Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

June 9, 2014
California Senate passes one fundraising ban, kills another


Responding to an unusual spate of corruption allegations and the revelation that an in-house law enforcement officer had used drugs the night he was involved in a fatal off-duty shooting, the California State Senate passed new rules Monday that will create an ethics ombudsman, update the Senate's code of conduct and ban senators from collecting campaign checks during the last four weeks of the legislative session.

But the Senate also shot down a bill that sought a broader fundraising ban and passed a watered-down political ethics bill that lacks limits on lawmakers' travel paid for by interest groups who lobby them.

In passing Senate Resolution 44, the upper house agreed to give up campaign fundraising for the month of August this year, a time when lawmakers are typically voting on hundreds of bills that affect the wealthy interests who fund their campaigns. In future years, it would ban fundraising during the month leading up to approval of the state budget as well as the final month of the legislative session.

The rule "ensures that members of the Senate are solely focused on legislative business during the most critical times of the year," Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, said in presenting the measure on the Senate floor.

Sen. Alex Padilla, the Los Angeles Democrat who had pushed for a broader fundraising blackout, said he'd keep working on his SB 1101 and bring it back for another vote. The bill originally sought to ban fundraising for the last 100 days of the legislative session. After amendments, it would cover the same time period as de León's rule. The major difference between the two is that the rule applies only to the Senate while Padilla's bill would apply to both houses of the Legislature.

It needed approval from two-thirds of the Senate to pass but failed to garner support from Republicans.

"We don't believe this bill goes far enough," said Senate Republican leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, adding that his caucus wants the ban to apply to anyone running for state Legislature – not just the sitting incumbents.

Republicans did give some support to Sen. Jerry Hill's measure to restrict how officials can spend their campaign funds and require more disclosure of who pays for gifts of travel, allowing SB 831 to pass.

But the bill had been amended in the appropriations committee to delete three key provisions: an $8,000 limit on travel gifts; increased reporting of "behested" payments; and prohibitions against using campaign funds for criminal defense. Hill added the last provision after Sen. Leland Yee was charged in federal court with taking bribes and conspiring to traffic weapons.

De León, who chairs the appropriations committee, said the cap on travel gifts was deleted because "we have to travel."

California lawmakers were treated to more than $550,000 in travel-related expenses in 2013, according to a Bee analysis. De León accepted more than $20,000 worth of travel gifts last year, including trips to Scandinavia, Mexico and Washington, D.C. Lawmakers help California by making the trips, he has said in the past, pointing to a trip he took to Mexico to meet with officials about drug trafficking.

PHOTO: Sen. Kevin De Leon, talks with Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, during the first California Senate session Jan. 6, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

June 9, 2014
California Legislature split on local ethics-training mandate


The suspension of three state senators and a six-figure penalty against a prominent lobbyist have made political ethics a dominant issue at the California Capitol this year, prompting special ethics training in the state Senate.

The next state budget, though, could allow some local governments to opt out of ethics training for their officials.

Gov. Jerry Brown's revised budget calls for suspending dozens of mandates on local government – including for the first time a mandate that requires ethics training for officials in some general law cities and counties and certain special districts.

Without the mandate suspension, the state would be on the hook to reimburse eligible local governments for travel, meals and other ethics training expenses, at an estimated $35,000 cost.

The Legislative Analyst's Office has said the mandate is inconsistent, because it only applies to local governments that are required to compensate their elected officials, and not others.

The two houses have split on the issue. The Assembly rejected the governor's proposal, noting in a subcommittee report that the mandate's cost "is minimal and the risk may be significant that local governments could decrease transparency because of the statute being deleted."

The Senate, though, accepted the governor's proposal. Now it's up to the Legislature's budget conference committee to reconcile the different versions. The conference committee has yet to act on the local ethics training mandate.

Last year, Brown called for suspending the mandate on local governments to comply with parts of the California Public Records Act. The Senate accepted it and the Assembly rejected it.

The suspension later became part of the budget package that passed the Legislature – but not before triggering an outcry from open-records advocates who feared that some local agencies would use the suspension as an excuse to cut off public access to government records. Lawmakers later rescinded the mandate suspension and put the issue before voters.

Proposition 42, which requires local governments to comply with the open-records law without state reimbursement, passed with 62 percent of the vote.

PHOTO: Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff discuss ethics training for members of the Legislature on April 23, 2014 in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

June 9, 2014
Neel Kashkari presses Jerry Brown to debate, recalling Brown's words

kashkarikfbk.jpgRepublican Neel Kashkari is challenging Gov. Jerry Brown to debate him 10 times in the race for governor, echoing a call Brown made four years ago for 10 debates with Republican Meg Whitman.

Brown, a third-term Democrat, has been noncommittal about debating, while Kashkari, who is far behind in fundraising and public opinion polls, could benefit from the exposure debates afford.

Four years ago, when Brown was outspent by Whitman, he said the campaign should not be "decided on the airwaves in a scripted, prepackaged advertisement," but "mano a mano, one candidate against the other."

Kashkari used Brown's remarks in recent radio interviews and in a letter to Brown on Monday to press the issue. He challenged Brown to at least one town hall-style contest and one formal debate in five regions: Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego and the Central Valley.

Dan Newman, a political spokesman for Brown, said in an email that Brown would consider the request.

"We'll certainly consider debating," he wrote, "providing we can work out the scheduling and details to offer something substantive and worthwhile to voters."

Brown and Whitman ended up squaring off in three televised debates in 2010.

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

June 9, 2014
Jones-Sawyer agrees to $10,000 FPPC fine


Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer has agreed to pay California's political watchdog a $10,000 fine for hiding the source of a $50,000 loan to his 2012 campaign.

The Los Angeles Democrat accepted the loan from his girlfriend, Maria Ann Chachere, in December 2011, according to a proposed settlement he reached with the Fair Political Practices Commission. Jones-Sawyer deposited the money into his personal checking account and then wrote a $50,000 check in his own name to his campaign committee, the agreement says.

The transaction amounts to two violations of the state's Political Reform Act, the settlement says -- first for accepting a political contribution above the $3,900 limit in effect that year, and second for hiding the source of the funds.

The FPPC is recommending the maximum penalty of $10,000 arguing that Jones-Sawyer should have known the $50,000 loan went beyond legal limits and that the source of political contributions must be disclosed.

The commission meets June 19 to vote on the proposed penalty. At the same meeting it will also consider:

- A $2,000 fine for Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, for late reporting of 11 campaign contributions in 2011

- A $3,600 fine for lobbyist Marcie Berman for late filing of four quarterly financial reports

- A $400 fine for former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado's ballot measure committee for failure to file a 2013 campaign statement

- A $200 fine for Assemblyman Tim Donnelley's California Patriots PAC for late filing of a 2013 campaign statement

- A $200 fine for Dan Schnur, a former FPPC chairman and former candidate for Secretary of State, for not reporting a gift of travel expenses on his statement of economic interest

PHOTO: Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, on March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

June 9, 2014
Local tax and bond issues fared well in June primary

Local school districts and governments fared well in getting voter approval of their bond issue and tax increase measures last week, according to a compilation of results by the California Local Government Finance Almanac.

Overall 65 of 85 local bond and tax measures, 76 percent, gained voter approval, according to the compilation by the almanac's founder, Michael Coleman, a veteran of local government finance – the highest rate of any recent election.

Forty-four of the measures were school district bond issues totaling $2.36 billion, according to a separate breakdown by the California Taxpayers Association, and 33 of them achieved the required 55 percent vote margin, plus one that required a two-thirds vote. The largest of the bond measures, $650 million, was sought by the Fremont Unified School District and it was one of those approved.

There were only five school district parcel tax measures offered to voters and all five achieved the two-thirds vote required. That's fewer than other recent elections, indicating that school officials elsewhere are waiting to see whether the Legislature votes to lower the vote requirement for parcel taxes.

Seven of eight city-sponsored general tax increase measures were approved but just two of five county special tax proposals, which required two-thirds votes, made it. Twelve of 17 non-school parcel taxes won approval, including all six aimed at improving library services.

The passage rate of local tax and bond measures, 76 percent, is higher than in any other recent election. It was 67 percent in June, 2012.

PHOTO: A student drinks from one of the few drinking fountains that work on the campus of Isleton Elementary School in September 2006, two months before California voters approved a $10 billion school construction bond. The Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer

June 9, 2014
AM Alert: KJ, local leaders weigh in on water bond

There's nothing like a drought to make everyone care even more than usual about water, and the water bond-centric conversation at the State Capitol has lawmakers, water agencies and conservationists all laying out priorities for the multi-billion dollar question voters could be asked in November.

Today, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, local elected officials and Assembly members, and a group of water, farming and business associations will lay down a marker on the north steps of the State Capitol.

Attendees in addition to Mayor KJ will likely include the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Northern California Water Association and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. Since geographic priorities often seem to trump partisan loyalties in the water bond debate - something you can see in Central Valley Republicans signing on to Democratic proposals, for instance - the event could offer a decent taste of where a slice of the North State stands.

VIDEO: We'll be talking about this primary election for a while, Dan Walters says, but not for ideal reasons.

LICENSE TO DRIVE: As the tug-of-war over forthcoming licenses for undocumented immigrants continues, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles will be rallying in L.A. against a federal decision that California's proposed design is too subtle. CHIRLA and allies, including legislative leaders and the Latino Caucus, want the new cards to be as discreet as possible; the feds want them to be distinct.

BUDGET BATTLES: Lest you forget, the Sunday deadline for lawmakers to pass a budget or forfeit their salaries is inching closer. The budget conference committee meets again today to hammer out remaining differences; you can read about the distances between various parties in today's Bee, and stick with us throughout the week for the latest budget news.

June 9, 2014
Dan Walters Daily: Low-turnout election fodder for bigger debate

Historically paltry turnout numbers in Tuesday's primary election spur Dan and others to ask: how did this happen, and is our political system in trouble?

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

See other Dan Walters Daily clips here.


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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