Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

February 12, 2014
California bill would ban lobbyists from hosting fundraisers


Reacting to this week's announcement that a Sacramento lobbyist is paying a six-figure fine for making illegal campaign contributions by hosting lavish political fundraisers at his home, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia introduced a bill Wednesday to ban the practice.

Assembly Bill 1673 would prohibit lobbyists from hosting fundraising parties at their homes and offices. Under current law, lobbyists may host fundraisers that cost up to $500 -- even though they are prohibited from making monetary campaign contributions of any amount to candidates for offices they are registered to lobby.

"It really makes no sense that a lobbyist can't buy lunch for a legislator for over $10, but can provide elaborate, exclusive dinner parties simply by stating that it is under the $500 limit," Garcia, a Bell Gardens Democrat, said in a prepared statement.

"As we've seen, these in-home lobbyist events fly under the legal radar and I think that they should be banned."

The Fair Political Practices Commission announced Monday that it has reached an agreement with lobbyist Kevin Sloat -- and his firm Sloat Higgins Jensen and Associates -- to pay a record-setting fine of $133,500 for hosting numerous political fundraisers that exceeded the limits placed on lobbyists. Sloat acknowledged providing liquor, cigars and other hospitality to 37 public officials and candidates, who all received warning letters from the FPPC for accepting Sloat's non-monetary contributions.

Garcia's bill is part of a package of legislation she is promoting as the "Political Conduct, Ethics and Public Trust Acts of 2014."

Other elements include measures to limit how officials can spend their campaign funds; expand the information governments provide about employee salaries; restrict some water board members from making decisions that affect their political donors; and change the way vote-by-mail applications are processed.

PHOTO: Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia in the Assembly chambers in March 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

February 12, 2014
Bay Delta tunnel plan cost hammered at hearing


Pointing to cost overruns with California's high-speed rail project, lawmakers on Wednesday pressed state officials on the funding sources and ultimate price tag for the governor's water tunnel plan.

"I'm very concerned about the ever-expanding cost," Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, said at the hearing's outset.

Frazier referred to an article in the San Jose Mercury News that puts the project's cost over 50 years at over $50 billion - more than double the state's figure of $24.7 billion - and added that "I tend to believe the higher number is probably the more accurate number."

Underscoring concerns about the project's scope and financial stability, Frazier announced after the hearing that he has introduced a bill requiring the Legislature's approval before construction could begin.

Along with a proposed bullet train that would traverse the Central Valley, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan has become a defining and bitterly contested centerpiece of Gov. Jerry Brown's agenda.

Even after the administration released a massive environmental review draft for the undertaking, questions have continued to swirl around how it will be paid for.

Water agencies will be on the hook to pay for massive twin tunnels that will funnel water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to users throughout the state, with water agencies repaying bonds issued by the California Department of Water Resources. The Bee reported in December that agencies would need to pour in an additional $1.2 billion for preliminary planning and design efforts.

During Wednesday's hearing, an official from the California Department of Water Resources predicted that public water agencies will collectively cover "one hundred percent" of the construction cost.

"I think it will be very easy to attract the capital for this project," said Laura King Moon, the department's chief deputy director.

But legislators repeatedly sought guarantees that, should the price of the tunnels balloon beyond current estimates, the water agencies would remain responsible for the cost.

"There has to be some assurance that if you do go over," said Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, "that it's the responsibility of the water contractors to pick that up, and not the taxpayers in the state of California.

Since the agriculture industry takes a huge gulp out of California's annual water use, water agencies that supply farms would likely bear a large share of the tunnel cost. Many Central Valley farmers don't see much of an incentive to buy in, according to the University of the Pacific's Jeffrey Michael.

"The costs are really nonsensical for agriculture compared to the benefits," Michael, a professor of economics, said at the hearing.

February 12, 2014
Neel Kashkari blames Jerry Brown for drought

kashkarisits.jpgRepublican Neel Kashkari blamed Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday for California's ongoing drought, saying a "lack of leadership in Sacramento" has left the state unprepared for dry years.

Kashkari, speaking on KMJ 580 radio from the World Ag Expo in Tulare, called for greater investment in dams.

"We need to build more storage," the gubernatorial candidate said on "The Ray Appleton Show."

Tim Donnelly, the other main Republican bidding to unseat Brown, has also called for more dam construction, though neither candidate has offered specific plans.

Kashkari's interview came just hours after Brown visited the agricultural expo. The visit was heavily colored by the drought, with members of Congress skirmishing over California water legislation and President Barack Obama preparing to visit Fresno on Friday.

The Democratic governor has yet to state a position on an $11.1 billion water bond scheduled for the November ballot, and offered no indication Wednesday about next steps on the drought.

"You've got to have rain," he told reporters, according to a recording provided by Valley Public Radio. "Aside from the rain, you've got to use the water efficiently, you've got to have storage and we have to balance all the interests, because we have no other choice."

Brown said he is trying "to find the middle path that will get the most done that is feasible under the Constitution and under the politics we have."

"Look, if anybody can get it done, I can get it done," he said, "and I'm working night and day to achieve it."

PHOTO: Neel Kashkari speaks at an interview with The Associated Press in Sacramento on Dec. 4, 2013. AP Photo/ Rich Pedroncelli

February 12, 2014
In vulnerable seat, Rep. Gary Miller says he won't seek reelection


Rep. Gary Miller, R-Rancho Cucamonga, said today he will not seek reelection, boosting Democrats' chances of a pickup in the Inland Empire.

The eight-term congressman announced his retirement in a brief statement Wednesday, saying "while there is still a lot of work to be done, it is now time for me to pass the baton."

His departure marks the latest in a series of veteran California representatives to step down.

Miller was regarded as among the most endangered incumbents in the nation, representing a redrawn district in which Democrats enjoy a 7 percent voter-registation edge and President Barack Obama won by16 points in 2012.

Miller survived his last race by advancing to an intraparty runoff against former state Sen. Bob Dutton under the state's new top-two primary system.

The 31st district covers Redlands and San Bernardino and stretches through Upland and Rancho Cucamonga. It features a trio of Democratic challengers in Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, lawyer Eloise Gomez Reyes and former Rep. Joe Baca.

While that race favors Democrats, California Republicans are threatening in a handful of other districts, including in Sacramento, San Diego and Palm Springs.

Miller's resignation follows recent retirement announcements of Republican Reps. Buck McKeon of Santa Clarita and John Campbell of Irvine and Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman of Beverly Hills and George Miller of Martinez. None of the seats are expected to change partisan hands.

Nationally, 11 incumbent House Republicans and 7 Democrats have said they will not seek reelection this year.

PHOTO: Rep. Gary Miller, R-Rancho Cucamonga

February 12, 2014
AM Alert: Assembly committee considers Delta tunnels funding

AerialDelta.JPGWith the recent debate over the cost of the California's proposed high-speed rail and whether the money would be better spent elsewhere, that other controversial infrastructure project touted by Gov. Jerry Brown hasn't been getting much attention lately.

But the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, which would build two enormous water diversion tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, regains the spotlight today with a fiscal oversight hearing from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in Room 437 of the Capitol.

Held by the Accountability and Administrative Review Committee, the series of three panels will examine uncertainties in the project's funding structure, which could affect water ratepayers, as well as the economic impact of tunnel construction on the Delta region and the effects of the drought on water delivery and revenues.

VIDEO: Gov. Jerry Brown got the delay he wanted on prison reductions, but with some caveats that could be politically damaging, Dan Walters says.

ELECTION EXPO-SITION: The governor's race heads to Tulare today, as both Brown and possible Republican candidate Neel Kashkari attend the 47th Annual World Ag Expo. Brown will be there in the morning, while Kashkari swings by in the afternoon.

IN THE OTHER CAPITOL: State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has been in Washington, D.C. this week meeting with members of California's congressional delegation and the Obama administration to discuss policy priorities such as mental health services, universal pre-kindergarten and the drought. He wraps up today with a keynote address at the California State Society's Golden State Roundtable, as well as meetings with Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, among others.

WORKING WOMEN: The California Applicants' Attorneys Association's Women's Caucus holds a symposium on working women's on-the-job injuries and policies to reduce them starting at 8 a.m. at the Citizen Hotel on J Street. The Legislative Women's Caucus is co-hosting the event, with members slated to speak including state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and Assembly members Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, and Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens.

CALL TO ACTION: Government transparency watchdog California Common Cause holds a press conference on the west steps of the Capitol at 10:30 a.m. calling on legislators not to join or support model legislation crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council. Common Cause maintains that ALEC abuses its nonprofit status to promote bills that directly benefit its corporate members.

NO BIZ LIKE SHOWBIZ: Following up on a report released last week by Otis College of Art and Design, the Joint Committee on the Arts holds a hearing examining the impact of the state's "creative economy" and opportunities for growth in sectors such as the entertainment industry. The hearing takes place at 10 a.m. in Room 112 of the Capitol.

IMMIGRANT HEALTH CARE: Last month, state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, announced plans to introduce legislation that would extend health insurance to immigrants who are in California illegally. The California Immigrant Policy Center and the California Latino Legislative Caucus hold a legislative briefing on the proposals at 10:30 a.m. in Room 127 of the Capitol.

THE RE-UP: Attorney General Kamala Harris begins her campaign for re-election at San Francisco City Hall at 11 a.m., where she plans to take out papers with the San Francisco Department of Elections. In one of the most high-profile statewide races, a challenger to Harris has yet to emerge.

A NIGHT AT THE LIBRARY: Celebrating the recently-completed renovations of the Stanley Mosk Library and Courts Building, the California State Library hosts an evening "show-and-tell" with some of its rare and priceless pieces. The program begins at 6 p.m. at the Mosk Building on Capitol Mall.

PHOTO: Aerial photo of the region to be affected by the Delta water tunnels and intakes near Walnut Grove on April 10, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

February 12, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Jerry Brown receives stay of execution on prison cuts

CaliforniaPrisonsHungerStrike.jpgFederal judges have given Gov. Jerry Brown more time to reduce prison population, but with some caveats that could be politically damaging.

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

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

PHOTO: A correctional officer is seen in one of the housing units at Pelican Bay State Prison near Crescent City on Aug. 17, 2011. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.


Capitol Alert Staff

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. Twitter: @DanielSnowSmith

Jim Miller Jim Miller covers California policy and politics and edits Capitol Alert. Twitter: @jimmiller2

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

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

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

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. Twitter: @capitolalert

Koseff Alexei Koseff edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. Twitter: @akoseff

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

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