The chairwoman of the state's political watchdog agency wants to clean up confusing regulations and reverse what she called "unprofessional" practices in favor of aggressive crackdowns on the biggest scofflaws.
Ann Ravel, the new chairwoman of the Fair Political Practices Commission, said in an interview with The Bee Capitol Bureau that she saw "an attitude and approach of vilification of potential violators" when she came on board to replace Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger-appointee Dan Schnur as chair.
She was particularly unhappy with an image of a gorilla clawing at the Capitol on the commission's website, which she has had removed. She's also taken down a list of open investigations from the site, saying she was concerned that posting implies that the FPPC sees some merit to the complaint.
Ravel said she wants the commission to focus on restoring public confidence in government by spending less time on minor and unintentional violations.
"We don't want to scare people to think that every politician is crooked," she said.
Instead, she's assembled a group of auditors, lawyers and investigators from a staff of about 80 to seek out willful inconsistencies and more serious violations.
"It should be us doing more aggressive (work)...looking around to see what we can sniff out," she said. "There is an opportunity to go after serious violators There's certainly people out there who are using their position for improper things."
Since her appointment by Gov. Jerry Brown in Feb., she's launched an initiative to make the FPPC's regulations more consistent. She said the next step would be to educate local candidates and officials at the start of their political careers about what they have to report and what they don't, helping prevent future issues.
"We can have a profound impact on the local level by keeping them from tripping up at the beginning," Ravel said.
The commission is expected to adopt a new regulation at its June 9 meeting that will allow subjects of investigations to be notified before the public. Ravel said it is an important part of bringing more fairness and due process to FPPC policies.
The FPPC fields, investigates and prosecutes complaints about politicians, candidates for office and government officials, relating to everything from gifts from lobbyists to stock ownership.