Friday, November 27, 2015

"Gavin Newsom Talks His Three Big Issues For 2016"

Wonderful to speak with Marisa Lagos for this piece on KQED.

Jessica Levinson, a law professor who studies campaign and ethics issues at Loyola Marymount University, said it’s all part and parcel of the Gavin Newsom playbook: Play to a liberal base, get ahead on issues that are controversial now but will likely be more broadly embraced in a couple years and also, yes, focus on more mainstream issues like the economy while you are at it.

She said it’s a smart strategy.

“I think Gavin Newsom knows his brand very well, and it’s using his office and using ballot measures to really try and come out clearly as a solid liberal — and maybe just a few years ahead of the curve,” she said.

“So by the time we are voting for governor,” she added, “we will be looking at Gavin Newsom and saying, ‘You had ESP, you knew where the state was going when it came to minimum wage, you knew where things were trending when it came to pot and you saw the importance of stronger gun control before other people were acting on it.’ ”

‘He Embraces Being a Liberal Democrat’

Levinson said Newsom’s positions may be risky for a moderate, but “he can’t run away from the fact that he’s a liberal Democrat, so I think he’s basically decided to embrace it.”

She noted the lieutenant governor is also talking about the economy and water — “he just made a trip to the Central Valley” — but that voters won’t be paying attention to the actual governor’s race for a year or more anyway, so it makes sense to lay the groundwork around other issues.

“I think he is going to be one of the top contenders, and he’s basically laying claim to a number of areas now,” Levinson said, noting Newsom has been “trying to lose the lieutenant part of his title since before the day he was sworn in.”

She said it’s smart to use ballot measures to burnish his political credentials for another reason: Initiatives are not subject to the same campaign finance limits that candidates are.

“You can tie yourself to an issue without the same rubric of money restrictions, and in some ways it’s less risky, because if a ballot initiative goes down, it’s not a referendum on you as a candidate,” she said.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"New Watchdog Overseeing ‘Pay to Play’ Politics in San Francisco"

Great to speak with Ted Goldberg for this piece on KQED.

Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who is now the president of the L.A. commission, worked with Pelham years ago.

“She’s no shrinking violet,” Levinson said in an interview. “She’s going to do what she thinks is right, she’ll listen to the stakeholders, the commissioners, members of the reform community and the regulated community,” Levinson said. “I don’t think she’s going to come in there with a ‘it’s my way or the highway,’ but I do think she knows how to run an agency.”

"Presidential debates’ shift: Terror attacks change game"

Great to talk with John Wildermuth for this piece.

Sanders “wants to talk about economic inequality and issues like that,” said Jessica Levinson, a political analyst and law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “But with the debate shifting to foreign policy, that’s not in his wheelhouse.”

“The establishment candidates are in a state of shock,” Levinson said. “They keep looking at their watches and wondering when (Trump and Carson) will crater.”

They want to winnow the field, Levinson said, and know “it’s time to step it up and knock Trump and Carson off their pedestals,” either at the debate or before.
“It isn’t going to be a scorched-earth campaign,” with Clinton’s two opponents willing to do anything to pull Clinton down, Levinson said. “We saw that (in an October debate) when Sanders wasn’t willing to challenge her on her (State Department) e-mails.”

"S.F. Ethics Commission hires director with long experience in L.A."

Nice to speak with Lizzie Johnson for this one

Pelham will be an effective director because she comes from a reform background and understands what the job entails, said Jessica Levinson, president of the Ethics Commission in Los Angeles and a professor at Loyola Law School.

“It’s very rare to get someone who has already done this job in a different jurisdiction and knows how to handle the various stakeholders,” Levinson said. “LeeAnn knows how to run an agency. She is educated on the goals, which are policy proposal and enforcement action. I think she’s going to be really thoughtful about what can be done in the current legal framework.”

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Opinion Pages: Ann Ravel

Check out our amazing ‪#‎FEC‬ Chair Ann Ravel in the NYT! 

And here is what she generously said about who she is following:
"My new favorite site is, where members share links. It’s always interesting. I feel I’m becoming more informed about our culture. On Twitter, I follow reform groups like Campaign Legal Center, Democracy 21, Common Cause. But I also follow people like Gov Jerry Brown, Prof.Jessica Levinson, campaign finance lawyer Marc Elias and Ellen Weintraub, my fellow F.E.C. commissioner."

Sunday, November 22, 2015

"San Jose mayor hides calls with his 'kitchen cabinet'"

Great to speak with Ramona Giwargis for this piece. 

"If they are discussing city business," said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School and president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, "the people have a right to know."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Independent spending in California: Money talks, candidates listen"

More great reporting by Laurel Rosenhall. 

In a hotel ballroom blocks from the state Capitol, nearly three dozen wannabe legislators gathered recently to learn the ways of Sacramento. They were members of city councils and school boards, ranchers and attorneys, Republicans and Democrats, moms and dads -- all candidates for the Legislature who had signed up for this crash course in how things really work.
High on the agenda: money.

"The accountability behind that is much less," said Jessica Levinson, a professor of election law at Loyola Law School. "We have candidate campaigns and then we have these shadow campaigns."

"Lobbyist meetings missing from San Jose council calendars"

Wonderful to speak with Ramona Giwargis for this article

"It presents the public with a very misleading view about how their officials spend their day," said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School and president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission. "We're not asking them to tell us when they were at their kid's soccer game. It's in the public's interest to be able to know who the legislators are meeting with and how often."

"Tax Records Show Millions Raised For Police Youth Charity Went To Telemarketers"

Good to speak with Derek Shore for this piece

“Frankly, it’s just a disgusting misuse of the nonprofit forum, because people are in good faith saying ‘I want to help,’” said Jessica Levinson, a law professor and chair of the L.A. Ethics Commission.
“You’re seeing upwards of 80 percent not used for the charitable purpose. So used for paying telemarketers, used for overhead, miscellaneous expenses,” she said.

"Airbnb has spent more than $200,000 on lobbying efforts in LA"

A pleasure to be on KPCC to discuss.

"Airbnb is spending... a not insignificant amount of money lobbying the city of L.A.," said Jessica Levinson, the president of the L.A. City Ethics Commission. She said the money pays for access to local lawmakers, which lobbyists jockey for.

"A lot of it is paying for people’s time, it’s paying for people’s connections, it’s paying for people’s expertise in knowing who to talk to, how to talk to them and when to approach them," said Levinson.

"Garcetti email flap shows fuzzy line between governing, campaigning"

“The basic rule is, whatever happens on the taxpayer dime should be serving your constituents,” says Jessica Levinson, president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

Distinguishing between a candidate and an official can be complicated, and so can navigating local, state and federal law

It’s hard to say definitely where the public official ends and the campaigner begins, Levinson says.

“It’s all a line drawn in the sand on a windy day.... Those lines can be difficult because elected officials are public servants, but they’re also political animals.”

To illustrate the problem, Levinson poses a scenario: Should a mayor’s security detail be allowed to accompany him, for instance, to a fundraising event? “If we decide as a public that it’s important to protect this person and keep them safe, then that would be true regardless of what the elected official is doing,” Levinson says. “But the taxpayers are then facilitating a political activity.”

"Money and clout on the line for teachers union in 2016"

Always good to talk with Laurel Rosenhall for this.

A ruling against CTA at the U.S. Supreme Court could weaken all public employee unions because many workers will stop paying dues, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute. That would strike a significant blow to CTA, said Jessica Levinson, a professor of political law at Loyola Law School.

“The thing that makes unions powerful is the vast sums of money they can use to exert political influence,” Levinson said, so any reduction in funds “is going to be a loss to their power.”

"Suppression of public participation or greater efficiency? Inglewood makes council meetings earlier"

Terrific to speak with Angel Jennings for this one

Jessica Levinson, a clinical law professor at Loyola Law School who serves on the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, said Inglewood is not an outlier. In California, several city councils, including Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose, convene in the mornings and early afternoon.
“What strikes me as unusual is that they are moving from a time that was preferable for people who might have trouble getting there in the middle of the day to a less convenient time,” she said.

"Inside California lawmakers’ paid trips to Maui"

Great to speak with Alexei Koseff for this piece

It may not make much of a difference to voters, who see moneyed interests able to buy a different seat at the table than they get, Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson said.
“It strains common sense to think that a special interest would fund a lawmaker’s trip to Hawaii and the lawmaker wouldn’t feel some modicum of gratitude,” said Levinson, who is president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.
Legislators vehemently reject such a characterization.
“Especially on the left, whenever someone loses, they want to say it’s because the whole system is corrupt,” said Wright, who resigned from the Legislature last year after being convicted of eight felonies for lying about where he lived when he was elected. Now retired, he was attending the conference as a friend of Howle’s. “Maybe I just thought your idea was bull–.”

Read more here:

Saturday, November 7, 2015

"Children of Top DA Officials Get Coveted Jobs"

Good to talk to Adam Elmahrek for this one. 

Jessica Levinson -- a clinical professor of law at Loyola Law School and president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission – said candidates shouldn’t be disqualified just because their parents are high-ranking officials.
But it did give her pause that, of the handful hired out of a pool of 500, two happened to be children of top DA officials.
“You can definitely look at the numbers and ask would they have otherwise been hired?” said Levinson, whose husband works in the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office. “And that’s very difficult to answer.”

"AP Exclusive: Brown had state workers research oil on ranch"

Great to speak with Ellen Knickmeyer for this one

Jessica Levinson, a governance expert and professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said that if state regulators had done that kind of work before for private landowners, they should be able to provide examples.
Of Brown's request, Levinson said, "if no other private individual is able to avail himself of this opportunity, and it's clearly just for personal gain instead of public benefit, then it's clearly problematic."

Read more here:

"California Lawmakers Head to Maui with Lobbyists"

Breitbart article.

“Those corporations want to curry favor with elected officials,” Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor and president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission told theLos Angeles Times. 

"California Gov. Jerry Brown Ordered State Workers To Research Oil Drilling On His Ranch"

BuzzFeed article

Other experts agreed, saying that state officials typically do not provide private citizens with the kind of help Brown got. And Jessica Levinson — a governance expert at Loyola Law School — questioned the ethics of Brown’s request, telling the AP that “if no other private individual is able to avail himself of this opportunity, and it’s clearly just for personal gain instead of public benefit, then it’s clearly problematic.”

"L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti's endorsement of Hillary Clinton hits embarrassing snag"

Good to talk to Peter Jamison for this one
“I think that city and state law is pretty clear that you don’t use the taxpayer dime to send out campaign endorsements,” said city Ethics Commission President Jessica Levinson. “And the taxpayer dime includes both workers and infrastructure.”
Levinson declined to comment specifically on the mayor’s presidential endorsement, saying the incident could come before her panel for consideration of possible sanctions.