The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

March 31, 2010
Republican Tom Campbell really irritates some Republicans

 NOM Ad.jpg

By attacking Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell, the National Organization for Marriage is getting what it might see as a twofer.

The conservative nonprofit corporation based in New Jersey has assumed a leading role in the national attack on same-sex marriage, airing an ad that challenges Campbell over his support of the right of all adults to marry, as we note in today's Bee.

The National Organization for Marriage also is a plaintiff in lawsuits in California and elsewhere challenging campaign finance laws.

In his days in Congress and after, Campbell was a prominent backer of campaign finance restrictions, including the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which sought to restrict on campaign spending--and has been the focus of legal challenges primarily by conservatives.

Under federal law, donors who fund politically active nonprofit corporations such as National Organization for Marriage can maintain their anonymity.

"They're like drive-by shootings by people who don't have the guts to put their mouth where there money is," Campbell's campaign manager, Ray McNally, said of ads aired by such groups. "There's a reason they want to stay hidden, because they're usually doing somebody else's dirty work, and it often has nothing to do with the issue that's being exploited."

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission in January opened the way for unlimited corporate donations to independent campaign operations. The ruling also permits more direct involvement in electoral politics by groups such National Organization for Marriage.

In California, National Organization for Marriage raised $1.8 million to promote Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that repealed the California Supreme Court decision that permitted same-sex marriage. Under California law, it was required to disclose its donors. It raised $1.6 million to back a similar measure, Question 1, in Maine last year.

It has filed a suit pending in federal court in Sacramento to invalidate requirements that it disclose donors under state law. The group also is suing in Maine over a demand that it disclose donors.

In each case, its attorney is James Bopp, Jr., of Terra Haute, Indiana.

The mastermind of challenges across the nation against campaign finance restrictions, Bopp is vice chairman of Republican National Committee, and represents the Right to Life Committee, Focus on the Family, Club for Growth, and other conservative groups.

Bopp told The Swarm that he has 28 cases pending in various courts, including one that will be argued in the U.S. Supreme Court in April. He recently won a federal court ruling in San Diego tossing out aspects of that city's campaign finance law. Here's a recent piece in the Washington Post about him.

"No one should have to contact a lawyer to find out whether it is OK to talk about the government or politicians, or what they're doing to us or for us," Bopp said, explaining the reason for challenging campaign finance laws.

Bopp said that while there is "justification" for identifying large donors to some ballot measure campaigns, broad disclosure requirements can restrict free speech because it can subject contributors to harassment. Others say big donors enter the political fray willingly.

"Even if this [California] law is constitutional," Bopp said, "NOM is entitled to an exemption from disclosure of all contributors because of harassment and how they were victimized by homosexual advocates."

Campbell takes a different view. There are times when hiding donors' identity is reasonable. Sixty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court permitted the NAACP to shield its donors. But back then, there were church bombings, lynchings and shootings. Harassment in the Proposition 8 campaign hardly rose to that level.

"Disclosure is hugely valuable in public life," Campbell said. 

March 30, 2010
DeVore and Fiorina have a non-debate debate

For a while, at least, Chuck DeVore and Carly Fiorina agreed on most everything.

Appearing on Fox News Channel this evening, two of the three Republicans running for U.S. Senate agreed that Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer is an out-of-touch creature of Washington. She is horrible for California, they said, criticizing her on global warming and Central Valley water. Boxer will go down to defeat in November, they vowed.

Together on stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, DeVore and Fiorina both said they would endorse the other if the other won the June primary, which also includes former U.S. Representative Tom Campbell (who Fox said declined an invitation to take part).

The happy mood soon changed, however.

DeVore, a state Assembly member who is trying to catch up in the polls, tried to outflank Fox host Sean Hannity's admonition that the joint appearance was not meant to be a debate.

DeVore criticized Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard CEO, over what he described as her support for President Barack Obama's first Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor.

"Not true," Fiorina shot back, a tight smile on her face.

When DeVore tried to launch another attack, calling himself the only "proven conservative" in the race, she went on to say that they had gone over these charges and countercharges many times before.

Hannity, whom Fiorina praised profusely at the beginning of the segment, came to her rescue. He said the two should obey Reagan's "11th commandment" not to speak ill of a fellow Republican.


March 20, 2010
Was Ronald Reagan talking about ObamaCare?



In the health care debate, almost everything new seems a little old.

Ronald Reagan had a way with words, even back when he was a spokesman working for the American Medical Association. The AMA was adamantly opposed to legislation that ultimately won approval in 1965 and created a little program we call MediCare.

Some of the warnings the actor-turned-spokesman-turned-governor-turned-president issued are eerily similar to what we're hearing now. Consider this from a 1961 talk.

"One of the traditional methods of imposing 'statism' or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It is very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project. Most people are a little reluctant to oppose anything that suggests medical care for people who possibly can't afford it."

Fast forward to 2003.

President George W. Bush, fully embracing Medicare as he ran for reelection, vastly expanded the program by pushing through greater prescription drug coverage for older Americans.

To get the bill through, he and his allies had to play some serious politics, make some deal and even make a few threats.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Then Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the Texas Republican, maybe went a little far. The House Ethics Committee reprimanded him for promising to support the election of a Michigan Republican's son in exchange for a vote on the bill.

President Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi certainly are pushing hard for votes. But as far as we've heard, they haven't outright offered anything that might be worthy of a reprimand by the House Ethics Committee.

We at The Swarm realize this is a big leap, but say Democrats overcome all Republican threats and manage to approve the health care legislation, and country doesn't turn socialist. 

Imagine that we don't wake up in our sunset years telling "our children's children what it once was like in American when men were free," as Spokesman Reagan feared. Could it be that maybe some Republicans will find some part of this health care program worth supporting?

Nah. Can't imagine.

March 16, 2010
By all means necessary on health care reform

The latest health care scuffle on Capitol Hill is the possible scenario under which the House wouldn't actually vote up-or-down on the Senate bill. Instead, it would instead pass a bill to fix provisions it doesn't like in the Senate bill, after using a legislative maneuver "deeming" that it passed the underlying bill.

That would ensure approval while allowing Democrats running scared in the November elections to avoid a troublesome vote. But Republicans are screaming bloody murder.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is on the hot seat to keep health care reform alive, is at least tacitly acknowledging that she doesn't have the 216 votes to pass the Senate bill, which is opposed by liberals because it doesn't have a public option and by anti-abortion lawmakers because of less restrictive provisions.

"We will do what is necessary to pass a health care bill to improve quality, lower cost, and make America healthier," she told reporters today.

Representative Tom McClintock of Elk Grove is among the Republicans accusing Pelosi and other Democratic leaders of an abuse of power.

"My constituents have read the Constitution, including the provision that requires both houses to vote on a bill before it can become a law," he said on the House floor today, adding that "if the Democrat majority attempts to impose this law without a direct vote, two things will be obvious to every American.

"First, that the Democrats are ashamed to cast the very 'up-or-down' vote on the health care takeover that the President promised as recently as yesterday. And far more disturbing, that the Congress has now placed itself above the Constitution.

Pelosi bristled at such criticism, and her office released a "fact sheet" asserting that Republicans and Democrats alike had used the parliamentary tool many times.

Asked about the "ferocity" of GOP attacks, she replied, "I didn't hear any of that ferocity when hundreds of times, the Republicans used these methods when they were in power."

She went on to say that Republicans want to focus on process, not substance. "If you want to talk about process, let's talk about the process that the insurance companies use when they say to you: 'You become sick, your insurance is cancelled.' When they say to you: 'You're on the way to an operation but your insurance is rescinded because we just feel like it and we can do it, so we will.' Or what they say when they say to somebody that: 'You have a pre-existing condition and so you cannot have health insurance.' Let's talk about that process. If you want to have some outrage about process, let's apply it to the insurance companies."

March 16, 2010
Legislative leaders get prize for courage -- really

This would go squarely in the category of the further away you are, the better it looks.

The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation announced today that former Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Assemblyman Mike Villines and Sen. Dave Cogdill will receive a 2010 "Profile in Courage" award for "their humane approach to solving the California budget crisis."

The two Democratic leaders and two Republicans will receive the award from Caroline Kennedy at a ceremony May 24 in Boston. Bass said in a statement that she "honored beyond words." Steinberg called it a "tremendous honor," and his statement took a shot at "cynics in our state, and pundits across the nation" who "take their shots at California and our challenges.

"Faced with the most difficult choices and a budget crisis of unprecedented magnitude, these legislative leaders had the courage to negotiate a compromise that they felt was in the public's best interest," Kennedy said in a statement. "They did so knowing they would suffer the wrath of their constituents, powerful interest groups, and their own party members. The members of the Profile in Courage Award Committee chose to herald this story of political courage and bi-partisan compromise with the hope that it will inspire other elected officials facing similar challenges to stand up with courage, to cross party lines, and to do whatever is necessary to better serve the public interest."

But that recitation glosses over the many, many flaws in what the Legislature has done. While they have protected many social service programs, as we have noted repeatedly, they have used every gimmick and dodge in the book to avoid many of the hard decisions on the state budget. That means that when the day of reckoning finally comes -- and it will -- the pain will be even worse.

And that might take some of the shine off the award.

March 15, 2010
Suggest campaign slogans for Meg Whitman, Steve Poizner
California Governor2.jpgHundreds of readers responded two weeks ago when The Swarm solicited less-than-serious campaign slogans for Jerry Brown upon his official entry into the governor's race.

But why should Jerry get all that free advice?

Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner are in desperate need of slogans. (Meg's is "A New California." To which we say, "zzzzz.")

So before this campaign goes further, let's harness our collective brainpower on behalf of these two candidates.

Here's some offerings from this corner:

Whitman: Money that experience can't buy

Poizner: Because only a nerd can save California

Whitman: Untainted by politics or the ballot box

Poizner: You'll flip for this flop

Surely you can do better. Using the format above and the comments box below, offer us your campaign slogans for each candidate. We'll run the best in Sunday's Forum Section.
March 12, 2010
Darius Anderson helped Republican heavy win pension money

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Markstone Capital, an investment house whose founder pleaded guilty in an ongoing pension fund scandal, hired a well-connected Sacramento placement agent to help win a $25 million investment from the California Public Employee Retirement System, newly disclosed documents show.

In disclosures released by CalPERS, Markstone acknowledged hiring Sacramento lobbyist Darius Anderson, and paying him $250,000 after he helped Markstone secure a CalPERS' commitment to invest $25 million with Markstone in 2005.

Markstone previously won a $25 million investment without using a placement agent, as described in this article.

Republican heavyweight Elliott Broidy of Los Angeles founded Markstone, a firm that specializes in investing in Israel.

Broidy stepped down as Markstone chairman after pleading guilty to bribery charges as part of New York Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo's investigation into pension funds and misuse of placement agents.

Anderson's name has surfaced in connection with investigations into pension funds but he has been accused of no wrongdoing.

CalPERS had announced earlier this year that placement agents received at least $125 million for winning business with the pension fund, as The Bee's Dale Kasler wrote in this article in January.

But 28 firms failed to comply with CalPERS' request to disclose whether they had hired placement agents. Markstone was among the laggards.

The Bee previously noted in editorials here and here that Markstone neglected to comply with CalPERS' requests that it voluntarily disclose whether or not it had hired placement agents. It since did file papers disclosing its arrangement with Anderson, and an explanation of it.

Broidy long was a prominent figure in Republican politics, serving as finance chair for the Republican National Committee during the 2008 presidential election, and also raising money for President George W. Bush.

Broidy also was generous with California politicians, particularly those who held sway over pension fund decisions, donating $436,000 to state politicians since the start of the decade.

Anderson, by contrast, long has been a significant Democratic fund-raiser, serving as finance chairman for Gov. Gray Davis 1998 election.

Anderson operates Platinum Advisors, one of Sacramento's top lobby firms. With $16.5 million in revenue since 2000, Platinum placed 14th among all Sacramento lobby firms.

In addition to his work as a lobbyist, Anderson done work as a placement agent, helping firms such as Markstone win pension fund business. Here is an article related to Anderson and pension funds.

March 11, 2010
Mayor Kevin Johnson, critics make nice on arena report

You never would have known from today's Sacramento City Council meeting that the very legitimacy of the arena task force that made its report was under attack.

Some council members were upset that Mayor Kevin Johnson formed the volunteer group on his own, and complained that it was confusing the public. The spat became part of the drama surrounding his at-times testy relationship with his most vociferous critics that has been on display for all to see.

But today it was all goodness and light. The task force leaders said over and over again that they didn't want to step on any toes and that any decisions were up to the council. And the entire council profusely thanked the task force for its work.

Council member Rob Fong and Johnson even joked with each, much to the amusement of the standing-room-only crowd in the council chambers. Fong mentioned that he had been to Madison Square Garden and TD Garden in Boston, cited as models for combining the arena with a planned transit hub.

"How about those who played there?" kidded Johnson, a former NBA player.

It helped that Johnson reached out, having the task force unveil its recommendations at a public meeting to the entire council, not just to the mayor as originally planned.

And, of course, it helped that the task force came to the conclusion that Fong and another vocal Johnson critic, Sandy Sheedy, wanted: that the city should negotiate first with the group led by developer Gerry Kamilos, who is proposing a three-way land swap in which a new arena would end up in the downtown railyard.

Councilman Steve Cohn said that he was pleasantly surprised at the detail in the task force report and how helpful the information was. As for the bickering over the task force's formation, he said: "I would say it's water under the bridge."

March 10, 2010
Mayor Kevin Johnson's big splash in Washington Post

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson gets the full Style section treatment in today's Washington Post.

The story is lengthy as far as newspapers go these days, and comes with an online photo gallery. It's something of a two-fer: It gives more personal detail of the relationship between Johnson and his  fiancée Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools. It also chronicles Johnson's childhood in Sacramento, his decision to run for mayor and how he's been received in Sacramento.

The power couple told the Post's Wil Haygood that Johnson popped the question after they saw "A Streetcar Named Desire" at the Kennedy Center in Washington, and that their nuptials will be sometime this year -- depending on their busy schedules.

"My true north is here in Sacramento," Johnson told Haygood. "So we'll have a bicoastal marriage for a time. But we're lucky we get a chance to see each other a couple times a month. It's not ideal, but when you're in love, you climb the highest mountain. You know how the song goes."

One part of the story that might raise some eyebrows is Robert Graswich's take on the differences between Johnson and Heather Fargo, whom he unseated in 2008.

"She ran the town like it was Mayberry RFD," Graswich, a former Bee columnist who is now a top aide to Johnson, told Haygood, referring to the little North Carolina town that was the setting for "The Andy Griffith Show."

Graswich chalks up the opposition to Johnson's agenda, including his strong-mayor initiative, to people resistant to change.

"A lot of people," he said, "like Mayberry."

March 3, 2010
Boxer, Feinstein sign on to 'don't ask' repeal

California's two U.S. senators are among about a dozen who introduced a bill today to end "don't ask, don't tell," the 17-year-old policy that prevents gay Americans from serving openly in the armed forces.

"I look forward to ending the discriminatory Don't Ask Don't Tell policy as soon as possible," Sen. Barbara Boxer said in a statement. "We cannot afford to lose the service of dedicated and honorable military personnel, which is happening right now."

"Every American should have the opportunity to serve their country, regardless of race, sex, creed, or sexual orientation," Senator Dianne Feinstein added.

"The criteria for serving one's country should be competence, courage and willingness to serve. When we deny people the chance to serve because of their sexual orientation, we deprive them of their rights of citizenship, and we deprive our armed forces the service of willing and capable Americans."

The Senate bill, which joins a similar bill introduced in the House last year, comes at a crucial time.

Early last month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen told Congress that "don't ask, don't tell" is wrong and should be repealed. But they also laid out a year-long review process before the change would take effect. And since then, however, the military branch chiefs have expressed concern about possible disruptions in the ranks at a time of two wars.

But as the Bee's editorial board said this month, the experience of U.S. allies shows that those worries are overblown.

The next move is up to Congress, which now has bills in both Houses to consider.

"Congress should act quickly to get a bill to Obama's desk," the editorial concluded. "Repeal of this discriminatory, wrongheaded law can't come soon enough."

March 2, 2010
Suggest your own Jerry Brown campaign slogan
cv_pic_74.jpgJerry Brown is slated to announce his candidacy for governor in three hours, which gives you and me a little time to suggest possible campaign slogans for the 71-year-old former governor who wants to be governor again.

Jerry's current Web site includes the slogan "standing-up for Californians," but that is unlikely to last. The slogan is problematic on at least two fronts.

For one, there is no need for the hyphen between 'standing' and 'up.' (Jerry needs an editor, as do we all.)

Secondly, it suggests a subtle bias against people who can't stand up. What does Jerry have against people who are immobile?

There are endless possibilities for a truly original Jerry Brown campaign slogan. Here are a few. Feel free to suggest others.

"Fighting for California even before Cheap Trick was a band"

"Still Zen after all these years"

"Why Gerrymander when you can Jerrymander?"

"A retread we can believe in"

"Back to the future with Brown"

Surely you can improve on this batch. Post your suggestions below.

About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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