The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

October 27, 2011
Scary times for NBA cities like Sacramento

The longer the NBA lockout lasts, the greater the potential damage for NBA cities, especially Sacramento and six others where basketball is the only major league game in town.

The Bee's Dale Kasler wrote today about the companies that pledged $10 million in sponsorships for the Sacramento Kings' 2011-12 season getting skittish. If more games get cancelled, the team might have to give money back, or at least offer other benefits, such as Kings-related events. The 32 pledges helped persuade the NBA to give Sacramento another year to get an arena deal done.

The Bee's editorial board has opined that the work stoppage could undermine momentum for the Kings and the proposed new downtown arena.

Also today, The Atlantic magazine's website focusing on coverage of cities has a piece that argues that the lockout could reverse the momentum for the teams in the seven NBA-only cities, which had risen in value between 2009 and 2010, unlike franchises in more competitive markets.

Timothy Bella, a web producer for CBS News, notes that of the seven NBA-only cities, four have unemployment rates above the national average and that "the lockout's potential effects are as much about sustaining job opportunities as they are about preventing loss of jobs."

Sacramento, of course, is among the four with a high jobless rate. "Sacramento officials estimate that its NBA arena employs about 700 workers, including 550 part-time employees," Bella writes. And if too much of the season goes down the tubes, the employees could lose their health insurance, because they need about 1,300 hours on the job to qualify.

That's a reminder that those being immediately hurt the most by the face-off aren't NBA owners and players, who are haggling over hundreds of millions of dollars, but are the folks who work at concession stands or sweep the floors and clean the bathrooms and make a far lower hourly wage.

October 25, 2011
Dan Lungren crosses party lines and National Rifle Association

20110928_PK_COPSGRANT 0178.JPGRep. Dan Lungren split from fellow Republicans and the National Rifle Association today, voting against legislation that seeks to require California to honor concealed weapons permits issued by other states.

The Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee approved the measure 19-11 on a near-party line vote. Lungren was the only Republican member who sided with Democrats by opposing the bill.

"I believe in the Second Amendment. I also believe in the 10th Amendment," Lungren told me after the vote. "I just don't think it struck the proper balance."

The so-called "National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act of 2011" was the focus of this column, and this editorial.

Florida Republican Cliff Stearns is carrying the legislation, which would require that states grant reciprocity by recognizing concealed carry permits issued by other states.

The House likely will approve the bill when it comes up for a floor vote, probably in November. It has 240 co-sponsors, which is more than sufficient for approval. The legislation faces an uncertain fate the Senate where Democrats are in control.

In addition to crossing gun rights advocates, Lungren's vote ran counter to 14 California Republican House members, who have signed on as co-sponsors, including Rep. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove, Rep. Wally Herger of the Chico area, and Rep. Jeff Denham of Atwater. Two California Democrats including Rep. Dennis Cardoza of Merced also are co-sponsors.

Lungren, the former California attorney general, was siding with the California Police Chiefs Assn., which has called the bill "dangerous," and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which has led the lobbying effort against the bill.

Lungren made no comment as he voted. "I wasn't trying to be in anybody's face," Lungren said. But he also said: "Everybody knew how I voted." Several other committee members ducked the vote, including five Democrats and two Republicans.

Lungren will be running for reelection in 2012 in a reconfigured district in suburban Sacramento that includes Elk Grove, Fair Oaks, Orangevale and Folsom.

The district is seen as a seat that Democrats could win. But while pro-gun advocates might shun him, their alternative would be the likely Democratic challenger, Ami Bera, a physician who ran unsuccessfully for the seat last year.

In the interview, Lungren pointed to his pro-gun credentials, including signing on in support of the brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case in which justices concluded that there is an individual right, albeit limited, to own firearms.

He also said he believes California's gun law may be overly restrictive by authorizing local police to deny concealed weapons permits too readily.

"That is part of the reality of dealing with what some people call federation and others call states' rights," Lungren said. "We have the right to make that decision."

Photo by Paul Kitagaki of The Sacramento Bee, showing Lungren and others congratulating Congresswoman Doris Matsui, right, during a Sept. 29 announcement of 2011 COPS program awards of Community Oriented Policing Services in Sacramento.

October 13, 2011
Legislators to focus on Debra Bowen's dysfunctional fraud fund

Three legislators are contemplating an overhaul of a dysfunctional fund intended to compensate corporate fraud victims.

Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento; Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles; and Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, each have said in recent days that they are looking at legislative fixes. Dickinson also said he may hold an oversight hearing.

"Let's compensate the people," Dickinson said Thursday.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen oversees the California Victims of Corporate Fraud Compensation Fund, and continued to balk Thursday at distributing money to almost 500 elderly people fraud victims.

The elderly people were victims of James A. Walker, disbarred attorney, who passed himself off as a financial adviser catering to elderly people.

The situation was the focus of this column on Sunday.

Created in 2002, the fund is fueled by $2.50 payments by California corporations. Over the years, it has generated $14 million, but less than $120,000 has been paid to fraud victims.

Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature seized $10 million from the fund to pay other state costs.

On Thursday, advocates for elderly people and about 15 victims of the disbarred Roseville attorney held a press conference demanding that Bowen pay them.

Prescott Cole, of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, said at the press conference that the senior citizens provided proof of their loss and filled out four-page application forms, only to be denied payment. Cole noted that several of the original 514 elderly victims of Walker have died.

"When will this be resolved?" Cole demanded. "It's not fair and it is kind of cruel."

Bowen spokeswoman Nicole Winger said after the press conference that based on the Secretary of State's own regulations, the soonest Bowen could make any payments would be at the end of the fiscal year, meaning the end of June.

"We're going to pay eligible claims," Winger said.

The Secretary of State's regulations are patterned after California Department Real Estate regulations governing a fund for victims of real estate scams. The real estate fund has paid out $30 million to fraud victims over the years.

October 7, 2011
Consultant Dave Gilliard's attack on Sen. Barbara Boxer paid off

At this time last year, an obscure shell of a corporation called Taxpayer Network aired an attack on Sen. Barbara Boxer.

If the ad's intended effect was to defeat Boxer, it failed. Boxer won reelection. But the ad did help line a few pockets, a document released a year later shows.

Taxpayer Network raised money from anonymous donors, spent $790,000 on the ad, then returned to anonymity. It's probably all perfectly legal, given the antiquated Internal Revenue Code, toothless Internal Revenue Service regulations, and a Federal Election Commission that fails to take enforcement action.

Taxpayer Network did comply with one requirement, sort of. Because it is a nonprofit and exempt from paying corporate or incomes taxes, Taxpayer Network must file a public tax return, and make it available upon request.

I asked Taxpayer Network for that return numerous times and, as I noted in my column last week, it failed to provide it.

The IRS, meanwhile, sent a copy the other day, two weeks after I made a separate request.

The tax return, dated Aug. 10, 2010, doesn't reveal much. Such documents rarely do. It shows that in 2010, the entity received $840,500 in contributions. There is no requirement it identify the donors, unlike traditional campaign committees, which must identify their contributors.

Taxpayer Network shows $811,608 in total expenses, including $790,000 for the ad, but offers specifics for only $291,198 in expenses.

The biggest single expenditure -- $150,998 -- went to Almanac Advisors, a company owned by Sacramento-area campaign consultant Dave Gilliard.

In addition to his work for Taxpayer Network, Gilliard represents the Republican's recent effort to launch a referendum over the California Redistricting Commission's work, and candidates including Rep. Darrell Issa, a San Diego County Republican, and Rep. Ed Royce, an Orange County Republican.

The second largest expense, $119,340, went to Channel 10 in Sacramento to pay for air time. There was another $14,500 for legal expenses, and $5,175 for accounting.

Taxpayer Network's officers include treasurer David McIntosh, a former Republican congressman from Indiana. McIntosh is a lawyer-lobbyist in the Washington, D.C., office of the law firm, Mayer Brown. In his lobbyist practice, he represents the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a bank, an electric utility and chemical interests.

Other officers include Bruce Hughes and Lisa Hughes, who are Orange County family law attorneys who long have been involved in Republican politics. The Hughes and McIntosh didn't return calls.

In national politics, Taxpayer Network is a blip. But it's emblematic of the secrecy that increasingly shrouds political campaigns.

It's an old-fashioned notion, but campaigns ought to be conducted in the open. There should be disclosure about how money gets raised and spent before voters go to the polls.

In the 2012 campaign, nonprofit corporations and consultants from the left and right will hide behind outdated laws and level unfounded attacks against politicians. In the process, they will make a mockery out of what should be the world's most open and honest democratic system. Granted, that is a quaint notion.

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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