Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

May 21, 2014
Outside donor group comes to Neel Kashkari's aid

kashkarikfbk.jpgNeel Kashkari will get a lift from a newly formed independent expenditure committee in the final days of the gubernatorial primary campaign, with Republican benefactor Charles Munger Jr. and billionaire Robert Day financing mailers supporting Kashkari and opposing rival Tim Donnelly, according to reports filed with the state Wednesday.

A group called "Californians for Kashkari for Governor 2014" filed its statement of organization on Monday, with a $350,000 donation from Munger and $50,000 from Day, chairman of Trust Company of the West. James Hunter, vice chairman of Baron Real Estate, donated $10,000.

The group on Wednesday reported spending on mailers supporting Kashkari and opposing Donnelly.

The independent expenditure committee's formation comes as Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official, tries to make up ground on Donnelly, a tea party favorite and the frontrunner among Republicans running for governor.

Kashkari has recently donated $2 million of his own money to his campaign.

PHOTO: Neel Kashkari prepares for an interview at KFBK radio in Sacramento on Feb. 19, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

May 21, 2014
Boxer: 'Stop the denial' on climate change

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and more than 40 of her colleagues Wednesday urged a crowd of environmental activists to push lawmakers to address the threat of climate change.

Boxer was flanked by other leading California Democrats, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Rep. Henry Waxman of Los Angeles during the 75-minute event at the Dirksen Senate office building in Washington.

Boxer identified the worsening droughts and fires in California and storms and floods in other parts of the country as evidence of a crisis.

"Climate change is happening all around us and we need to take action now," she said.
"The first thing we need to do is stop the denial."

But underscoring the partisan divide over the issue, no Republicans were present. Democrats from states that produce coal, oil and natural gas were also absent.

Other California Democrats who spoke at the rally included Reps. Lois Capps of Santa Barbara, Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, Scott Peters of San Diego, Barbara Lee of Oakland, Mike Honda of San Jose and Jerry McNerney of Antioch.

Boxer repeated her call for a tax on carbon emissions. Virtually all climate scientists agree that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels is contributing to the warming of the planet.

"The scientists tell us it's unequivocal that climate change is taking place," said Waxman, who's retiring from Congress this year after four decades.

But most Republicans and some Democrats oppose taxes or caps on carbon emissions because they worry about the economic impacts. Others have gone further, calling climate change a "hoax."

Waxman accused skeptics of putting their heads in the sand. "They have nothing to propose, because they don't want to deal with this issue," he said.

Feinstein said that failure to limit global warming would be "catastrophic" for future generations.

"It's going to come much sooner than we think," she said.

Pelosi called climate change a threat to national security and the economy, but also noted that leading evangelical Christians have taken up the cause.

"It is a moral issue," she said.

PHOTO: U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., addresses reporters during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 14, 2012. Associated Press Photo/ Manuel Balce Ceneta.

May 21, 2014
Senate panel passes fundraising blackout, ethics ombudsman


With the California Senate beset by ethics scandals that have led to the departure of three senators and an in-house law enforcement officer, the chamber's Rules Committee moved on Wednesday to enact new fundraising restrictions and open a channel for whistleblowers.

The change "will not fix all of the challenges and the problems that have risen to public attention, but will have a demonstrable, positive effect on the culture of the Senate," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

Members passed the policies on a unanimous 4-0 vote. One of the two Republicans who sits on the panel, Sen. Steve Knight of Palmdale, was not present.

One of the proposals would allow staff members to report potential violations to a new ethics ombudsman or an anonymous tip line. The formal rule embraces a proposal first floated by Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, creating what Steinberg called a useful venue for staffers who do not want to submit a formal allegation or are worried about reprisals for speaking up. Per the rule, staffers submitting complaints would be protected whistleblowers.

"Many instances of questionable conduct, questionable ethics, could be dealt with appropriately and effectively and prevent a continuation of behavior that could inevitably lead to formal action or an indictment," Steinberg said.

A second rule would have broader fundraising implications. Campaign finance reform advocates have called repeatedly for restrictions on fundraising, noting that end-of-session circumstances - legislators weighing decisive votes on a wide range of bills - are ripe for special interest donors to influence votes.

Noting that fundraising is an indispensable part of the political process, Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, pushed the rule to prohibit fundraising during the final month of the legislative session.

"They are frankly the busiest times of the year, when the Senate is making the most critical public policy decisions," de León said. "It's time, I believe, that we should reserve our full, undivided attention to the peoples' business."

The third rule greenlighted by Rules Committee members would tighten the Senate's code of conduct to discourage lawmakers attending fundraising events from speaking with donors about specific bills or budget line items.

"We want to reinforce that must be the culture. You separate your official business from your necessary and appropriate political and fundraising activities," Steinberg said.

From here, the proposed changes go to a full vote on the Senate floor. A simple majority would implement them.

Assembly leadership has not proposed comparable changes to the Senate's rules. Newly installed Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, pointed on Wednesday to a handful of ethics-related bills advancing through the Legislature and criticized a deluge of independent campaign spending.

But Atkins also questioned whether legislation could have prevented the alleged bribe-taking and weapons trafficking for which two former state senators faced federal charges.

"Would any of those measures have kept from happening some of the activities that have caused these pieces of legislation to come forward?" Atkins asked. "That in and of itself is a real issue and a real problem."

Steinberg was a little more optimistic. He acknowledged that the rules would not diminish the amount of money in politics. But he called them a start.

"What we put in place today, will it help avoid a bad situation five to ten years from now? We don't know the answer," Steinberg said. "But I think we certainly improve the chances."

PHOTO: Three of the senators who voted for the new rules unveil ethics bills in Sacramento Thursday March 6, 2014. From left to right: senators Ricardo Lara, Kevin de León and Darrell Steinberg. The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer.

May 21, 2014
Schools chief candidate files ethics complaint against teacher union

Marshall_Tuck.JPGMarshall Tuck, one of two challengers in this year's race for state superintendent of public instruction, has filed an ethics complaint against the California Teachers Association for a series of television ads supporting incumbent Tom Torlakson.

The complaint filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission, California's political ethics enforcement agency, alleges that CTA misleadingly characterized the ads as "issue advocacy" rather a campaign expenditure, which involves more financial disclosure, in violation of the "transparency required by the letter and spirit of the Political Reform Act."

The trio of ads applaud Torlakson for his work as state schools chief and encourage the viewer to "tell Tom Torlakson to keep fighting" for either local control of school funding decisions or career training. (One ad is in Spanish.)

FPPC regulations specify that any political spending to influence voters for or against a particular candidate qualifies as an expenditure, but among the exceptions is spending "urging the public to adopt a particular position and to contact the candidate with respect to the matter or issue."

"Unlike true issue advocacy, no specific legislation which is currently pending before the State Legislature or the State Office of Education is mentioned," Tuck's complaint reads. The ads are "unmistakably, unambiguously suggestive of only one meaning -- to urge viewers to re-elect Torlakson"

CTA spokeswoman Becky Zoglman called the complaint "frivolous." She said CTA decided at its state council meeting in March to support several ongoing legislative efforts and that the $1.95 million ad buy, which aired for three weeks in late April and early May, was unrelated to June's primary election.

"This is a political stunt by the Tuck campaign," Zoglman said. "If this was actually a concern, why didn't they file the complaint back in April?"

Spokesman Jay Wierenga confirmed that the FPPC had received the complaint and is reviewing whether to pursue an investigation.

Within 60 days of an election, the commission can consider not just the text of the advertisement, but also its tenor and timing, to determine whether the ad "unambiguously urges a particular result" in a race.

Tuck and Torlakson are locked in a heated battle for state superintendent that has attracted big money from labor unions and the private sector. In early May, an independent expenditure supported primarily by CTA spent more than $2 million on radio ads supporting Torlakson and opposing Tuck, while Los Angeles businessman Bill Bloomfield has poured more than $700,000 into slate mailers and campaign literature in favor of Tuck.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Marshall Tuck

May 21, 2014
Anthony Jackson to retire as California parks chief

JACKSONPARKS.jpgJust 18 months after pledging to reform a troubled agency, retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Anthony Jackson, 64, announced plans to step down as head of the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

Jackson's retirement, effective June 30, caps 40 years of public service, all but four of which he served in the Marines, officials said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

"I sincerely appreciate General Jackson's service to California and the Department of Parks and Recreation," Natural Resources Secretary John Laird said. "He came to the department during its darkest hour, bringing stability and consistency. After almost 40 years of public service, he has more than earned the right to retire to private life."

Jackson's position came vacant after Ruth Coleman resigned amid revelations that her department stashed away $54 million in two special funds, even as it was planning to close 70 state parks to meet state budget cuts.

Several other staffers at parks headquarters were fired or reassigned following the discovery. After being appointed to the post by Gov. Jerry Brown in November 2012, Jackson said he planned to become a student of the organization "putting my own nose to the grindstone," he told a reporter.

He gave no indication at the time that his tenure would end so soon.

"I want to thank Gov. Brown and the dedicated group of professionals at State Parks for the opportunity to return to public service and help earn back the public's trust in one of California's most valuable assets," Jackson said in the statement Wednesday. "It has been a challenging, but ultimately fulfilling tenure at California State Parks."

PHOTO: Retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Anthony Jackson, right, takes the oath office as he is sworn-in as director of California State Parks by Resources Secretary John Laird, left, on Nov. 16, 2012. (Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli)

May 21, 2014
Toni Atkins talks budget, fracking and taxes at press club


Newly elevated Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, discussed balancing fiscal caution and calls for new spending in remarks to the Sacramento Press Club on Wednesday.

Atkins assumed power earlier this month, taking over from Assemblyman John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles (who left behind, Atkins said, what she termed a "Speaker's book of secrets"). It will be a brief tenure thanks to term limits, which ensure Atkins will no longer be serving in the Assembly come 2017.

The timing thrust Atkins into a key role of leading Democrats through budget negotiations. Gov. Jerry Brown has cast himself as a responsible steward of a newfound surplus, running into calls from many Democratic members for more spending on social programs. Atkins talked about managing those tensions.

"I have a clear mandate from my caucus to negotiate a budget that strengthens our fiscal condition first and makes responsible investments second," Atkins said.

Discussing possible targets for spending, Atkins stressed transportation and housing. She also touched upon a handful of areas where advocates and lawmakers have focused their budget priorities: services for disabled or elderly Californians and expanded care and education programs for the youngest Californians.

"Even being fiscally prudent, there's some room to invest in these areas," Atkins said.

The energy extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has emerged as a rallying point for environmental advocates who warn the technique is unsafe and want Brown to institute a moratorium. Atkins seemed to align with the governor when asked about fracking, saying it should be regulated but could help satisfy California's energy needs.

"We are going to have to strike a balance in terms of how to protect the environment, deal with the concerns of public safety and the health concerns people may have, and also continuing to make sure we have oil," she said. "We are dependent on it."

She sounded a similar note about a Senate bill that would impose an oil severance tax, the latest incarnation of a recurring idea. Atkins stressed that the governor seems unlikely to accept a new tax hike after winning voter approval for his Proposition 30 tax boost.

"I don't think that's going to happen this year," Atkins said.

More likely, Atkins said, is that the Legislature extends a film tax credit intended to persuade filmmakers to keep production in California. She pronounced herself "pretty certain" that lawmakers would advance the policy.

PHOTO: Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, addresses the Sacramento Press Club on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Jeremy B. White.

May 21, 2014
Neel Kashkari likens Tim Donnelly to Jerry Brown in latest ad

donnellybrown.jpgRepublican Neel Kashkari is comparing GOP rival Tim Donnelly to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in a new attack ad being mailed to conservative primary voters in the gubernatorial race.

"Tim Donnelly & Jerry Brown: A crazy train of irresponsible spending," the mailer says in red letters.

Kashkari, a moderate Republican, criticizes Brown for his support of California's $68 billion high-speed rail project - a project Kashkari and Donnelly, a tea party favorite, both oppose.

The mailer goes on to call Donnelly a "wreck," saying "he didn't pay his company's taxes or his mortgage." Donnelly did have a foreclosure on an investment property he owned in South Carolina. The tax lien the mailer references was listed as being released this year.

The ad also says Donnelly "gamed the system" to get additional pay. But per-diem payments and a subsidized car are benefits available to lawmakers without any special maneuvering required.

PHOTO: Neel Kashkari likens GOP rival Tim Donnelly to Gov. Jerry Brown in the most recent mail piece of the gubernatorial campaign

May 21, 2014
Jerry Brown calls California 'job creation engine'

hostbrown.JPGGov. Jerry Brown said Wednesday that California is a "job creation engine," defending his administration's handling of the economy and state budget in a forceful election year speech.

"California is definitely back," Brown told about 1,300 people at the California Chamber of Commerce's annual Host Breakfast in Sacramento. "Just a few years ago ... a few pundits, a few national publications were talking about California as a failed state. Well, just 3 ½ years later, that deficit and that credit rating have been utterly transformed. We've eliminated -- we, I mean the Legislature and my office working together -- have eliminated a $27 billion deficit. That's never been done before, but we did it."

Brown, a popular Democrat, is widely expected to win re-election in this Democrat-leaning state. Facing criticism from Republicans over the state's high poverty and unemployment rates, Brown lauded the state's job growth, venture capital and agricultural production.

"This is a job creation engine," Brown said. "It's a place of imagination."

Brown, who is negotiating a budget with Democratic lawmakers and social service advocates eager for increased spending, warned billions of dollars in unfunded, long-term retirement liabilities could grow even higher.

"God help us if medical technology has some breakthroughs," he said, "and these people who are retiring don't live to 80, but they live to 100."

Brown has enjoyed a favorable relationship with state business interests, and he was applauded Wednesday. He leads a small field of Republican challengers by wide margins in fundraising and public opinion polls. Brown reported Tuesday that he had raised just more than $1 million from mid-March through mid-May, leaving him with nearly $21 million on hand for his re-election campaign.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at Wednesday's Host Breakfast. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench

May 21, 2014
AM Alert: Jerry Brown wakes up with CalChamber

brownchamberbreakfast.jpgThe California Chamber of Commerce's annual Host Breakfast brings together industry and civic leaders from across the state to discuss California's business climate. Gov. Jerry Brown will be there as usual to offer his thoughts at 8:35 a.m. at the Sacramento Convention Center.

Last year, Brown downplayed optimistic revenue projections and urged caution on new spending in the final budget deal. He also said Latin "makes you smarter than everybody."

One of those points could very well surface again today, though Brown has also been on the defensive lately about California's regulatory environment and may have other pressing matters he wants to address.

The California governor is the event's usual keynote speaker, though Brown has skipped the breakfast once before, in 1975. President Gerald Ford was invited instead, and it was on that visit that he survived an assassination attempt by Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme.

VIDEO: If the state can't get small construction projects right, how are we supposed to trust them with major endeavors like high-speed rail?, Dan Walters asks.

THE SPEAKER SPEAKS: In one of her first appearances since becoming the new Assembly Speaker last week, Toni Atkins will address the Sacramento Press Club for its monthly luncheon, 11:30 a.m. at the Capitol Plaza Ballroom.

HEALTH CARE COSTS: A proposal to subsidize health care for undocumented immigrants has won conceptual approval from the state Senate, but its author, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, said in early May that he had not yet identified a funding mechanism for the initiative. Lara and University of California researchers will unveil an economic analysis of the legislation, one of Capitol Alert's Bills to Watch, at 11 a.m. in Room 3191 of the Capitol.

HELP AT HOME: At the annual Disability Capitol Action Day, seniors, disabled individuals and their advocates will continue the campaign against a budget proposal that would limit the number of hours in-home caregivers can work. State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, will deliver remarks at 11 a.m. on the west steps of the Capitol.

BOOTING UP: The Internet Association, which announced in March that it was expanding into California, celebrates the opening of its new office with a reception at 5:30 p.m. at Mayahuel on K Street. Members such as Facebook and Uber will show off their technology and there will be a demonstration of Google's self-driving car.

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at the California Chamber of Commerce's annual Host Breakfast in Sacramento on May 22, 2013. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli

May 21, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Board of Equalization building is cautionary tale

HSRail.jpgIf the state can't get small construction projects right, how are we supposed to trust them with major endeavors like high-speed rail?, Dan asks.

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

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.

PHOTO: A view of a high speed train moving through a wind farm in the proposed high speed rail network. Rendering by Newlands and Company Inc.


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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