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Political attorneys are seeing red over the Fair Political Practices Commission's decision to post notices of pending investigations online, calling the practice a "'scarlet letter' approach to enforcement."

California Political Attorneys Association President James Harrison wrote a letter yesterday to FPPC Chairman Dan Schnur asking that the full commission reconsider the move, which was announced last week.

Though it is already FPPC policy to confirm ongoing investigations to the public and media, the letter argues that the heightened publicity of proactively posting investigation confirmations online "creates a risk that allegations, which after a thorough investigation conducted post-election are deemed to be unfounded, could have a determinative effect on the outcome of an election."

"It is not difficult to conceive of future mailers and television ads that feature a screen print from the 'investigations' page of the FPPC's website with a banner headline 'Candidate X is under investigation for misusing campaign funds. If we can't trust him with his own money, how can we trust him with ours?,'" reads the letter, which was signed by members of the CPAA executive board.

The letter continues to express concern that more campaigns will turn to alleging unfounded campaign law violations as a vehicle for attacking their opponent if they know the probe will get public attention.

Schnur addressed that concern in an interview with The Bee last week, pledging to publicly admonish campaigns that file "frivolous" complaints. He said the threat of those banner headlines in the heat of an election would have a positive effect by encouraging campaigns to steer clear of violating state campaign laws.

FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter said today that there were no plans to add discussion of the issue to the next meeting agenda and that commission staff "has merely chosen to provide another method of making these public documents available to the public and media."

"There has been no change in policy relative to deciding what constitutes a case that should be investigated nor has there been a change in policy regarding what kind of documents are public documents," he said.

Click here to read the letter.


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