Thursday, July 24, 2014

"Richard Alarcon's fall from Valley political leader to convicted felon"

Wonderful to talk with Alice Walton of KPCC for this story

"Richard Alarcon is not a political novice. He has spent a lot of time in different political offices. I think he was well aware of the residency requirements," said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School.
Alarcon's conviction could land him in state prison for up to six years. He could also be banned from running for office again. But according to Prof. Levinson, it may be too soon to write Alarcon's political obituary.

"A lot of politicians have a kind of phoenix-rise-from-the-ashes story... so we'll see," Levinson said.

"Alarcon jurors were split, argued for days over criminal charges"

Good to talk to Soumya Karlamangla at the Los Angeles Times for this one.

Jessica Levinson, who teaches election law at Loyola Law School, said that the jury's decision to convict only selectively on some counts, based on the evidence, indicates they "were very careful" and "spent a lot of time thinking about what the words meant."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Anti-tax group sues to kick Citizens United advisory measure off ballot"

Wonderful to talk to Melanie Mason of the Los Angeles Times for this one

Jessica Levinson, a professor of election law at Loyola Law School, said the Howard Jarvis group complaint conveys displeasure with the substance of the measure, as much as it expresses procedural concerns.

"It’s a suit about a California ballot measure – of course it’s going to be as much as about politics as it is about the law," she said.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What is holding up California ethics reform?

Good to talk to Michelle Bergman for this piece
2014 has seen numerous corruption stories in California government. Suspended State Senator Rod Wright awaits sentencing for eight felony counts of perjury and voter fraud. The FBI charged state Senator Ronald Calderon with accepting bribes. And most recently, suspended state Senator Leland Yee was indicted on federal corruption and gun running charges, along with a notorious San Francisco criminal figure memorably known as “Shrimp Boy.” All three senators have been suspended indefinitely.
"If two FBI raids on the Capitol aren’t enough to remind legislators on the importance of government ethics, nothing will be," said Peter DeMarco, a spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus.
The three cases started a public clamor for ethics reform, resulting in several pieces of legislation being introduced earlier this year. But as the San Jose Mercury News reports, enthusiasm for tough ethics reform seems to be waning, despite the stark reminders of the need for public trust in elected officials.
“Right after the scandals happened, everyone had to be in favor of ethics reform. But that was months ago… and months are years in political terms,” said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor specializing in campaign finance law and is also vice president of the L.A. City Ethics Commission.
Since the political drama unfolded in Sacramento, more than twelve ethics reform bills have been introduced. From banning fundraising events at lobbyist’s homes to doubling statutory fines for bribery, these measures all aim to promote greater government transparency and prevent public corruption.
“At a minimum, the legislature has a responsibility to ensure the public’s trust is not broken,” added DeMarco.
But so far the process to ensure the public’s trust has been slow. Many reform bills are being heavily revised or quietly being tucked away.
Take, for example, state Senator Jerry Hill’s proposal to strengthen California’s Political Reform Act. Parts of the proposal, like banning lawmakers from receiving all-expenses paid trips, were eliminated. Or Senate Republican leader Bob Huff’s bill which would prohibit lawmakers from using campaign accounts to finance criminal defense or pay the salaries of relatives, failed to pass a key committee when two Senators withheld their votes.
 With the Legislature essentially policing the activities of their members, Levinson was not surprised by the waning enthusiasm. In addition to their jobs as legislators, they need to raise campaign money.
“Legislators are asking themselves, ‘Do I really want to subject myself to these restrictions?’” said Levinson.
In the wake of the three indictments, CA Fwd, which has been working on reforms to protect public trust for several years, issued the Path Toward Trust which is a set of bipartisan proposals designed to restore public trust in government.
"California legislators work hard and take their jobs seriously," said Phillip Ung, director of public affairs for CA Fwd. "They understand that earning the public's trust is vital to the success of the state."
Ung noted that this legislative session has been productive, with the Legislature approving big issues like an on-time and balanced state budget that continues to pay down debt, and a bipartisan agreement on the constitutional amendment to enact a new budget reserve set to appear on the November 2014 ballot.
"Many voters are hopeful that additional ethics legislation will pass this session," Ung added. "Legislators understand that restoring trust in government is critical."
Trust is critical to Leila Pedersen as well, policy coordinator at California Common Cause. Pedersen argues that, while an ethics reform bill may seem like it doesn’t affect the public directly, it does.
“When a Senator like Leland Yee is arrested by the FBI that has implications on every piece of legislation he has touched,” said Pedersen. "It can compromise education reform, the environment or the economy."
Others added that voters also have a part to play in ethics reform. With a lack of engagement, legislation can simply fall to the wayside.
“Part of this is shame on us. I think there is a feeling that not everyone is watching these reforms to see if anything will happen,” said Levinson.
But something is expected to happen. Some reform bills have passed or are expected to pass. One bill approved by the Senate imposes a blackout period for fundraising during the last four weeks of the legislative session. But for Levinson, these types of bills just skim the surface.
“I think we have to see what would serve a purpose, versus just saying, ‘Well we passed an ethics reform!’”, said Levinson.
Then there is opposition behind the scenes where ethics reform can get complicated.
“Politicians don’t always think like the average voter," said Ung. "Legislators are, for the most part, political elite. They think about problems and they think about unintended consequences."
Those consequences include the ones from a blackout on funding: If applied to only members of the Senate, shouldn’t it also be applied to all government leaders? Or what about candidates running against legislators? Do they get to fundraise while the incumbent isn’t?
“Members put a lot of thought and time into the proposals and if we want to get it right, rushing to get knee jerk response is not going to solve the problem,” said DeMarco.
But maybe it’s not just the thought and time put into ethics reform that has legislators waning. Perhaps, as Levinson says, “It’s a lack of will.”

Law Professor Nominated To California High Court

Great to talk to Katie Orr of Capital Public Radio for this one.

Monday, July 21, 2014

One Ballot Initiative, Six Times the Fun

My op-ed in Fox & Hounds Daily is here

Here is an excerpt:

California is huge. I do not necessarily mean that as a compliment.
California is the nation’s most populous state. More than thirty-eight million people live in the Golden State. That is roughly twelve percent of the nation’s population. Add up the populations in about twenty-one of American’s least populous states and that will still not equal the number of people who live in California.
How many people represent these thirty-eight million people in the state legislature? One hundred and twenty. If that doesn’t seem like much, it is because it isn’t. California has the largest state legislative districts in the country. There are eighty State Assembly Districts (which each hold more than 466,000 residents) and forty State Senate Districts (which each hold more than 931,000 residents).
Want to get cozier with your state senator? You could move to Montana, Vermont, or Wyoming where around 20,000 people live in each state senate district.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

California recounts are rare, and should be fair

My latest op-ed in the Sacramento Bee is here.

Here is the first part of the piece:

Until former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez called it off Friday, we were in the midst of what was likely to become the biggest election recount in California history. If anything good comes of this political tempest, it is to remind us how badly we need to reform our recount laws.
The race to be the next state controller was excruciatingly tight. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican, is now set to face off against Board of Equalization member Betty Yee. Four hundred eighty-one votes separated Pérez and Yee, both Democrats. After the recount, which cost approximately $30,000, Perez picked up 10 votes.
The way we do recounts in California is, well, a tad unruly. Welcome to the Golden State, where a candidate or other registered voter must request and pay for a recount. And they can choose which precincts will be subject to the recount. 

Read more here:

Friday, July 18, 2014

News from LA: "Jury begins deliberating Alarcon perjury, voter fraud case"

Wonderful to talk to Soumya Karlamangla on this one

"Domicile cases can be a really tough call because you're trying to figure out someone's state of mind," said Jessica Levinson, who teaches election law at Loyola Law School.
Levinson said pieces of evidence like that, which suggest intent, could be enough for the defense to create "reasonable doubt" in the jurors' minds. Before a jury can convict, the law requires it to agree the charges are true "beyond a reasonable doubt."

"The prosecution basically builds a ship and the defense tries to poke enough of a hole to get some leakage," she said

Monday, July 14, 2014

News from Sacramento: "Critics question supervisor’s votes on area where she owns land"

Good to talk to Brian Branan for this one

Sacramento County Supervisor Susan Peters has voted for dozens of projects at Mather Fielddespite owning land and office space at the former air base – an arrangement that has raised questions by Mather-expansion critics about whether she has a conflict of interest.
Read more here:


But Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School and an expert on government ethics, said Peters appears to have a financial interest in the Mather votes she has made. Levinson reached that conclusion after The Bee provided her with a description of the votes and she consulted relevant sections of the California Political Reform Act.
“She should not have voted,” Levinson said. “She was within 500 feet and a reasonable person could conclude that she would benefit from the decision, and that is the standard.”

Read more here:

Friday, July 11, 2014

"California controller's race: Tough fight still lies ahead"

Wonderful to talk to Josh Richman for this one


Also, Perez chose not to abide by the state's $5.4 million campaign spending cap, so he couldn't place a candidate statement in the official voter information guide. He never came near hitting the cap, and when voters consulted the guide, the only Democrat they learned about was Yee.
"That is very important in off-year elections. Often times, the people who do bother to vote, that's the only thing they're going to look at," said Jessica Levinson, an election law and governance expert at Loyola Law School.
But Perez goes into the recount looking stronger, given the money he can raise and spend.
Any voter can request a recount in any number of counties in any order, but he or she must pay the costs daily; if the recount changes the election's result, the money is refunded. The request can be for a machine recount or for a by-hand review by election officials. And if the recount changes the tally, the other candidate can then demand a recount, too.
Perez asked for hand recounts in 15 counties where he beat Yee -- in order: Lake, Napa, San Mateo, Stanislaus, Merced, Fresno, Kings, Tulare, Kern, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial -- at an estimated $3 million cost. If he comes out on top and Yee has the option to request her own recount, "she's not going to have the funds to be able to do this," said Rodriguez, who worked on Perez's 2008 Assembly race.
Levinson said that's "very distressing, because getting votes counted should have absolutely nothing to do with financial ability."
"A recount should be a full recount, and it's troublesome to think about cherry-picking votes," she said. "It looks like you're playing politics with the most important right that we have to exercise our power in a democracy."

"Is the Supreme Court Out of Order?"

Watch Dahlia Lithwick and Linda Greenhouse discuss on Bill Moyers.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"Veterans Affairs Still Has A Subpoena Out For The Names Of VA Whistleblowers"

Good to talk to Evan McMorris-Santoro for this one in Buzzfeed. 

“Hearing nothing doesn’t mean they’re doing nothing,” said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola law professor who writes about the intersection of law and politics. “You don’t get to ignore a subpoena,” she added.

Monday, July 7, 2014

"Richard Alarcon's perjury and voter fraud trial to resume this week"

Great to talk to Soumya Karlamangla for this article about former Councilman Alarcon's trial. 

In his ongoing perjury and voter fraud trial, former Los Angeles Councilman Richard Alarcon is seeking to fend off two intertwined lines of attack by prosecutors: that he allegedly lived illegally outside his district and was a career politician who put personal ambition first.
Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School who studies election laws, said the prosecution wants the jury to conclude that "the Alarcons knew exactly what they were doing."
Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School who studies election laws, said the prosecution wants the jury to conclude that "the Alarcons knew exactly what they were doing."

"Who pays the most for California government lobbying in Sacramento? Government"

Good to talk to Ben Beeder for this article.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

"Support wanes in Sacramento for tough ethics reform following scandal"

Good to talk to Jessica Calefati for this one.

After state Sen. Leland Yee's stunning arrest earlier this year, the Legislature's highest-ranking member urged his colleagues to finally fix a long-standing problem in California politics -- the corrupting allure of money.
"Sometimes it takes a crisis," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said after denouncing the San Francisco Democrat's alleged ties to international gunrunning during a speech on the Senate floor.
Since voting to suspend Yee and two other California senators indicted in recent months, Sacramento lawmakers have held a "day of reflection" and considered more than a dozen new pieces of ethics reform legislation. But while support for bills requiring more disclosure of gifts and contributions remains strong, interest in tougher proposals that would restrict politicians' fundraising and access to lavish free trips around the globe has waned significantly in the last three months.
"You can't be against an ethics bill the day after the scandal, but it's no longer the day after the scandal," said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who specializes in campaign finance law.
Proposals that seek to ban fundraisers at lobbyists' homes, double the amount of campaign finance reporting required annually and limit the value of gifts lawmakers can receive from outside groups passed nearly unanimously.
These are worthy pursuits, Levinson said, but they're clearly not the kind of systemic changes Steinberg was talking about several months ago when he lamented the distrust sown by the "legal, acceptable and necessary" truth that money can corrupt.
"We're nibbling around the edges, grabbing the low-hanging fruit," Levinson said.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

"Whatever else it is, Hobby Lobby ruling isn’t narrow"

Good to talk to Steve Sebelius for this one

“I really don’t view this as narrow, by any stretch of the imagination,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “It makes ‘sincere religious objection’ a much stronger argument in areas that, quite frankly, we’re not even thinking about.”
Indeed, Levinson said we might have to wait another 20 years to find out precisely how broad Monday’s ruling really is, as corporations object to other laws and regulations on religious grounds.
Most troubling, Winkler and Levinson said, is the fact that while justices said laws against racial discrimination would probably withstand an attack on religious grounds, they left unmentioned laws prohibiting discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgender people. And it’s much more likely that a corporation would seek religiously based exemption from laws covering anti-gay discrimination than they would laws protecting racial minorities.
We’ll wrestle with that question, and perhaps many, many more, because Congress decided it could not leave undisturbed a perfectly reasonable set of Supreme Court precedents. Let no one ever say that pandering does not have consequences.

Election 2014: Super PACs set stage for big spending in Shriver-Kuehl showdown

Great to talk to Frank Stoltze of KPCC for this one.

Super PACs are required to file campaign reports on contributors but often receive less scrutiny than contributions to candidates, said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who sits on the LA City Ethics Commission.

“When candidates accept contributions, there is more scrutiny and accountability,” she said. "Candidates can easily say they are not responsible for the message of super PACs that support them," said Levinson.