Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

February 1, 2013
State senator gets free Super Bowl ticket for fundraising duties

Super Bowl Football.jpgState Sen. Kevin de León is heading to New Orleans to watch the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens face off in the Super Bowl -- on the California Democratic Party's dime.

The Los Angeles Democrat is getting a free ticket to Sunday's game as part of a fundraiser to boost his party's bank account. The pass isn't subject to the $420 limit on gifts to lawmakers because the rules provide an exemption for admission to political and nonprofit fundraisers. Face value Super Bowl tickets start at $850.

Jason Kinney, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats' political efforts, said de León, who serves as chair of the Democratic Caucus and the powerful Appropriations Committee, was asked to represent the caucus at the event when Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg could not attend.

Kinney declined to provide additional information about attendees or the itinerary, but said the state Democratic Party paid for all overhead costs and will report those expenditures as well as the contributions received as part of the fundraiser in its campaign filings.

"Personally, I think it demonstrates impressive generosity of spirit that Los Angeles's own Kevin de León is willing to show up and pretend to root for a San Francisco team for three whole hours," Kinney said in a prepared statement.

PHOTO CREDIT: San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis (52), practice squad member Kenny Wiggins (69), and tackle Anthony Davis (76) warm up during practice on Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, in New Orleans. The 49ers are scheduled to play the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game on Feb. 3. (AP Photo/ Mark Humphrey)

February 1, 2013
Jerry Brown reports pardoning 128 convicted criminals in 2012

Brownstate.jpgGov. Jerry Brown was in a forgiving state of mind last year.

The Democratic governor pardoned 128 convicted criminals in 2012, six times the number he granted the previous year, according to a report to the Legislature today by Brown.

In 2011, Brown issued 21 pardons. Even that number was more than any governor had granted for years. Brown's predecessor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, commuted 10 sentences during his tenure and pardoned just 16 people. Schwarzenegger's predecessor, Gray Davis, granted no pardons.

Most of the people Brown pardoned in 2012 were convicted of drug or property crimes and discharged from prison or parole many years ago. Most of the pardons - 79 - were announced on Christmas Eve.

Brown also granted one commutation, which was widely reported when it was announced in April. That month, Brown commuted the prison sentence of a woman convicted of shaking her baby grandson to death in Los Angeles County in 1997, in a case an appeals court deemed a likely miscarriage of justice.

A pardon is often symbolically significant to its recipient, and it can help in job applications. It also allows an ex-felon to be employed as a parole or probation officer and, in most cases, to own a gun.

PHOTO CREDIT: Gov. Jerry Brown gives his State of the State speech at the state Capitol in Sacramento, California on Thursday, January 24, 2013. Hector Amezcua / Sacramento Bee

February 1, 2013
Attorney Gavin Wasserman named to political watchdog panel

California Controller John Chiang has named Torrance attorney Gavin Wasserman to the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Wasserman, who runs his own firm in Southern California, replaces termed-out Commissioner Ronald Rotunda on the political ethics agency's panel, which enforces the state campaign laws.

The Torrance Republican was selected from a list of candidates recommended by the California Republican Party, an arrangement required by law because Chiang and two other officials naming appointees are from the same party.

Wasserman fills one of three commission spots that open up this month. The other two appointees will be chosen by Attorney General Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

February 1, 2013
Poll: California business leaders see state's climate as difficult

More than two-thirds of California business leaders see the state as an extraordinarily difficult state in which to operate, a new survey by the California Business Roundtable has found.

The poll adds heft to the often-voiced complaints about the state's business climate from Republicans and business groups -- complaints that Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders say they want to address as the state struggles to emerge from a deep recession.

Brown and top legislators have pledged to reform the California Environmental Quality Act and examine other ways to make the state more attractive to investment, but environmental and consumer groups are leery.

The Business Roundtable polled 1,142 leaders of both large and small businesses and learned that more than 60 percent see the state's economy as worse than the nation's as a whole and 69 percent say it is harder to do business in California than in other states.

The survey also found that just 26 percent of business leaders believe that the results of the 2012 election, in which voters passed new taxes and expanded Democratic legislative majorities, will have a positive effect on the economy while 51 percent said it would have a negative effect.

February 1, 2013
Jerry Brown's Prop. 30 tax campaign outspent opposition 4 to 1

RP GOVERNOR PROP 30 SIGN.JPGGov. Jerry Brown and his allies spent nearly $54 million passing Brown's November ballot initiative to raise taxes, about four times the opposition, according to year-end campaign finance reports.

Total spending in support of Proposition 30 was equivalent to about $7.65 per "Yes" vote. The initiative passed by more than 10 percentage points, providing a major political lift to the Democratic governor as he begins the second half of his term.

The campaign committee specifically opposing Prop. 30 spent about $13.2 million, or $2.33 per "No" vote.

Meanwhile, Brown's effort to raise money for his re-election account remained relatively modest last year, at about $1.9 million. Brown had $7.1 million in cash on hand at the end of the year, according to his year-end campaign finance statement.

The third-term governor is widely expected to seek re-election in 2014, though he has not yet said if he will run.

PHOTO CREDIT: Students, dignitaries and supporters cheer on Gov. Jerry Brown who holds up a campaign sign and encourages students to vote yes for Proposition 30 at Sacramento City College on Oct. 18, 2012. Randy Pench / Sacramento Bee

February 1, 2013
See which California lobbying firms made the most money in 2012

Today's the day we get to see how 2012 treated Sacramento's lobbyists. Firms brought in a total of $172.6 million last year, according to the latest reports on file with the California of Secretary of State. That's down 2.4 percent from what they earned in 2011.

A few changes in 2012: The Lang Hansen firm replaced Nielsen Merksamer as the shop bringing in the most money. KP Public Affairs moved up to the number two spot, after landing at number three in 2011. Aaron Read slipped to number five after being in fourth place in 2011. And John Latimer's firm, Capitol Advocacy, jumped from number five in 2011 to number three last year.

Records show Joe Lang's firm benefited in 2012 from contracts with Comcast, Union Pacific Railroad, various water agencies, Facebook, Wal-Mart, Altria and the American Chemistry Council, among others.

The chart above shows the 25 firms that brought in the most money in 2012. Scroll over the bars to see more detail.

February 1, 2013
Report: Obama adviser says Medicaid cuts not in play

The Obama administration will protect Medicaid funding and instead look for savings in Medicare, a senior White House adviser told health care advocates Thursday, according to The Hill.

The statement from Gene Sperling is significant because Gov. Jerry Brown has recently claimed that California could face $4 billion in higher annual costs from Medi-Cal if federal leaders target Medicaid in deficit negotiations.

Brown has described that as a risk to California's budget, but he also is committed to expanding Medi-Cal coverage to low-income adults without children and parents just above poverty level. Under Obama's health care law, the federal government will pay 100 percent of coverage costs for those individuals from 2014 to 2016.

February 1, 2013
Court awards SMUD millions in nuke storage case

A federal court this week awarded the Sacramento Municipal Utility District more than $34 million for the federal government's failure to provide a permanent nuclear waste storage site.

In a 59-page decision quietly issued Thursday, U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Susan G. Braden concluded the utility district was owed $34,659,185 over what amounted to a partial breach of contract covering the years 1992 through 2009.

Stymied by politics, the federal government has failed to meet its commitment to open a nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. As a result, SMUD and other utility companies have been saddled with storing spent fuel from nuclear power plants.

The Sacramento utility district accumulated fuel from the old Rancho Seco nuclear power plant, which was closed following a public referendum in 1989. The first lawsuit was filed over the federal government's failure to provide permanent storage in 1998, and the ensuing legal battles have since gone up and down the appellate ladder.

The court's $34,659,185 award is less than half of what the utility district had originally sought. The net amount the federal government owes was offset somewhat by costs the Sacramento utility district was able to avoid, according to the ruling.

February 1, 2013
Dan Walters Daily: Latino boom will change California

Dan talks about how shifting demographics will reshape California politics -- particularly given the state's growing Latino population.

Have a question you'd like Dan to answer? Post it on our Facebook page.

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

February 1, 2013
AM Alert: Examining California's fiscal future

VIDEO: Dan Walters says that California's shifting demographics are gradually empowering Latinos, something that lawmakers will need to accommodate.

The Public Policy Institute of California is holding a talk on California's fiscal future today, featuring Mark Baldassare and David Lesher of PPIC; Craig Cornett, budget director and chief fiscal adviser for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg; Deborah Gonzalez, policy and fiscal director for Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway; H.D. Palmer, deputy director of external affairs for the California Department of Finance; and Juliet Williams of the Associated Press. 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. at the CSAC Conference Center, 1020 11th Street.

In honor of National Freedom Day, which commemorates President Abraham Lincoln signing what would become the 13th amendment, a replica of the bus in which Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat for a white passenger will be displayed in front of the state Capitol, from 10:30 a.m. to noon. February 4, this coming Monday, would be Parks' 100th birthday.

If you want to catch a glimpse of the next generation of potential California politicos, Junior State of America's Northern California chapter is holding its winter Congress this weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, the halls of the State Capitol building will be humming with hundreds of students and teachers debating model legislation and working on a new constitution for their organization.

There's a new report from the California Voter Foundation that takes a look at the state's attempts to modernize its voting equipment.

For all you Taekwondo fans out there, Olympic medalist Terrence Jennings will be putting in appearance at the Sacramento Invitational Taekwondo Championship on Saturday. This will be the latest iteration of champions and/or their hardware coming to Sacramento -- in January, we were graced by the San Francisco Giants' World Series trophy and the Stanley Cup, which arrived with a personalized jersey for Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez.


Capitol Alert Staff

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers California politics and edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. Twitter: @capitolalert

Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee.

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. Twitter: @ccadelago

Micaela Massimino Micaela Massimino edits Capitol Alert.

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. Twitter: @davidsiders

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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