheon - "Campaign Finance, Sex Addiction in Film & Raw Milk Fight"

How often do you see "campaign finance" and "sex addiction" in the same sentence?

Here is a link to my appearance on KCRW's "Press Play."

#McCutcheon: " Supreme Court decision on campaign finance means we need more disclosure"

Mine on how McCutcheon shows the need for more disclosure...My piece in the Sac Bee is here.

Breaking: The Court hands down McCutcheon v. FEC

As predicted, the Court has struck down the limits on aggregate contribution limits. The opinion is here.

Here is a piece I wrote after oral arguments in the case. More thoughts to come.