July 21, 2014

USA: CA State Senate Democrats Blocked A Republican Bill That Proposed Some Of The Toughest Ethics And Campaign Finance Restrictions.

The Los Angeles Times
written by Patrick McGreevy
June 24, 2014

State Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a Republican bill that proposed some of the toughest ethics and campaign finance restrictions put forward since three Democratic lawmakers were suspended while facing criminal charges, two of them involving corruption.

SB 1379 fell one vote short of the majority needed to pass out of the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee after Democratic Sens. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara and Loni Hancock of Berkeley withheld their votes. Two other Democrats voted for the measure, and Republican Sen. Joel Anderson of San Diego voted no.

The Republican proposal would have required faster public disclosure of campaign contributions, prohibited lawmakers from paying their spouses and children with campaign funds, barred the use of certain political funds for criminal defense expenses and doubled the penalty for bribery convictions.

“The unprecedented corruption charges brought against two members of this house has caused many of us to look at both campaign finance and ethical reforms,” Senate Republican leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar told the panel.

He cited the suspension of Democratic Sens. Leland Yee of San Francisco, Ronald S. Calderon of Montebello and Roderick Wright of the Inglewood area.

Wright has been convicted of perjury and voter fraud for lying about living in his Senate district, while Calderon and Yee have been charged with accepting payments for official favors.

“Due to bad behavior alleged against the suspended members, the integrity of the Senate has been dealt a serious blow,” Huff said. “We have to act with urgency to strengthen current law in order to win back the public trust.”

Hancock withheld her vote because she wanted more analysis of the impact of the proposed longer criminal penalties in the bill, according to spokesman Larry Levin. Jackson did not say why she withheld her vote.

Meanwhile, a bill that would create a campaign fundraising blackout at the end of the legislative session stalled in an Assembly committee Tuesday on a 1-1 vote, with four assemblymembers withholding their votes. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) authored SB 1101.

“I believe that a fundraising blackout period, particularly at the end of legislative session, is good public policy,” Padilla said. “It shows we are serious about reform and committed to separating fundraising and votes. I am disappointed that the bill did not pass.”

San Jose Mercury News
written by Jessica Calefati
July 6, 2014

SACRAMENTO -- 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.

In February, Sen. Alex Padilla introduced a bill that would create fundraising "blackout" periods when lawmakers running for re-election are barred from accepting campaign contributions. Under the proposal, fundraising while negotiating the budget and during the last several weeks of the legislative session would be forbidden.

Lawmakers have tried to impose such blackout periods three other times over the past decade, but none of the attempts were successful in passing legislation in effect in 15 states.

With three colleagues -- Yee and Sens. Ronald Calderon, D-Montebello, and Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood -- possibly facing prison time (Wright has already been convicted of voter fraud), Padilla said he hoped this year the timing would be right. Instead, his bill is on life support.

"Every legislator I've talked to swears up and down that their political activities are separate from how we make policy and how we cast our votes," Padilla said. "We can all say that until we're blue in the face. But if public perception is otherwise, that's not good for democracy."

Senate Bill 1101 survived a vote in the Senate only after Padilla agreed to an amendment sought by Senate Republicans that also imposes fundraising restrictions on non-incumbent candidates for the Legislature. Otherwise, those challengers would have an unfair fundraising advantage, the lawmakers argued.

Now Padilla is hearing new complaints from Democrats who sit on the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee. A majority of the panel's members declined to cast votes on the bill when they reviewed the proposal last month, leaving it without enough support to advance.

"It's been a grind," said Padilla, a candidate for secretary of state in November's election.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, said the proposed legislation "simply had too many inconsistencies and unresolved issues" to win his support in committee. He noted that the ban wouldn't apply to non-legislator candidates seeking local or statewide office. That's unfair to sitting lawmakers running for those offices, he said.

Asked why the bill couldn't be amended to address that concern, Padilla said court decisions in other states indicate that it would invite legal challenges.

Last month, the Senate adopted a new rule that imposes a fundraising ban on its members for the last four weeks of the legislative session, but there are no legal penalties for officials who break the rules. Senators who accept checks during the blackout period can only be reprimanded by their colleagues.

So far, the Assembly has declined to adopt a similar rule.

Padilla isn't the only lawmaker to have an ethics reform bill picked apart this year.

Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, saw key elements of a wide-ranging proposal to strengthen California's landmark Political Reform Act deleted by the Senate Appropriations Committee, led by Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, who will replace the termed-out Steinberg as the Senate's leader.

The committee is supposed to amend legislation that would be too costly to implement. In Hill's case, however, the committee eliminated pieces of his proposal that would have barred lawmakers from taking expensive free trips and prevented indicted lawmakers from using their campaign accounts as legal defense funds.

Hill, who sits on the committee, said he doesn't know why those changes were made. Had he objected, he added, he would have been forced to kill his own bill.

"What works for the committee may not work for you, but if you want the bill to move forward, that's how it goes," Hill said.

Provisions of the bill that remain intact will prohibit elected officials from contributing campaign funds to nonprofits run by their family members, block lawmakers from using campaign funds to pay their bills and require groups that pay for legislators' travel to disclose their donors and the cost of the trip.

De Leon declined to say why Hill's bill was amended by the committee. But Dan Reeves, de Leon's chief of staff, defended the changes.

"It's both commonplace and expected that the Appropriations Committee will, in the course of its duties, make improvements to bills to make them more workable," Reeves said.

Steinberg was unavailable for comment last week.

Senate Republican leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, also authored a sweeping ethics reform bill that would, among other things, prohibit lawmakers from using campaign accounts for criminal defense or to pay the salaries of their relatives, but it failed to clear a committee last month when two senators -- Hannah-Beth Jackson, Democrat-Santa Barbara, and Loni Hancock, Democrat-Berkeley -- withheld their votes.

De Leon and Steinberg deserve credit for pushing through new Senate rules that impose fundraising restrictions, offer whistle-blower protection to Senate staff and require the chamber to hire an ombudsman, but overall lawmakers' efforts to reform Sacramento politics have been lukewarm, said Dan Schnur, director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.

"It's pretty clear that most legislators are only interested in political reform in months when one of their colleagues is being arrested," said Schnur, who lost a bid to become secretary of state in June's primary election. "As soon as the headlines faded, so did the interest in the Capitol for any meaningful effort to clean up the system."

No comments: