The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

About Dan Morain

Dan Morain has covered all three branches of California state government, including the California Supreme Court when Rose Bird was chief justice, the Legislature when Willie Brown was Speaker and the governor's office during Gray Davis' tenure. He spent 27 years at the Los Angeles Times, where his final assignment was to be part of the team that covered the 2008 presidential campaign. After nine months working in public relations for Consumer Attorneys of California, he joined The Bee in January 2010 as a public affairs columnist and senior editor-opinion. He and his wife of 29 years, Claudia Morain, have three children, each of whom attended public schools and California's public universities.


July 17, 2013
Gadfly publisher Tim Crews wins appellate court ruling

Tim Crews.JPGA state appellate court today struck down a lower court order that threatened to bankrupt Willows newspaper publisher Tim Crews by imposing $56,595 in attorneys' costs and fees after he filed a public records act request.

Writing for the three judge panel, Justice Andrea Hoch concluded that Glenn County Judge Peter Twede improperly imposed the fees on Crews, the owner, publisher and editor of the Sacramento Valley Mirror. The decision can be found here and a profile of Crews I wrote can be found here.

Crews had filed a suit to compel the Willows Unified School District to turn over a year's worth of emails from the then superintendent, Steve Olmos. The district turned over nearly 60,000 emails, but withheld about 3,000 emails.

The justices concluded that while Crews was not the prevailing party in the litigation, his California Public Records Act petition was not frivolous, as Twede had ruled.

The California Newspaper Publishers Association and several publishers including McClatchy Newspapers, Inc., filed a brief in defense of Crews.

The appellate court found:

"Here, the record shows Crews's PRA request was based on his decision to engage in a journalistic investigation of whether Olmos or the District misused public property. The record does not indicate any intent to harass Olmos or the District.

"In sum, Crews's PRA petition was not utterly devoid of merit or taken for an improper motive. Consequently, his action was not frivolous and he should not have been ordered to pay attorney fees and costs."

Tim Crews, 69, editor of The Sacramento Valley Observer, sits at his desk at his newspaper office in downtown Willows in May. Bee photo by Randy Pench.

July 10, 2013
Darrell Steinberg sees 'nub' in Schnur's idea to limit fundraising

photo (8).JPGSenate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, whose job requires that he raise millions for Senate Democratic campaigns, said today that Republican operative-turned academic Dan Schnur has the "nub of a good idea" for limiting fundraising.

Schnur is urging lawmakers to restrict fundraising when the Legislature is in session, which in California translates to roughly nine months each year.

Schnur, who teaches at USC and worked for Sen. John McCain during his 2000 presidential campaign, has said he might seek to place an initiative on the ballot to restrict fundraising if legislators balk, which they almost surely will do.

But in a visit to The Bee's editorial board, Steinberg said he had met with Schnur and found his idea appealing.

The senate leader noted that he liked a city ordinance when he was on the Sacramento City Council that restricted the money members could raise during off-election years. That forced council members to focus on policy, not politics, during off years.

"There is a nub of a good idea there," Steinberg said. "I think it would be hard to get it through [the Legislature]. But I support the idea of limiting off-year fund-raising."

There is, however, "a catch." In the Senate, he noted, there are no "off years," at least not for the leader. Steinberg is raising money for the third special election campaign to fill senate seats this year. The current fight is for a Kern-Kings-Tulare county seat vacated by Michael Rubio, who quit the senate to take a job at Chevron.

On a related matter, Steinberg said the FBI investigation into Sen. Ron Calderon, a San Gabriel Valley Democrat, is not changing the way he operates the upper house.

"I lead the senate in a very ethical way," Steinberg said. He added that he has not urged Calderon to alter how he goes about his business. "I have not talked to Sen. Calderon about anything related to these matters."

On another matter, Steinberg said he was "open" to revising the Legislative Open Records Act, which exempts lawmakers from complying with the public records act laws that apply to other public officials. He said there are security concerns with opening up legislative calendars. Of course, calendars could be released after the fact.

On the topic of openness, Steinberg said lawmakers should "strive" to have budget bills in print for three days before they're voted upon, and that the Legislature is more transparent now than it was in past years.

Responding to a question from our own Pia Lopez, Steinberg said others who criticize the three-day rule have a point when they contend that lobbyists would use the waiting period to mobilize and cause the Legislature to grind to a halt.

"I know it doesn't read well. But there is some truth to that," Steinberg said.

Sen. President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg takes a question from political cartoonist Jack Ohman, possibly the only member of the The Bee's editorial board to own a nice suit. Photo by Stuart Leavenworth.

May 1, 2013
Ami Bera dings Obama administration for rollout of Affordable Care Act

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius might want to carve out a few minutes to chat with Rep. Ami Bera, one of two Democratic members of Congress who happens to be a physician.

They probably could find more to discuss than the weather, like maybe President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act which is supposed to take full effect at the start of 2014.

"We have one chance to get this right," Bera told The Bee's editorial board. "If this fails and blows up, it is probably another decade if not longer before health care and we don't have another decade."

As a former chief medical officer for Sacramento County and an assistant dean at UC Davis medical school, Bera, an Elk Grove Democrat, might have a few suggestions about Obamacare's impending roll-out.

"I'm moderately to very concerned," Bera said. "I have been consistently concerned about the cost of care going up."

He added: "I worry that when the Affordable Care Act was originally passed, they did a very poor job of explaining it. ... I don't know that they're doing a much better job telling people about what the roll-out is going to look like."

Bera said he and his fellow freshman-physician, Rep. Raul Ruiz, a Democrat from the Palm Springs area, have not yet gotten on Sebelius' calendar, although they've "asked a couple of times for a meeting."

Why not, we asked?

"I don't know. I'd like to have that meeting."

Perhaps a formal letter is in order.

Bera addressed the related matter of granting non-physicians more authority to treat patients, suggesting physicians might need to agree cede turf to others such as nurse practitioners or optometrists.

"Reimbursement is going to change dramatically or your scope of practice is going to change," Bera said he tells physicians. "Which do you want to fight for?"

February 13, 2013
Tea Party Express lauds Rand Paul's Tea Party Express speech

Sacramento strategist Sal Russo's Tea Party Express today declared Sen. Rand Paul's Tea Party Express answer to President Obama's State of the Union Speech to be a raging success.

"Paul gave an amazing speech last night and clearly articulated the Tea Party's conservative message," the Tea Party Express said in a fund-raising email sent on he morning-after the amazing evening.

Other reviews were mixed.

Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post reported: "At its best it reflected real movement on the right in favor of immigration reform; at its worst it was just plain weird."

On MSNBC, the Rachel Maddow blog said: "Paul's entire pitch was just tired, more likely to generate eye-rolling than outrage."

For a down-the-middle assessment, Reuters news service said the Kentucky Republican echoed themes in the GOP's official response by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Here's our own McClatchy report, which noted that Paul advocated letting the sequester, an $85 billion round of automatic cuts, happen.

Paul stuck to the small-government, low-tax, tight-fisted themes that Russo's Tea Party Express political action committee extols. Paul didn't interrupt himself by taking a swig of water, but did slip into a sing-song, high-pitched style of speaking, not presidential.

The son of a physician-congressman said that in this country, success is "not based on who your parents were but on your own initiative and desire to work." He also took a back-hand slap at Obama for sending his children to private schools, saying life will improve "when every child can, like the president's kids, go to the school of their choice."

Back to Tea Party Express's view: "If the President instead continues down a polarizing big-government path, the electorate will mimic the 2010 sentiment in 2014 and 2016." By the way, the email concluded, "Please support the Tea Party by donating today!"

February 8, 2013
'Toxic' flame retardants begin to flicker and dim

A California state department you've never heard of took an action today that probably will have far-reaching consequences for the chemical industry and perhaps your health.

Yes, California has a Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation. That bureau has significant clout over whether your couch and other home furnishings contain what Gov. Jerry Brown calls "toxic flame retardants."

Acting at the governor's request, the bureau issued a new rule today to overturn obscure regulation adopted when Brown was governor the first time. Brett Israel of Environmental Health News has the scoop.

If the new rule withstands almost certain challenges, California no longer will require that furniture makers add flame retardants to cushions. Expect flame retardant manufacturers and the chemical industry to protest bitterly.

February 7, 2013
Bloom Energy paid workers in pesos, SJ Merc says

An old friend Bloom Energy is making news, and not in a good way.

The San Jose Mercury News reported today that Bloom Energy, a political heavyweight, paid workers brought in from Mexico in pesos:

"Authorities said Bloom Energy paid the Mexican workers in pesos by wiring funds back to bank accounts in Chihuahua. Bloom also paid for the men to stay in a Sunnyvale motel and provided each with a meal stipend of $50 a day."

If true, that's stunning for a company with a board of directors that includes former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr.

We have written about Bloom before, detailing how it gobbled up more than $200 million in subsidies in 2010, thanks to the California Public Utilities Commission.

And after receiving California gold, Bloom expanded operations in Delaware. It also makes its Bloom Boxes in Mexico, the Merc notes.

Bloom, meanwhile, maintains an active Sacramento lobby operation and in Washington.

February 6, 2013
Rick Perry is getting quite a return on his 'emission'

Texas Gov. Rick Perry certainly is getting his $24,000 worth.

As any Californian knows, a $24,000 ad buy gets nothing in California. But Perry's ad seeking to lure California businesses has been getting quite a run in California papers and television stations, and on NPR, which airs in Texas.

As the Dallas Morning News' Wayne Slater writes today: "Looks like the Texas-California, I'm-rubber-you're-glue schoolyard brawl is percolating at a fine boil."

Walt's governor, who has great hair, has been trying to go toe to toe with California's governor, who once had a fine head of hair but now doesn't have much other than his eyebrows. Jerry Brown has better things to do, like riding around in his John Deere with Sutter.

But then Perry has plenty to do, too, as he prepares to run for reelection and beyond. Good luck with that.

August 22, 2012
On tap for Thursday: rail yard, Todd Akin, food trucks and more

On on The Bee's opinion pages Thursday, we will turn our editorial attention to the Sacramento rail yards and how to revive the Old Depot.

We also plan to weigh in on Rep. Todd Akin and the broader issue of the GOP's collective view of women.

On the op-ed page, Associate Editor Pia Lopez and contributor Ben Boychuk go head-to-head over the regulation of food truck.

William J. Vizzard, a Sacramento State professor emeritus, explains that the problem graduating students in four years is complicated, and that the California State University System is failing to confront the issue.

Also, syndicated columnist Thomas L. Friedman writes about the presidential campaign and the need for true debate.

August 21, 2012
Coming Wednesday: Perez, city taxes, state taxes and plumbing

Coming on Wednesday in The Bee's editorial page, we urge that Speaker John A. Perez study the Moody's report that is sending chills through budget offices of cities across California.

Associate Editor Foon Rhee offers a editorial notebook deconstructing how Sacramento officials got off on the wrong foot as they tries to convince voters to approve a sales tax hike.

On the op-ed page, Bee columnist Dan Morain takes a swing at Proposition 30, Jerry Brown's tax initiative. There's plenty of ammunition, if the opposition can get the money to campaign against it.

Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker looks at why Republicans seem so obsessed with women's plumbing, and David Brooks writes about passion in the presidential campaign. There is some.

August 20, 2012
Tuesday's editorial pages: Medicare, crime, Paul Ryan, pot

Coming on Tuesday, our editorial writers dissect the presidential campaign trail charges and counter-charges on Medicare. It's getting thick and it's not even Labor Day.

We offer our analysis of Loucreta Drive, one of the most crime ridden streets in Sacramento County. Residents there have voted down becoming part of the city of Sacramento, at quite a price.

On the op-ed page, Bruce Maiman takes on one of his favorite topics: hypocrisy. This time, he aims his pen at Paul Ryan and the other members of Congress, including some of our local reps, who couldn't help themselves and took whatever stimulus money they could get.

Paul Krugman returns with some choice words about Ryan. People who care about the marijuana debate will want to check out the piece by Andres Oppenheimer.

August 17, 2012
Bad Democrats, Abe, tomatoes and more coming this weekend

In the midst of the Civil War, Congress and President Abraham Lincoln created a true legacy, the law that created land grant colleges. On tomorrow's editorial page, we pay tribute to Morrill Land-Grant College Act, 150 years after its passage.

Speaker John A. Pérez defends his effort to overhaul California environmental law on the op-ed page.

Coming in California Forum on Sunday, Bee Columnist Dan Morain and photographer Randy Pench visit to a tomato cannery in Woodland, where they get an earful about California's new cap and trade program.

San Francisco writer Susan Sward spins a fascinating piece about Lafayette Park in San Francisco. Check out the vista the next time you visit the city.

On the Sunday editorial page, we have some choice words for the Democratic politicians who control this state, and say more about the ridiculous and costly proposal by Pérez to expand death benefits for families of cops and firefighters.

Finally, Editorial Page editor Stuart Leavenworth, our resident foodie, writes about his adventures foraging on wild plants with author and foraging-gourmet Hank Shaw. It's a tasty read.

August 16, 2012
Paul Ryan, tacos, tobacco taxes coming in Friday opinion pages

On tomorrow's editorial page, we will confront the California Legislature for its failure to raise taxes on the tobacco industry, and name the names of some legislators who take tobacco industry campaign donations.

Associate Editor Ginger Rutland joined 1,000 other people at Garcia Bend Park in Sacramento's Pocket neighborhood for the SactoMoFo Food Festival, and tells the delights of have a beer-battered fish taco.

Food trucks ought not be a crime, she concludes.

On the op-ed page, Peter Schrag, our good friend and former editorial page editor, takes a hard look at Proposition 31, which purports to be a budget reform package.

Charles Gossett and Lori Varlotta of Sacramento State take issue with a Bee editorial taking Sac State to task for not graduating students within four years.

Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer predicts a big future for Paul Ryan.

August 15, 2012
Thursday's opinionators write on taxes, CEQA, colleges, AB 32

On the editorial page on Thursday, The Bee will dissect Speaker John A. Perez's latest attempt to build a legislative record, this time by taxing on out-of-state corporations to fund "middle class scholarships" and linking it to an overhaul of the California Environmental Quality Act.

Additionally, we will opine on the troubled state of some community colleges, as described in front page story by The Bee's Laurel Rosenhall on Wednesday.

On the op-ed page, we will run opposing views of AB 32, the landmark 2006 legislation to reduce greenhouse gases.

Kenneth P. Green of the American Enterprise Institute takes a dim view of AB 32, while W. Bowman Cutter of Pomona College and Matthew E. Kahn of UCLA argue the law is driving innovation.

New York Times syndicated columnist Maureen Down will write what she thinks of Paul Ryan. It's not pretty.

August 14, 2012
In tomorrow's Bee, we tour Sac's new rail platform and more

On tomorrow's editorial page, Associate Editor Ginger Rutland will tell us about her forced march at the Sacramento Valley Station's new rail platform, with her husband, Don Fields. It was hot, and not at all convenient.

Speaking of transportation, as pump prices top $4 again, we will opine about the Obama Administration's new fuel standards for automakers.

On the op-ed page, Bee columnist Dan Morain will break down Speaker John A. Pérez's latest play, one that links a tax cut to an overhaul of environmental law. It's another lesson in how the Capitol works.

Elsewhere on the op-ed page, syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker writes about Helen Gurley Brown and what she promoted: money, career and sex.

Radio reporter and author Nancy Mullane calls for more transparency in California prisons. It wouldn't be difficult.

August 13, 2012
Tuesday's editorial page is not one to be missed

On Tuesday's editorial page, The Bee intends to opine about Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan. Bottom line: We take issue with the conventional wisdom.

We wonder what in the world was going through Senate leaders' minds with the whole select committee scam. Did they think The Bee's Jim Sanders wouldn't catch on?

On the op-ed page, syndicated columnist Michael Gerson writes about the Ryan pick, while our own regular columnist Bruce Maiman offers his view of politicians under the Golden Dome, including Darrell Steinberg, Jerry Brown and Doug LaMalfa, and the reporters who write about them.

As always, Bruce is understated. Not.

Erin Brockovich, (she has a striking resemblance to Julia Roberts), offers up a preview of what could become a major story. We'll leave it at that.

August 10, 2012
Weekend plans: Bad water, Dave Barry, Chevron, Jerry Brown

On Saturday, The Bee's editorial page will critique the Legislature's questionable decision to pull the plug on a hearing delving into three tax-related initiatives on the November ballot.

We also will take a look at the fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, and raise questions about the company's desire to expand the plant.

Columnist Margaret A. Bengs will offer her insights into Proposition 32, the initiative on the November ballot that would restrict campaign donations by organized labor.

Sacramento Councilman Robert King Fong, and Sacramento Metro Chamber president Roger Niello will provide their response to why State Fair attendance fell short of predictions.

Coming on Sunday in California Forum, Bee columnist Dan Morain journeys to Easton, a hamlet near Fresno with green lawns, suspect water and too few champions.

Humorist Dave Barry has been delivering some typically whacky dispatches from the Olympics. We will offer a roundup.

The editorial board responds to the claim by Gov. Jerry Brown that The Bee engaged in "malpractice" with its investigation into Caltrans. We weren't amused.

August 9, 2012
The Bee's Friday editorials: Olympics, mental health care audit

On Friday's editorial page, The Bee will take a look at Title IX and its implications for the success of U.S. women athletes in this year's Olympics.

We also will opine about a request by Republican Assemblymen Dan Logue and Brian Nestande for an audit of California's $1 billion a year tax on wealthy Californians to fund mental health care.

On the op-ed page, we will be running a provocative piece about how to fund public schools. It's co-authored by Supterintendent Jonathan Raymond of the Sacramento City Unified School District, and Ted Lempert, president of Children Now.

San Mateo attorney Mallika Kaur, a Sikh, has written about her religion, Sikh contributions to the United States and patriotism in the wake of the mass shooting in a place of worship in Wisconsin.

August 8, 2012
Here's a peek at The Bee's editorials and op-eds for Thursday

On The Bee's editorial page Thursday, we will take a critical look at the California State University's inability to get students through to graduation in four years.

We also will be opining about the city's handling of parking citations, and use of technology, or lack thereof. We were surprised at the number of unpaid citations.

In the Head to Head feature, Ben Boychuck and Pia Lopez duel over the open carry legislation. The inimitable syndicated columnist George Will ventured outside the Beltway to assess California's high speed rail. Guess what he thinks.

June 28, 2012
Editorial: John Roberts leads court in saving health care act

California can proceed, without skipping a beat, in implementing the national Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the landmark legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama in March 2010.

This state and nation can and should proceed with enrolling the millions of uninsured and bringing health care costs under control. Congressional Republicans should drop their effort to repeal the act, although they won't. The fight now moves to the ballot box.

The U.S. Supreme Court today rightly upheld the law. The individual mandate, requiring Americans to buy health insurance or pay a penalty so they don't shift costs to others, stands. The court's limits on the expansion of Medicaid only apply to states that don't want to participate, so California can proceed.

The 5-4 division in the court on this decision, with Chief Justice John Roberts as the tiebreaker, reveals that the high court is as divided as the American people on the boundaries of powers between the federal government and the states -- and the role of the court itself in policing those boundaries.

That conversation clearly will continue.

But in upholding the law passed by Congress and signed by the president, the chief justice wrote an elegant opinion for the ages on judicial restraint, properly understood.

He made it clear that the court should allow the people of the United States through their elected branches to make decisions, writing:

"Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation's elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them."

Roberts concluded: "It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices."

People who don't like the Affordable Care Act can go to the polls in November and elect people who promise to change it, as can those who support it. For now, however, the court has upheld a landmark law, and that is a good thing for the nation, and for California, the largest health care market in the nation.

June 6, 2012
Editorial: Twin Rivers school board must deliver

Voters in the troubled Twin Rivers Unified School District want change. Their votes on Tuesday clearly signal that.

Three of four incumbents up for re-election appear headed toward defeat, although late votes are still being counted. In a fifth contest, the incumbent did not seek re-election, and a challenger unaligned with either of two competing factions in the district won the seat. In addition, voters handily approved a measure to change the method of voting in Twin Rivers from at-large to district elections.

When the newly elected board takes office, four of the seven members -- a majority -- could be new to the board. Three of the four new members and incumbent Cortez Quinn, who appeared headed toward re-election, were members of a slate that challenged the former board majority.

Assuming the numbers hold up, this new majority now faces the daunting task of healing bitter divisions that have beset Twin Rivers since it was formed four years ago. Their first order of business will be to hire a new superintendent who can rebuild trust, while keeping the district solvent and moving forward in a challenging economic environment. The district also must deal with an ongoing investigation of its police department.

Meanwhile, two board members face their own trust issues. Late in the campaign, it was disclosed that Michael Baker, the new District 1 Trustee, apparently lied about holding degrees from the University of Nevada. Even more serious, District 5 Trustee Quinn is embroiled in an embarrassing paternity suit involving a district employee, and is accused of borrowing money from the employee.

Those are unfortunate distractions that must not be allowed to disrupt the district's urgent business of educating kids. During their campaigns, the candidates made elaborate promises about ending the feuding, building enrollment, improving student achievement and increasing graduation rates.

Now is the time to deliver.

April 25, 2012
Legislation to encourage flu shots progresses

After initially stalling, legislation intended to encourage health care workers to get flu shots was approved today by the Senate labor committee.

Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, is carrying SB 1318, described in this column, to require that nurses and other health care workers wear masks when they are near patients if they opt against getting annual flu shots.

Physicians, hospitals, county public health officers and others are backing the measure as a way to convince health care workers to get flu shots.

However, major unions including the California Nurses Association and Service Employees International opposed the measure. The bill next moves to the Appropriations committee.

April 15, 2012
Tobacco ally Grover Norquist jumps into tobacco tax fight

Grover Norquist shocked no one when his Americans for Tax Reform based in Washington, D.C., sided with the tobacco industry by opposing Proposition 29 on the June ballot to raise the California tobacco tax by $1.

Nor should it surprise anyone that Norquist long has done business with the tobacco industry, as documents in UC San Francisco's massive online tobacco library show. Those documents became public as a result of settlements of suits against the industry in the 1990s and early 2000s. 

In one letter, Norquist solicited a modest sum, $2,000, to help fund an expansion of his campaign to convince state legislators to sign the anti-tax pledge that he continues to push.

Whether Norquist received that $2,000 isn't readily apparent from the documents. But other tobacco papers suggest Americans for Tax Reform was a regular recipient of tobacco industry largess in the 1990s.

Nonprofit corporations such as Americans for Tax Reform are under no obligation to reveal their donors, and generally don't.

Occasionally, however, donations become public, as occurred when tobacco companies were compelled to release internal documents.

Some documents showing donations to Americans for Tax Reform can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Norquist aide Patrick Gleason didn't respond to inquiries about the tobacco donations, but questioned the news value of "a story on the fact that ATR opposes a tax increase, whatever it may be on."

"ATR doesn't think a tax increase that targets those with below average incomes and does nothing to rectify the state's overspending problem is sound policy," Gleason said in an email.

March 8, 2012
Jerry Brown is appalled by GOP primary birth control talk

Gov. Jerry Brown has one word for the Republicans running for president: "Appalling."

Well, he actually has more than one word. But that was his snap answer when The Bee's Ginger Rutland asked him what he thought of the GOP presidential primary. He also said the primary is getting a bit boring, that each candidates is "extreme" in their own special way, and that their policies would worsen gaps in society.

"They're so far out of it," said the governor, who was a Catholic seminarian in his younger day. "They're talking about birth control. I remember when I was in the seminary in 1960 and Dr. [John] Rock invented the pill and this was a controversy. Now, we're 50 years later ... This is crazy."

Brown noted that Catholic hospitals perform vasectomies and pay for Viagra for their employees.

"What's all that about? It's kind of crazy," Brown said. "They haven't brought that up in the Republicans debates. I can tell you from the old Catholic doctrine that sex for just pleasure is not part of the program, just for procreation. That's interfering with a number of religious sentiments."

Brown said Republicans Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul are shooting themselves in their feet. That's helping President Barack Obama.

"What Obama needs to do is just be a reasonable man," said the governor, who used to run regularly for president. "He is not really rising. The others are falling. The stature gap is increasing."

February 21, 2012
Sen. Al Franken plans to enter the Internet Age; 90 more to go

Sen. Al Franken has been urging more disclosure of campaign money as the implications become clear of court decisions that open the way for heavier spending by corporations. That's good.

Now, the Minnesota Democrat is contemplating taking a step toward greater disclosure of his own campaign finances by stepping into the Internet age. That's good, too.

Franken is one of eight senators who last week signed a letter to Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman urging that he take a more aggressive approach toward nonprofit corporations that engage in electioneering.

In an editorial today, The Bee lauds the senators for writing to the IRS. The editorial also urges those senators--and the rest of the Senate--to become more transparent by filing their campaign finance statements with the Federal Election Commission online for display on the Internet, rather than in paper, as Senate rules permit.

As part of the reporting for the editorial, The Bee asked the eight senators why they fail to file their reports online, and instead follow a Senate tradition by filing paper copies, which wastes more than $250,000 a year as noted in this column, and limits voters' ability to see who funds their campaign.

Seven of them--Charles Schumer of New York, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Michael F. Bennet of Colorado, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Tom Udall of New Mexico--ignored the question or explained that they comply with the senate rules, antiquated though they are.

Franken, by contrast, seems to be having second thoughts about the wisdom of sticking to paper.

"Sen. Franken has always been in the habit of filing his FEC reports manually, but will likely file them electronically going forward," Franken's spokesman, Ed Shelleby, said in an email to The Bee.

If Franken follows through, he would be one of about 10 senators who regularly submit their reports online to the FEC. That would leave a mere 90 senators to go.

February 8, 2012
Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein approves this ad

Goldman Sachs chairman Lloyd C. Blankfein plays prominently in all the histories, books and investigative reports into the greed and corruption that led up to the crash of 2008.

But there he is, taking his place along side liberals from Hollywood and elsewhere embracing the notion of same-sex marriage in a high-profile video produced by Human Rights Campaign.

Scroll beyond Blankfein's video, and you will find many others made by the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and New York Giants owner Steve Tisch.

January 26, 2012
Tani Cantil-Sakauye pleads her case, fights Calderon bill

20120126_PK_CHIEF JUSTICE0211.JPGRP BUDGET CALDERON.JPGChief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye today urged the defeat of Assembly legislation that would undermine the authority of the Judicial Council, and give courts in as few as two counties authority to veto any statewide judicial project.

Cantil-Sakauye, who became chief justice in 2010, is showing herself to be a tough fighter as she lobbies to kill legislation by Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, himself the consummate inside player.

Appearing before The Bee's editorial board, Cantil Sakauye said Calderon's bill, AB 1208, would "reduce and eliminate the authority of the Judicial Council" to control significant parts of judicial branch spending.

As chief justice of the California Supreme Court, Cantil-Sakauye chairs the Judicial Council, which sets policy for courts statewide.

By far the bulk of the judicial branch's $3.1 billion, more than 83 percent, is spent on trial courts. But the Judicial Council uses some money for statewide projects, including installation of a computer system, which has faced significant cost overruns.

Cantil-Sakauye said that under AB 1208, as few as two counties could veto any statewide project, such as the computer system. She said the measure also could have the effect of limiting the counties' ability to set up special courts to hear criminal cases involving veterans or mentally ill defendants.

Cantil-Sakauye said there should be "equal public access, wherever you live, whether or not your county is wealthy and whether or not you have a good relationship with your county supervisors or presiding judge."

Siding with Cantil-Sakauye are presiding judges from 44 counties, a statewide association of defense lawyers, the big business-backed Civil Justice Association of California and the association's rival, the Consumer Attorneys of California, which represents plaintiffs' lawyers. Critics say the legislation raises separation of powers issues.

Backers include a group of judges, some of them from larger counties including Los Angeles and Sacramento, and the Service Employees International Union, which represents many court workers. The bill is headed to an Assembly vote on Monday.

Some judges have criticized the Judicial Council for overspending on projects such as the computer system, and for spending too much on the Administrative Office of Courts, which Cantil-Sakauye also oversees.

In an interview, Calderon criticized the Administrative Office of the Courts for having an out-sized bureaucracy and for spending money on, for example, a studio. The Legislature itself operates an extensive video and audio broadcast operation.

The Legislature has voted for budgets that have stripped the courts of $653 million during the past four years. As a result, counties have been forced to close during some days.

Calderon blamed mismanagement for the closures, saying, "It's the Legislature's responsibility to keep the courts open."

Photo of Cantil-Sakauye by The Bee's Paul Kitagaki Jr.. Photo of Calderon by The Bee's Randy Pench.

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.

September 26, 2011
Ag Sec Tom Vilsack pitches high concept to Robert Redford

20110926_ha_AGSEC0125.JPGU.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in California to talk jobs, innovation, and exports, veered off script in a meeting with The Bee's editorial board today and told about his big Hollywood idea.

A fan of author Timothy Egan's book, "The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America," Vilsack told about using what influence he has to try to get a movie made about it.

Thumbnail image for REDFORD 2006.jpgVilsack, the former governor of Iowa, said the book "has everything," from towering figures Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot to civil rights and racial issues, not to mention a really big fire.

As ag secretary, Vilsack oversees U.S. Forest Service land. The book tells the story of a massive wildfire during President Roosevelt's administration, the heroic effort to control it, and how that helped lead to the U.S. Forest Service.

First, he called documentary maker Ken Burns, who said he was booked with 10 years worth of projects. Then he thought of Robert Redford, and asked an aide to see if he could track down a number.

Soon after, the aide came back. "I panicked. What do you call him? Bob? Robert? I got him on the phone and I decided it was Mr. Redford."

He proceeded to recall how he urged Redford to read the book and consider turning it into a movie. Next, Vilsack though of who might star in it, and came up with the name, Jeff Bridges, and sent him an email.

No word on whether the Dude abides, or on whether Redford does, either. If it comes to pass, the movie could only help the forest service's standing.

Many things have changed since TR's day. But resistance remains intense to government involvement in forests, as Rep. Tom McClintock made clear in this rally, er, hearing held last week at the Capitol to blast forest service stewardship of public lands.

If they film it in California, perhaps the movie company could get movie tax credits, and employ a few Hollywood workers.

September 18, 2011
Amazon vs. Wal-Mart's costly fight could have cost far more

To get a sense of the stakes involved in the fight over Internet retailing legislation, take a look at the money spent on lobbying in the first half of the year.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, spent $1 million on campaign donations in California and another $533,000 to lobby lawmakers and the governor's office in the first six months of the year.

That's nearly twice the amount it spent on lobbying in all of 2010, and far more than it has spent in any single year in Sacramento.

Please see today's column for more about taxes.

Overall, retailers spent nearly $2.9 million in the first half of 2011. That's almost 50 percent more than the average that retailers spent during the same periods in the prior four years.

The big spending undoubtedly took place in the final days of the legislative session. But third quarter spending reports won't become available for several weeks.

Seattle-based Amazon, a company with $34 billion in annual revenue, has had modest lobbying presence in California.

Still, the $78,000 Amazon spent on direct lobbying of lawmakers in the first half of the year is double what it spent in the first six months of last year.

Amazon found another way to get money into the California political process. The company rarely spends money on campaign efforts.

But after Democrats approved legislation earlier this year to force Internet retailers to collect sales taxes, Amazon shelled out $5 million to place a referendum on the 2012 ballot, and quickly gathered the requisite 800,000-plus signatures.

If Brown signs the legislative compromise, Amazon won't turn in the signatures. As for that $5 million, well, that money is in the pockets of political consultants and signature gatherers and they not giving it back.

Of course, if the referendum went forward, consultants figured, the campaign would have cost $40 million, maybe more.

September 18, 2011
Amazon versus Overstock, the battle continues

Legislators were quick to praise their handiwork brokering a compromise among Internet retail behemoth Amazon and major traditional retailers such as Wal-Mart.

But as Gov. Jerry Brown decides whether to sign the bill - he probably will - other Internet retailers aren't quite so enamored, particularly folks at the Utah-based Internet retailer, Overstock.com.

Please see today's column for more about Amazon and taxes.

"States should not be legislating to benefit one company, and that is what California has done," Overstock President Jonathan Johnson told me by phone.

The issue is a little complicated. But remember back to the start of the summer when Brown signed the original legislation requiring that Internet retailers start collecting sales taxes.

The fundamental issue revolves around whether the e-retailers have a physical presence, otherwise known as "nexus," in the state. If they have that connection, they must collect sales taxes.

Internet retailers reacted to the original legislation by firing so-called affiliates, thousands of individuals who operate websites that carry Internet retailers' ads.

The state had argued that the use of those affiliates amounted to a physical presence in the state, triggering the legal requirement that they collect sales taxes.

Maybe the state was right under the law. Maybe not. Whatever. The new legislation would grant Amazon a year's reprieve from having to collect sales taxes. Amazon could rehire affiliates without worrying about having to collect sales taxes in the interim.

That's good for Amazon and maybe its affiliates. But other Internet retail companies aren't part of the deal. If they hire back their affiliates, they might run afoul of California tax authorities.

"We'll still do our best to compete," Johnson said. "But we're not going to create nexus because we don't want the burden of being a tax collector in a state where we don't have nexus."

Johnson knows plenty about Internet retail, and assumes that Amazon is giving up little in exchange for agreeing to the legislation.

He notes that Amazon intends to open distribution centers in California, to speed shipping to consumers. Once those centers open, Amazon clearly would have a physical presence, and would need to collect taxes.

"I'm guessing, but Amazon either already has nexus or is intending to create nexus in California. This deal is like taking off sleeves from their vest. They're not giving up much," Johnson said.

Amazon didn't grant an interview but offered a statement by the head of its government affairs operation, Paul Misener:

"This bipartisan, win-win legislation will allow Amazon to bring thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of investment dollars to California, and welcome back to work tens of thousands of California-based advertising affiliates."

September 16, 2011
Obama-Romney poll numbers show California's great divide

In politics, there are many Californias -- Coastal California and the rest of us, young and old, white and non-white.

The Field Poll this week illustrates those points once more, clearly.

President Barack Obama would beat any Republican challenger in California if the election were held today. But he'd win by an especially wide margin in Coastal California.

The incumbent would best former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 55 percent-33 percent along the coast. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the contest wouldn't be that close. Obama would win 68 percent-22 percent.

People ages 30 to 39 favor Obama by a 62-23 percent margin, while Latino voters support him 65-23 percent

But in the Central Valley, the picture changes rather dramatically.

Romney leads Obama, 50-40 percent in the valley. Romney also leads among voters 65 and older, 46 percent-45 percent, and among white voters, 47 percent to 43 percent.

The splits are basically the same for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, currently the Republican front-runner nationally, though not in California.

The pattern is the same for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat who faces reelection in 2012, although she could be in for a tough fight, if, of course, a Republican were to emerge as a potential challenger. None has.

Feinstein would win in Coastal California against the unknown Republican, 46-39 percent, but lose in the Central Valley, 29-56 percent.

The Field survey found voters are in terrible mood. Who can blame them? Unemployment is stubbornly high. Poverty is rising. Houses are under water.

The Field Poll found 46 percent of voters surveyed approve of the job that President Obama is doing, down from 54 percent back in June.

Congress is doing worse. A record 86 percent of covers disapprove of the job Congress is doing. A mere 9 percent think Congress is doing a good job. You have to wonder who they are.

August 10, 2011
Reading Rack: Sam Zell's ownership of Tribune smacked

"The Deal from Hell; How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers"

James O'Shea, Public Affairs Books, 395 pages

Lifelong newsman James O'Shea offers an insider's view of the machinations behind the take over of a California institution, the Los Angeles Times and its since-merged parent Times Mirror Company.

O'Shea was managing editor of the Chicago Tribune until October 2006 when he was installed by Tribune Co. executives as the Times' editor. He quit in January 2008, shortly after Chicago real estate billionaire Sam Zell took control in leveraged buy-out that saddled the company with billions in debt and hastened its bankruptcy.

O'Shea tells the story in a memoir-like fashion, mixed with investigative details about some of the controversies that swirled around the company, including debauchery by Zell-appointed executives, who commandeered executive suites at Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue in Chicago for poker games and a tryst.

O'Shea's book is less about Wall Street and the hubris of deal-makers who thought they were slick, and more of an ode to the newspaper business, including its declining fortunes. He notes that Tribune spent less on the foreign staff of the Los Angeles Times than it did when it owned the Chicago Cubs and paid Sammy Sosa to hit homeruns.

"It really comes down to values," he writes. "What, in your soul, are you as an editor and the newspaper company that employs you trying to do report the news needed to sustain a democracy or make and save money? If the latter is more important, then you have an identity crisis."

"The Deal from Hell" is a worthwhile addition to all the many tales of greed and mismanagement from the past decade. O'Shea rightly portrays individuals, notably including former Times managing editor Leo Wolinsky, a one-time Capitol reporter, as heroes who fought to maintain quality. However, the full story of Zell's take-over and his mismanagement of Tribune Company remains to be told.

Dan Morain

February 6, 2011
Howard Ahmanson, now a conservative Democrat, holds forth

Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr., has been the subject of many articles over the years, including this one. He also is fairly reclusive, though he did tell Kathleen Parker in this 2009 column about his decision to quit the Republican Party.

Knowing that Ahmanson has a deep distrust of redevelopment, as described in this column, The Swarm posed a few questions to him, and he answers in writing.

Q: As I understand it, you became interested in politics and government because of an experience with redevelopment. Please provide me a few details about that project, including when it happened, and where.

A: In 1978 or approximately, the City of Santa Ana decided that the Orange County Rescue Mission, which was doing an effective work with the homeless, was a "blight" in every sense of the word, and determined to use the power of government to run it out of town. As a young Christian who was struggling to understand what Christ's commands concerning the poor meant, I was outraged to find that government power could exclude Christian service to the poor from a community. The poor could be considered to be "blight" by their very existence, if you want to look at it that way!

Q: What is your view of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to abolish new redevelopment projects?

A: I think it is a marvelous opportunity for both social justice and limited government. Where is the Tea Party on this? Why are they not in the streets applauding?

Now I have to say that there are a few things like prettying up town centers with brick sidewalks and gas lamps and other cute stuff that I do like. But I think there are other vehicles to do that, like Business Improvement Districts. I like Old Pasadena and San Diego's Gaslamp, though I'm afraid of chain restaurants and stores driving out local business in those places - that's another issue.

Q: What is your assessment of your impact and that of the Allied Business PAC on the GOP in the 90s?

A: A very strong and good impact. Our agenda was a broad one of social conservatism and economic prosperity, unlike today's Republican orthodoxy, which seems to be confined to NTSEBREE (No Tax Shall Ever Be Raised Ever Ever) which is very shallow. The high water mark, the Pickett's Charge, was in January of '96 when we trimmed the powers of the Speaker and installed Curt Pringle in the office. But the charge was doomed. Pete Wilson, whom we could not control, had made the fatal decision (after a pro-immigrant history) to throw his weight behind Proposition 187 in 1994. This alienated the Latinos, a culture in which respect and signs of respect are very important.

By the way, the strictly Religious Right has never been particularly anti-immigrant. Most immigrants are conservative on the social issues. Once the Latinos had been alienated, the locus of social conservatism in California shifted from the Republican Party to the Latino and black sections of the Democratic Party, and the Republican Party became basically an ethnic-minority party, irrelevant on a statewide level.

Q: Have you called or communicated with any of the politicians you helped elect to ask them to support Gov. Brown's proposal to abolish new redevelopment projects?

A: We are looking at ways to do that.

Q: What caused you to quit the Republican Party?

A: They decided to make their sole litmus test of orthodoxy NTSEBREE, as I said above. I can't accept that. I'd like to see a much higher gasoline or carbon tax, (not cap and trade though) a state income tax less progressive and less dependent on the wealthy for income, and a higher tax on luxury items, for example. I also think either the two-thirds vote for tax raises should be done away with, or if not, that ballot initiatives that set budgeting priorities, like Prop 98, should require a two-thirds majority for passage. And make that retroactive!

Q: Are you a registered Democrat and for whom did you vote for governor?

A: I am a registered Democrat. However, I voted for Meg Whitman. The reason is that the leadership of my party is on the wrong side on social issues. And the judges that Brown would appoint are likely to be on the wrong side of constitutional issues. A large section of my party, the people of color, as I've said above, is socially conservative and will vote that way on ballot initiatives, but they won't cross party lines in partisan elections. I will. I'm not really very liberal even now; I don't support highly progressive taxation, and I also don't believe in NESEBREE (No Entitlement Shall Ever Be Reduced Ever Ever), which is as bad as NTSEBREE or worse. I am very concerned about public sector unions, but I'm not particularly hostile to private sector unions.

 

December 23, 2010
Before 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' there was Oliver Sipple, U.S. Marine

A generation before "Don't ask, Don't tell" entered our lexicon, there were military men like Oliver "Billy" Sipple, who simply hid.

Sipple, the focus of this column, was the former U.S. Marine who may have saved President Gerald Ford by grabbing would be assassin, Sarah Jane Moore, outside the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.

A moment by moment diary of how Ford spent that day, Sept. 22, 1975, makes no mention of Sipple. Moore, who was released from prison in 2008, was not named.

However, you can see several other familiar names, including Dianne Feinstein, who a few years later played a pivotal role in the aftermath of the assassination of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. Here is a link to the Ford diary of that day.

Sipple died on about Jan. 19, 1989. At the time, I worked as a reporter in San Francisco and spent several days piecing together his final days, writing this article. A month later, Ford sent a touching letter that was placed in a frame on the wall at one of Sipple's favorite bars, as told in this article.

Wayne Friday was an investigator for the San Francisco District attorney who discovered that Sipple, his friend, had died alone in his apartment in January 1989.

I reached him the other day to talk about Sipple and the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell' policy which barred openly homosexual men and women from serving in the military.

"He was more embarrassed about a gay Marine than anything. In those days, you weren't allowed in if you were gay," Friday said.

Friday thinks about Sipple every time he drives south of San Francisco past Golden Gate National Cemetery where Sipple is buried.

December 3, 2010
Dan Lungren's assignment places him at center of reform debate

Rep. Dan Lungren is ascending to the chairmanship of the House Administration Committee, incoming Speaker John Boehner announced today.

That may not seem like the biggest assignment in the new Congress. But the administration committee claims jurisdiction over campaign finance law.

That places Lungren in the middle of the ever-more fierce debate over federal campaign finance legislation, and likely in conflict with many of the most vocal advocates of campaign finance restrictions.

As The Bee reported in this editorial, Lungren, R-Gold River, claims to be an advocate of full campaign finance disclosure. He is ambivalent about whether the century-old prohibition on corporations giving directly to candidates should be lifted.

But Lungren, whose district includes parts of Sacramento, Elk Grove and stretches east to the Sierra, opposes caps on direct donations to candidates, a stand that places him in conflict with advocates of strict campaign finance regulation.

In November, Lungren fended off the well-financed campaign of Democrat Ami Bera, with the help of heavy spending by an organization that is the brainchild of Karl Rove, as reported in this column.

In 2012, Lungren almost surely will face another challenge, perhaps including from the right depending on how the boundaries of the congressional districts are redrawn by the new citizens' commission on redistricting. He certainly will face another Democratic challenge. As Democrats push the issue of campaign finance disclosure, Lungren's stand is sure to be fodder for his next campaign.

December 1, 2010
Here's your chance to roast the Governator

A bunch of Capitol insiders, wannabe insiders and media types are massing tonight at the Convention Center to acknowledge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's time in office.

There will be tributes, skits and some laughs. History will determine how well Schwarzenegger performed as governor. But despite all the deficits, ballot measure fights and vetoes, the Austrian Oak certainly provided some entertainment.

As our movie star-bodybuilder governor prepares to vacate the corner office, we're offering you, our readers, a chance to praise, pan and otherwise roast his seven years in office.

We are looking for humorous, offbeat and personal items, written in a lively style in about 150 words. If you're an aspiring Rex Babin, feel free to lampoon him in a cartoon. We will publish some of your offerings in the coming days.

Please send your items to topics@sacbee.com.

November 1, 2010
Incumbent Dan Lungren is showing signs of nervousness

Rep. Dan Lungren is a rarity, a Republican incumbent who is nervous in a year when Republicans nationally seem to be on a roll.

In a reflection of that concern, Lungren sent out a misleading attack targeting his Democratic opponent, Ami Bera, a physician who in his first run ever for public office has out-raised Lungren, $2.5 million to the incumbent's $1.8 million.

Lungren is turning Bera's fund-raising success against him, claiming in the mailer that Bera has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars "most of it from far, far away." The attack features a map with arrows pointing to states where Bera has received donations, and ponders "why all these people care so much about elections in the Sacramento Valley."

"Our campaign has been outspent by a well funded candidate," Lungren spokesman Rob Stutzman said. "It is fair to ask where that money comes from."

As it happens, Lungren could have posed the very same question for himself.

 

Of the $1.15 million that Lungren raised from 2009 through the end of June, $595,000 came from California donors, or 51 percent. The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics offers this analysis of Lungren and Bera's money.

Of the almost $1.56 million that Bera raised during that same period, $841,000 came from California or 53 percent. In other words, Bera raised a greater share of his money from within the state money than Lungren.

Most of Lungren's out-of-state money has come from the Washington D.C. vicinity--$233,000 from Washington itself, and $128,000 from nearby Virginia.

Virtually of the money from the D.C. area has come from Capital Hill lobbyists, such as this firm, and political action committees, including ones that represent oil, insurance, real estate, tobacco, defense and banking interests.

Lungren collected $7,500 from Koch Industries, of Kansas, described in this piece, and $1,000 from Valero of Texas. Valero is the largest funder of Proposition 23, the initiative that would roll back California's law to limit greenhouse gas. Koch has donated $1 million to the Yes-on-23 measure.

Bera's has collected his share of money from organized labor and other regular sources of Democratic money.

But Bera, who parents emigrated from India, also has tapped hundreds of individuals whose families moved her from India. Many of those donors are part of Bera's extended family.

In the most misleading aspect of Lungren's mailer, the incumbent charges that Bera returned "money tainted by links to a terrorist group."

As The Bee's Capitol Bureau wrote in this posting in August, Bera returned $250 to Basim Elkarra.

Elkarra is executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations of Sacramento Valley.

Well-known among Sacramento Democrats, Elkarra is a California Democratic Party delegate. He won endorsements in 2009 when he ran for the post from Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assemblyman Dave Jones of Sacramento, Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada of Davis, and Democratic Party Chairman John Burton in 2008 when he ran to become a California Democratic Party delegate.

Elkarra said Lungren himself once spoke at a CAIR candidates' forum in 2006 and that the congressman and organization used to have good relations. Elkarra issued this statement:

"These are last minute, desperate, and despicable smears. I gave this contribution in my personal capacity as an Executive Board Member of the California Democratic Party. It is unfortunate how candidates will attack American Muslims to win votes."

The Bee endorsed Lungren, as this editorial notes, largely because of his work in helping his district with flood control, transportation projects and other infrastructure. Yet he also has been the subject of criticism. Many of Lungren's biggest boosters come from far, far away, as this column notes.

October 29, 2010
Barbara Boxer takes time to hold forth, and is none too pleased

Sen. Barbara Boxer made amends for dashing away without answering questions on Thursday, by calling The Swarm today with a message for all the anonymous donors who are funding the $12 million-plus on ads bashing her:

"Come out, come out," Boxer said in a telephone interview today.

The bulk of the anti-Boxer ads are being aired the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is under no requirement to disclose donors paying for the commercials.

Several other groups also are airing anonymously funded ads attacking Boxer and, by extension, helping Republican challenger Carly Fiorina. A new Field Poll shows Boxer ahead but not by a wide margin.

Here's what Boxer had to say about the motivation behind the ads:

"The special interests want me out and they've always wanted me out. The polluters? I'm their biggest nightmare.

"They don't want me there. They want people they can control."

A U.S. Supreme Court decision in January permits unions and corporations to spend unlimited sums to fund independent campaign efforts, as Loyola Law School Professor Richard L. Hasen in noted in this Slate article.

Corporations are taking the opportunity to bash Boxer.

"This is the first time they can use all this corporate money against me. They're thrilled that they can attack me without being identified. They should step out and be courageous and identify themselves to me and to the American people."

That's not likely to happen any time soon, as we will explain in more detail in Sunday's Forum.

October 28, 2010
Barbara Boxer bobs, weaves and ducks questions

From Campaigns 101: When you're ahead in the polls, do not engage in any talk that might conceivably trip you up.

Barbara Boxer certainly has studied campaigns during her 28 years in Congress, and long ago learned how to duck a question.

Today, Boxer made a quick stop at and an even quicker exit from a start-up, Clean Energy Systems, in Rancho Cordova. There, she touted clean energy and made-in-America jobs, and took swipes at her opponent, Republican Carly Fiorina.

Boxer had opened her comments by saying how busy she was, and had to dash to the airport, but assured the gathering that she would answer a few questions from reporters about politics.

Sure enough, she completed her remarks, and said if reporters have any political questions, "I'm happy to take them at this time."

Funny thing, though, she didn't pause or look out into the audience. If she had, she might have seen a hand raised, mine. Instead, she seamlessly introduced the next speaker, Obama Administration Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, and skittered off to a waiting vehicle so she could zip to the next stop.

If she had deigned to take a question, some wag might have asked: "Given your stated stand in favor of jobs and economy, why is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spending millions to defeat you."

But Boxer long ago learned how to campaign when polls suggest she might eek out a victory.

September 24, 2010
Jerry Brown is not sure how to reduce death row population

If he becomes governor again, Attorney General Jerry Brown said he would have no ready prescription for reducing California's ever-growing population of condemned inmates.

There are 700-plus inmates on death row.

Asked whether the population will continue to grow, Brown said today:

"Unless we can up with some proposals. Do you have ideas? These cases are very difficult. Courts are very careful. I haven't seen too many proposals other than to hire more lawyers and give more money for investigators."

Meg Whitman, Brown's Republican opponent, didn't have much of a solution either, as we noted in this item.

In an appearance before The Bee's editorial board, Brown seemed unaware that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing to build a new death row at San Quentin for $500 million.

Brown is a lifelong death penalty opponent who as governor in 1977 vetoed legislation carried by a Long Beach legislator, George Deukmejian, to reinstate capital punishment after courts had struck down California's death penalty laws.

The Legislature overrode Brown's veto, and voters approved a death penalty initiative in 1978.

Since capital punishment was reinstated, 13 inmates have been executed in California. Many more have died of suicide, drug overdose and natural causes. The longest serving death row inmate arrived at San Quentin at the end of Brown's first term as governor in 1978.

Brown noted that despite his personal views, he is committed to carrying out the death penalty law.

He made his comments in response to questions by The Bee's editorial board, while his deputies were appearing in federal court in an effort to carry out the execution of Albert Greenwood Brown.

Albert Brown is scheduled to be put to death at San Quentin State Prison a minute past midnight on Wednesday, as this article details

Albert Brown has been on death row since Jerry Brown's second term, March 1982.  He was convicted of murdering and raping a 15-year-old gir in Riverside. The 30-year anniversary of the murder will arrive this Oct. 28. His execution would be the first in almost five years in California.

September 20, 2010
Meg Whitman would put brakes on a new death row, maybe

Meg Whitman is a death penalty supporter, like Ronald Reagan and most other politicians who have come before her.

Like the others, she is at a loss for how to deal with the issue, specifically what to do about the California death row and its 700-plus condemned inmates.

Appearing before The Bee's editorial board today, Whitman did say she would "like" to find an alternative to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to construct a new death row, at a cost of up to $500 million, although she repeated that California likely will need to build new prisons to relieve overcrowding.

"If we're going to abide by three strikes, if we are going to abide by the death penalty, if we're going to maintain a tough law and order climate here, the truth is over time, we are probably going to have to build more prisons. I would like to not build a death row prison."

The state is seeking bids for the new death row. Bid opening is set for mid-October. Here's a Bee editorial on the proposed new death row.

Attorney General Jerry Brown, scheduled to appear before our editorial board later this week, was the last California governor who opposed the death penalty. Every governor since Brown has vowed to enforce capital punishment.

The result: 13 inmates executed, and 75 others who died of suicide, drug overdoses or natural causes. One who was sentenced here and Missouri was put to death in the Show Me state. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation compiled this list of death row deaths.

Whitman lamented the process by which inmates have "appeal after appeal after appeal after appeal." Here's a video clip of her talking about the issue.

"We have to enforce the death penalty. Specifically, I don't actually know the answer to this. Basically, we have got to sort of say, 'You can't appeal and appeal and appeal and appeal.'

"There has to be some change in the process by which death row inmates live on for 20, 30 odd years on death row. I think we have to take that up."

Whether they support capital punishment or not, governors long have found there is not much they can do about the appellate process. Indeed, Gov. Reagan appointed California Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Wright who wrote the 1972 opinion striking down capital punishment, as this obituary recounted.

As Reagan and many other chief executives learned, judges handle cases as they see fit. That's especially true for federal judges in whose courts many death row appeals currently languish.

 

August 29, 2010
Carly Fiorina's father was a Nixon favorite, tapes show

No one knows whether President Richard Nixon would have named Joseph T. Sneed to the U.S. Supreme Court if Nixon had served a full second term.

But as we note in this column in today's Forum, White House tapes show that Nixon had a soft spot for Sneed, the father of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina. We link to two of those tapes below.

Sneed was dean of Duke Law School, Nixon's alma mater, when Nixon appointed him deputy attorney general in January 1973. The President named Sneed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in July 1973. A year later, Nixon resigned in disgrace. His successor, Gerald Ford, made one appointment to the high court, John Paul Stevens, who recently retired.

Sneed, meanwhile, served 35 years on the appellate court and died in 2008. Here is an obituary.

Sneed's name came up several times during conversations recorded in Nixon's offices, as disclosed by the Presidential Records Program at the University of Virginia's Miller Center for Public Affairs.

In this tape, dated Nov. 11, 1972, Nixon is meeting at Camp David with Chief of Staff H.R. "Bob" Haldeman and Chief Domestic Policy Adviser John D. Ehrlichman, and asks whether Sneed might accept an appoinment as the head of the Internal Revenue Service:

"How about the Dean of the Duke [University] Law School? Would he take it? Having in mind the fact that he ... having in mind the fact that he would go up to the Court maybe?"

Earlier, on Feb. 2, 1972, Ehrlichman passed along a gift from Sneed to Nixon, a photo of Nixon during his days at the Duke law school. 

As this tape reveals, Ehrlichman and Nixon proceeded to discuss their plans for Sneed. Ehrlichman described him as "very bright, very obviously quite conservative, a good Republican."

Here is the Miller Center's full transcript:

Ehrlichman: It's the dean. He's named Sneed. He's a very classy Republican.

President Nixon: Well, I'm―incidentally, a fellow that Lon Fuller recommended for the Court.

Ehrlichman: Yeah.

President Nixon: Says he's that good.

Ehrlichman: Yeah. Well, I talked to him about busing and a lot of things, and he thinks straight.

President Nixon: Keep him in mind.

Ehrlichman: Yep. He's―

President Nixon: How old is he?

Ehrlichman: I would guess about 52, something of that kind. ... His wife was with him and she looks about that age.

President Nixon: What is his background, law school or whatever it is?

Ehrlichman: I'm not sure where he went to law school. He's been teaching at Stanford for about eight or ten years. I don't know where he was before that. I mean, that's how I got an introduction to him. But he asked to come in.

President Nixon: He is a classy guy, huh?

Ehrlichman: I think he is.

President Nixon: Good.

Ehrlichman: He's got a funny muscle spasm, his head over to one side, but very bright, very obviously quite conservative, a good Republican. He's been active in Republican politics in California.

President Nixon: How the hell did he?

Ehrlichman: I don't know how that happened, but―

President Nixon: God Almighty. You know, you have to wonder how any .

Ehrlichman: Apparently he's been pretty busy in California state politics, because he knew all the players.

President Nixon: Let's remember him, sort of keep him in mind, you know? You never know what―assistant attorney general, deputy attorney general. He's that kind of fellow.

Ehrlichman: He says you're most welcome at the law school any time you wanted to come down.

President Nixon: It's about the only place they'll let me on.

Ehrlichman laughs.

August 25, 2010
Ted Gaines is shifting into campaign mode

Some politicians gear up for campaigns by going on crash diets to lose those spare tires.

Assemblyman Ted Gaines gave up an entire set of wheels.

Gaines, a Roseville Republican, is running to replace the late Sen. Dave Cox in the California senate district that stretches from Fair Oaks to Elk Grove, Placer and El Dorado counties and up to the Oregon border.

As noted in this column, Gaines often used a state-issued 2007 Camry hybrid to traverse the vast district. But last week as the field took shape, Gaines informed the Assembly Rules Committee that he was turning in the vehicle.

Gaines explained the decision by saying he wanted "to be clear that I'm not using any state resources" to wage the campaign.

Gaines' main Republican challenger so far is Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Fair Oaks. Niello hails from the auto dealership family, so no doubt has his pick of the lot.

August 17, 2010
Carly Fiorina doesn't take a stand on Proposition 23; Next question

Carly Fiorina gladly accepted the endorsement of the anti-tax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association today, noting she has signed a pledge never to raise taxes if she becomes U.S. senator.

But the Republican who seeks to unseat Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer didn't endorse the Jarvis group's big cause on this November's ballot, passage of Proposition 23, the initiative to suspend California's law to curtail greenhouse gases. The Jarvis organization talks about the initiative here.

The former Hewlett-Packard chief executive officer made clear that she is no fan of AB 32, the 2006 law embraced by many Silicon Valley venture capitalists who believe the measure could help transform California's economy by encouraging growth in green technology.

Fiorina doesn't seem to share that optimism. Stopping at the Sacramento offices of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, Fiorina said in answer to a reporter's question about Proposition 23:

"AB 32--studies that have been done certainly suggest that in the short term, it will destroy jobs. I think that is worth taking into account in the middle of a deep recession where we have 21 counties with unemployment above 15 percent."

Will she vote for Proposition 23? the reporter pressed.

"I haven't yet taken a formal position on Proposition 23. But I think common sense would tell us that you don't rush forward with AB 32 when you know it is destroying jobs in the short term."

But will she take a position before the November election? the reporter persisted.

"Do we have other questions?"

With that, Fiorina proceeded to answer other a few other questions from the small gathering of reporters.

Jon Coupal, the organization's president, said after Fiorina left that he hopes she will take a stand in favor of the Proposition 23 before election day.

That almost surely will depend on polls as the election nears. CalBuzz last month summed up the political dilemma Republicans are facing in this item.

July 20, 2010
Ami Bera runs as an outsider but raises money like a pro

Like any incumbent politician, Rep. Dan Lungren has many advantages. The ability to raise money from insiders, and use his office to send letters and emails to voters back home are three that come to mind.

But challengers have certain advantages, too, as Lungren's Democratic challenger Ami Bera sought to make clear in a visit to The Bee's editorial board today. Bera is hoping that voters' disgust with incumbents will apply to Lungren, a Republican from Gold River who has been in and out of office since 1978.

"Voters are looking for something different," said Bera, who is making his first run for elective office. Here is one of our past pieces on the Bera-Lungren campaign.

Bera, a physician who is a former dean of admissions at UC Davis' medical school, took a swipe at Lungren for recently voting with other Republicans against a new extension of unemployment benefits, while having voted to grant congressional pay raises in past years.

Lungren voted against the extension of unemployment benefits after concluding it would worsen the federal deficit. That stand may make some sense inside the Republican congressional caucus back in Washington. But that position has real-life implications in California where unemployment sits at 12.3 percent -- as the Republican U.S. Senate candidate perhaps now understands.

Challengers often find fodder in votes cast for pay raises and other perquisites of office. Pay hikes generally come as part of legislation covering many topics. Bera's campaign counts six instances dating back to the 1980s when Lungren cast votes that led to pay hikes.  Most recently, however, Lungren voted to suspend a pay raise set to take place this year.

Congressional members are paid $174,000 annually.

Bera said that if he is elected, he would turn down pay raises so long as there is a federal budget deficit.

Unlike many first-time candidates, Bera is raising money like a pro, outpacing Lungren in the race for the 3rd Congressional District. In the latest campaign disclosure reports filed last week with the Federal Elections Commission, Bera disclosed he had $1.1 million in the bank, while Lungren had $660,000.

Much of Bera's money initially came from other Indian-Americans. While he still collects that money, Bera is getting significant backing from the Democratic establishment, which believes he has a legitimate shot at knocking off Lungren. 

The AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Teachers each gave him $10,000 in the most recent quarter. Bera received $5,000 from political action committees representing family physicians and radiologists, and from the pro-abortion rights organization, NARAL.

Lungren is tapping many of the usual donors who give to incumbents: $6,000 from political action committees representing Comcast and Chevron, and $1,000 from the world's larst cigarette maker, Altria.

Sacramento-area developer Angelo G. Tsakopoulos gave Lungren $4,800. Sacramento lobbyists also chipped in, too. Robert W. Naylor gave him $1,050 and Bev Hansen gave him $1,000.

July 4, 2010
Who says Arizona, Nevada and Texas never gave us anything?

Arizona, Nevada and Texas, states with notoriously lax gun laws, are major exporters of guns used in crimes in California, according to the California Department of Justice.

Due to its size, California is the largest source of guns used for illicit purposes in this and other states. But on a per capita level, California falls far below the national average.

For deeper analysis on this point, please take a look at this 2008 report produced by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group that counts Kevin Johnson as a member and was co-founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

And to read more about the issue, please go here, here and here in today's Forum.

Among the other states, Arizona and Nevada followed by Texas are the biggest sources of guns used in crimes in California.

In 2009, authorities traced 16,229 guns used in crimes in California. Most were domestic--11,787 came from California.

But Arizona accounted 840 illicit guns, or almost 19% of the illicit guns that didn't come from California, followed by 525 from Nevada, or 11.7 percent, and 332 from Texas, or 7.4 percent.

The source for this information can be found here. The pattern was the same in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

July 4, 2010
Carly Fiorina and Barbara Boxer duel over gunners' rights

Republican U.S. Senate nominee Carly Fiorina repeatedly has voiced strong support for gun owners' rights.

She did so once more after the U.S. Supreme Court extended Second Amendment rights to states and cities last week. Democratic incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer again advocated "common-sense gun laws."

Following the high court's ruling in McDonald vs. Chicago, Fiorina's campaign issued the following statement:

"Carly is pleased that the Supreme Court reaffirmed that the Second Amendment applies equally to the federal government and the states. The right to bear arms is a fundamental right granted by the Constitution and responsible citizens should be able to posses a firearm. She is confident that safeguards in place will prevent dangerous citizens from inflicting harm on themselves or others."

Boxer had a different take:

"After the Supreme Court ruling, my focus is on ensuring that California's common-sense gun laws that protect our families and law enforcement officers are allowed to remain on the books. These California laws include the state ban on assault weapons and armor-piercing bullets, the prohibition on carrying guns in a school zone, and the law that allows law-abiding citizens who feel they need a concealed firearm for protection to get a permit from their local police or sheriff."

While neither statement says much, Boxer and Fiorina diverge rather dramatically on the gun issue.

The issue, once white hot, has cooled in recent years, at least in California. That could change as November nears and pro-gun groups challenge California state laws and city ordinances that restrict gun ownership.

To read more about the issue, please go herehere and here in today's Forum.

As this article notes, Fiorina opposes a federal assault weapons ban, unlike Boxer. 

Very much unklike Boxer, Fiorina won the National Rifle Association's blessing during the primary, as California Republican Party vice-chairman Jon Fleischman noted in this blog posting.

In a line that we may see once or twice or a hundred times between now and Election Day, Fiorina said during a televised debate heading into the GOP primary that mere inclusion on the "no-fly list" ought not to be grounds to bar an individual from owning a gun.

The FrumForum, written by conservative commendator David Frum, duly noted that head-scratching performance in this posting.

July 1, 2010
Jerry Brown, Meg Whitman react - sort of - to big gun ruling

Politicians tend to duck when questions turn to the volatile issue of guns, and they're diving for cover again in 2010.

We asked the candidates what they thought as we prepared a package of articles for this Sunday's Forum focusing on this week's landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling, McDonald vs. Chicago, expanding gun owners' rights.

Not much, apparently.

Attorney General Jerry Brown, the Democratic nominee for governor, declined through a spokesman to comment on the ruling.

But in a little noticed action last year, Brown filed a friend of the court brief urging that the justices take up the case. Unlike many states, Brown's said in the brief, California has no state constitutional equivalent of the U.S. constitutional right to bear arms.

"Unless the protections of the Second Amendment extend to citizens living in the states as well as to those living in federal enclaves, California citizens could be deprived of the constitutional right to possess handguns in their homes," he wrote.

Brown urged that the court "should extend to the states" the concept that government "cannot deny citizens the right to possess handguns in their homes, but also provide guidance on the scope of the state's ability to reasonable regulate firearms."

Brown's decision against commenting on the decision was in keeping with his past, at least according to those who remember dealing with him when he was governor the first time.

"Jerry Brown was exceptionally cautious about the gun issue," said veteran Republican consultant Bill Saracino, who formerly oversaw the conservative Gun Owners of California. "He was never vocal on the gun issue."

Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman didn't exactly react to the high court decision, either.

Sarah Pompei, a spokeswoman for the candidate, said Whitman "has been entirely consistent in her support of the Second Amendment, and in her belief that there should be no new restrictions on the books."

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, offered a little more insight, saying the decision makes it "critical that California state and local government, law enforcement and the courts work diligently to preserve our gun laws in order to keep our communities safe."

"Getting illegal guns off our streets and protecting California's assault weapons ban have been among my highest priorities as District Attorney and will remain top priorities when I am Attorney General," Harris said in a statement.

Harris' Republican foe, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, said through a spokesman that the decision was a "logical extension" of a ruling issued two years ago.

The decision, Cooley's statement said, "will hopefully reconcile the confusion created by thousands of districts passing their own customized laws controlling the lawful possession of firearms by law-abiding citizens."

Of course, the campaign is young. We at The Bee will catch up to them and make an effort to pin them down on this important issue.

June 29, 2010
Visa-backed bill advances, with 'consumer' advocates' help

An Assembly committee today approved legislation backed by Visa and consumer groups that would bar retailers from imposing "swipe" fees when customers use debit cards--even though few retailers actually charge such fees.

The bill was the focus of this column last Thursday. Sen. Jenny Oropeza, a Long Beach Democrat, defended her bill here.

Visa is backing similar measures in 10 other states across the country.

The Judiciary Committee voted 7-1 to approve the bill, SB 933. It will head to the Assembly floor for a final vote before heading to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Debit card companies such as Visa generally charge merchants about 35 cents to process debit card transactions. The bill would bar retailers from passing along the costs to customers.

BP-ARCO gas stations pass along debit card charges to customers. But Visa's contracts with other merchants generally bar them from charging fees. Those contracts are a focus of an antitrust lawsuit by retailers pending in federal court in New York.

If the bill becomes law, Visa could hope that it would be insulated from liability in the case.

Although Visa backed Oropeza's measure, a lobbyist for the bill's "sponsor," Consumers' Union, took the lead testifying for it. Others including a lobbyist for the California Labor Federation-AFL-CIO also spoke on behalf of the bill.

June 24, 2010
Proposition 8 author Andy Pugno makes good use of The Bee

You're welcome, Andy Pugno.

We at The Bee are always happy to help young, idealistic and struggling political newcomers.

While we're not sure that Pugno perfectly fits that bill, the Republican nominee for the Sacramento area assembly seat being vacated by term-limited Assemblyman Roger Niello is using this column in his latest fund-raising pitch, sent earlier this week.

Pugno is a Folsom attorney, father of three, Eagle Scout, member of the Knights of Columbus, and author of Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that bans same-sex marriage.

Given that last point, Pugno, 37, has attracted no small amount of attention, as the Stonewall Democratic Club of Sacramento's website shows. And he is telling his supporters all about it:

The June primary election is only two weeks behind us, yet already the political left is firing up their attack machine to defeat me in the General Election for the 5th Assembly District.

Pugno has said that he is not running a single-issue campaign based on his support of Proposition 8. But his fund-raising appeal made clear that he is appealing to backers of the 2008 initiative to bar same-sex marriage.

As reported on Sunday in this Sacramento Bee column, "Prop. 8 role defines local Assembly hopeful," our opponents are pulling out all the stops to defeat me.

This race is critical to their goals of undermining the people's vote for Proposition 8 and expanding the Democrat's hold on the Legislature to a two-thirds majority... enabling them to increase both taxes and spending in the state budget.

As the Sacramento Bee said, winning this all-out fight in the General Election will cost at us least $1 million... and probably more. Undoubtedly, we will be up against a flood of special interest money that will pour in to this district from all around the state and nation.

Pugno's Democratic foe is Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician who opposed the initiative.

June 21, 2010
Darrell Steinberg is sounding a little like Pete Wilson

Who would have thought that Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg would be taking  pages from the books of Presidents Nixon and Reagan, and Gov. Pete Wilson?

The Sacramento Democrat today proposed to devolve state duties to counties, not unlike Republicans who sought to shrink the size of federal and state governments, and turn over duties to the states and locals.

If Steinberg succeeds, state government might get somewhat smaller, and counties would grow. The state also might find a way to reduce its deficit.

The Editorial Board is formulating its view. We'd like to know what you think. Steinberg's proposal can be found here. Bee news pages previously described the concept. A report on today's announcement can be found on Capitol Alert.

Wilson was particularly aggressive, giving locals increased control over mental health care and other programs back in the early 1990s when the state last faced deep annual deficits. The reviews were mixed.

Essentially, in an effort to help solve the state's $19.1 billion budget, Steinberg is proposing to turn over specific duties to the counties, and shift money to pay for it.

"We are all tired of propping us this structure, which doesn't work for the people of California," he said at a press conference today, attended by other Democratic senators, Treasurer Bill Lockyer and Yolo County Supervisor Mike McGowan.

As a first step, Steinberg would give counties take more authority over parole and corrections. In time, he would shift more welfare responsibilities to counties, and give them direct responsibilities for caring for the elderly.

The concept would not eliminate the state deficit. But it probably would lead to the elimination of the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, and the Department of Aging.

Steinberg would pay for it in a variety of ways including raising oil taxes and shifting contends vehicle license fees, and by delaying business tax breaks approved as part of last year's budget deal.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't slamming the door on the idea, said his press secretary, Aaron McLear:

"We're open to restructuring government and will have a serious debate about the proposal but increasing taxes and discouraging private sector growth would be a mistake. We're also encouraged that Senator Steinberg agrees that we need to consider long-term fixes, which is why budget, tax, and pension reform must be part of any solution."

McGowan said counties aren't opposed, at least not yet, so long as they receive money to pay for their new responsibilities.

June 14, 2010
Carly Fiorina disses Barbara Boxer: No news on `News 10'

Before California Senate GOP candidate Carly Fiorina's hair flub is forgotten entirely, it's worth noting local journalism's connection to it.

Fiorina made her catty remarks about Sen. Barbara Boxer's hair being "soooo yesterday" as she was sitting in a television studio in Los Angeles waiting to be interviewed by KXTV News 10, the ABC affiliate in Sacramento.

Her remarks about Boxer's hair and Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's questionable judgment in deciding to do her first post primary interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity, came as the satellite feed started flowing to News 10 which had the opportunity to air it or not.

KXTV was maybe the only television station on the planet that decided not to air the candidate's flub.

When interviewed by the New York Times, News 10's vice president and news director Tim Geraghty said "We had a vigorous editorial debate. ...To put on a clip of an interview with someone talking about someone else's hair did not fit with that brand we are trying to establish for News 10 in Northern California." The full story is here.

And what brand would that be? Bland? Staid? Boring? Predictable?

I couldn't find the interview that News 10 eventually aired with Fiorina on its website, but I've been watching canned TV interviews with political candidates - yes, I've even conducted a few - long enough to imagine what it was like - some mind numbingly boring recital of her stump speech - the same 50 words she gives to every new organization, re-arranged slightly for each.

In that two minutes of unscripted drivel about Boxer's hair and Whitman's judgment, the public learned more about the real Fiorina than anything that came out of any formal interview that eventually aired on Channel 10 or anywhere else - I can guarantee it.

June 5, 2010
Same-sex marriage foes embrace John Eastman, Andy Pugno

From its base in New Jersey, the National Organization for Marriage is stepping back into California politics, promoting a Republican running for California Attorney General and four legislative candidates.

The organization was one of the main promoters of Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative banning same-sex marriage that is the focus of a federal court fight in San Francisco.

To sway voters on the weekend before the Tuesday primary, the organization disclosed in a filing today that it is spending $200,000 on phone banks in California.

John Easman, a Republican seeking the GOP nomination for attorney general, is the most prominent beneficiary. The National Organization for Marriage reported that it is spending $44,000 on Eastman's behalf. Eastman was the focus of this column, this profile and this news story in The Bee.

The organization also is phoning voters to help Andy Pugno, who hope to win the Republican nomination for the Sacramento-area assembly seat being vacated by termed-out Assemblyman Roger Niello.

Pugno is one of the attorneys defending Proposition 8 in the federal court trial before U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, but said he would not focus on the single issue of same-sex marriage if he were to win the seat. Here is The Bee's profile of the race and our endorsement editorial

In addition to helping Eastman and Pugno, the organization is calling voters on behalf of Assemblyman Joel Anderson, seeking a San Diego County senate seat, Sunder Ramni, seeking an assembly seat in Los Angeles, and Chris Lancaster, running for an Orange County assembly seat.

The organization, meanwhile, is crowing about its effort to derail former Rep. Tom Campbell's candidacy for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. The organization targeted Campbell, a socially moderate Republican supports same-sex marriage, in television ads and in mailers, as The Swarm noted here.

June 1, 2010
Tom McClintock placed Meg Whitman on hold, indefinitely

Not many people fail to return the phone calls of billionaires. Tom McClintock is one.

McClintock dropped by The Bee to talk policy and politics today, and recalled that billionaire Meg Whitman called him last year as she was gearing up to run full-bore for governor.

"I didn't think there would be anything productive that would come from the conversation," the flinty Republican congressman from Elk Grove said, explaining why he didn't call her back.

McClintock has been exhorting conservatives to nominate Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner in Tuesday's Republican primary, saying on a recent ad that it's time California had a governor from the "Republican wing of the Republican Party."

If Poizner loses on Tuesday, and Whitman is the Republican nominee, McClintock is not sure what he would do.

"I wouldn't be an automatic endorsement," McClintock said. A campaign between Whitman and Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown would present a "Hobson's choice" between "Arnold Schwarzenegger's third term and Jerry Brown's third term."

"I don't see any vision for the future," McClintock said of Whitman. "I don't see any political involvement or vision that predates her turning a longing eye on the governor's office."

Then there is the matter of the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat held by Barbara Boxer. McClintock has endorsed Orange County Republican Assemblyman Chuck DeVore over Carly Fiorina and Tom Campbell.

What does he think about Fiorina? Not much. During her tenure as chief executive at Hewlett-Packard, the company politics "very definitely tilted left."

May 3, 2010
UPDATED: Jon Coupal submits petitions to erase Schwarzenegger's legacy

joncoupal.jpg Once one of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's allies, Jon Coupal, head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, now is seeking to undo a major part of the governor's legacy.

Coupal submitted signatures to the Sacramento Registrar of Voters today to qualify an  initiative that would suspend California's landmark AB 32 signed by Schwarzenegger in 2006 to force reductions in greenhouse gases.

UPDATE: The measure is dividing Republicans.

Economist and former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz, among Schwarzenegger's early advisors and mentors, is serving as honorary co-chair of the committee to block AB 32's suspension, the campaign to block the suspension announced today. Shultz was President Reagan's secretary of state.

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger's own California Republican Party broke from the governor today and joined on the side of Coupal to call for suspension of the measure.

Coupal estimated that he has helped qualify 20 initiatives, ranging from measures limiting the ability of government to raise taxes, to restricting government's ability to invoke eminent domain and impose rent control.

The latest measure to unravel AB 32 could be the most high-profile and far-reaching, as described in Sunday's Forum in this article by writer Rita Beamish piece and in this column. For more detail on the roots of the initiative, please go here. Coupal was one of several operatives who submitted roughly 800,000 signatures today to county offices around the state, all but ensuring the measure will be on the November ballot .

April 22, 2010
Gloria Negrete McLeod's effort to protect patients fails

Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod's legislation to rid the nurses' ranks of drug users, predators and other miscreants failed today. It received one yes-vote, Negrete McLeod's.

The bill is the focus of today's editorial and aggressive reporting by the nonprofit investigative journalism project, ProPublica.

Influential unions representing nurses and powerful lobby groups representing dentists and other health care providers opposed the measure, prompting Democratic and Republican lawmakers to wilt.

The measure, SB 1111, sought to require that employers report nurses who are guilty of malfeasance to the state board responsible for licensing them.

As it is, the board commonly takes three years to discipline bad nurses. SB 1111 also would have extended similar patient protections to dentists and others in the health care industry.

Sen. Mark Wyland (R-Escondido) was the only member of the Business and Professions Committee who actually cast a no vote. Wyland said after the hearing that despite his opposition to SB 1111, he intended to work on the issue.

While Wyland cast a no-vote, others senators on the committee ducked when their names were called, a time-honored if craven method of killing bills without leaving fingerprints.

Democratic Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco was in Room 113 of the Capitol, as were Ron Calderon of Montebello, Dean Florez of Shafter and Jenny Oropeza of Long Beach. They remained silent when the clerk asked them to vote.

Two other members apparently had more important places to be: Sen. Sam Aanestad (R-Grass Valley) and Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Tustin). Each is running for higher office, Walters for state Treasurer, and Aanestad, an oral surgeon, for lieutenant governor.

The Republican opposition was a slap at Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger who said he was making the issue a major priority after the ProPublica articles began appearing last year.

Also missing from the room was Bill Leonard, who is Schwarzenegger's secretary of consumer affairs and is responsible for the health care boards.

Negrete McLeod said she was abandoning the bill but would continue working on the issue.

"We need to do something to protect the consumers," Negrete McCleod said.

April 14, 2010
Meg Whitman opens the political season with a goose egg

Meg Whitman stumbled in an initial attempt to build allies in the legislature.

Whitman tried playing in the Republican fight in Tuesday's Riverside County special election that was a focus of today's column, and did not come close to winning.

On April 5, the same day Whitman dumped another $20 million into her gubernatorial campaign account, the billionaire former boss of eBay sent the maximum $3,900 to former Assemblyman Russ Bogh in his failed comeback attempt against Assemblyman Bill Emmerson.

One of her top aides, Jeff Randle, sent Bogh $2,500, and another aide, Mitch Zak, sent Bogh $1,500.

Emmerson trounced Bogh, capturing 41% of the GOP vote to Bogh's 22%.

The donations were especially ill-timed, arriving at the beginning of the month when virtually everyone who knows much about the district had concluded that Emmerson would bury Bogh.

Of course, $3,900 is mere checkbook dust for a candidate who has dumped $59 million into her own campaign. If she becomes the next governor, Emmerson no doubt will forget that she sided with his opponent. Won't he?

April 11, 2010
PG&E is paying good money for its endorsements

PG&E has sent the first mailers for its Proposition 16 initiative on the June 8 ballot this week, and many more are sure to follow, as California Forum makes clear today.

PG&E has bought space on roughly 20 slate cards targeting the left and the right, environmentalists and business interests and anti-tax voters, according to its latest campaign filing.

Slate cards occupy a sketchy niche in the business of politics. Read them with skepticism.

Slates have names suggesting they are actual organizations. In fact, virtually all of them are run by political operatives who have built mailing lists over the years and appear able to deliver votes.

One is called the Democratic Voters Choice card, which is aimed at Democratic voters. Another is called Citizens for Good Government. It is tailored for Republicans.

Each shares the same consultant, Thomas Kaptain of Burbank. PG&E is paying a combined $200,000 to appear on the two cards.

Another is COPS Voter Guide. Its name suggests it represents of police and sheriffs. Some cops are involved, but not many. PG&E paid COPS $100,000.

Several are put together by Orange County attorney James Lacy, and his firm, Landslide Communications. All of Lacy's cards are aimed at conservatives, particularly those who focus on taxation. Lacy said he intends to mail more than six million pieces in the June election.

PG&E is paying $19,600 to appear on the Small Business Action Committee Newsletter, according to its campaign finance state.

Small Business Action Committee was established to "battle for small business on important political issues." It's run by Joel Fox, former head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and editor of the on-line Fox & Hounds Daily political blog.

PG&E is paying $42,000 to appear on the National Tax Limitation Committee's card, also put out by Lacy's Landslide Communications. National Tax Limitation is run by Lewis K. Uhler, a long-time Republican activist and veteran of Gov. Ronald Reagan's administration.

Like many slate card operators, Uhler said he only takes money from causes he believes in. While he said he has "no love for PG&E," he believes in the initiative to block the expansion of public power.

"Government should not be in business," Uhler declared.

That's open for debate, although so far, there isn't much argument from the No-on-16 side. As we note on the front of Forum today, PG&E has spent $28.52 million to boost Proposition 16. Foes have raised virtually nothing. In the business of politics, the side with the most money usually wins, or at least, delivers the most mail.

April 7, 2010
John Eastman uses The Bee for his latest fund-raising pitch

John C. Eastman, Republican candidate for California attorney general, is using this column in his new fund-raising pitch, complaining that The Bee "joined the attacks" on his candidacy.Benjamin Franklin[3].JPG1.JPG

This is a minor point, but The Bee itself did not "attack" him, merely one of its humble columnists, me. This is another minor point, but since when is quoting someone accurately an "attack?"

I confess that I did pick through this web site, saw a few items that were of interest to me, and figured The Bee's readers also might find them of interest, too.

Eastman has never run for office, so he might not know that newspapers tend to write about candidates. Then again, he professes to be a scholar of the Founders, and might recall that they thought a newspaper's most fundamental job was to write about politics and politicians, not always favorably, and bring issues to the attention of the electorate.

Back to the question of fund-raising, Eastman clearly could use a little help. He had $148,272 in the bank as of the latest filing on March 17, and has reported raising $18,652 since them. That might be enough to buy a few radio ads in Bakersfield.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, another Republican candidate for attorney general, has raised more in the past three weeks, $184,000, than Eastman's total. Cooley had $338,000 in the bank back on March 17.

April 5, 2010
UPDATED: Mickey Kaus runs against 'state-of-the-art' Democrat Boxer

Mickey Kaus is living proof of how far a Democrat can get by criticizing teachers unions, questioning amnesty for illegal immigrants and opposing labor's goal of winning card check legislation that would make it easier to organize workers.

Kaus is the journalist who has been blogging since the dawn of blogging and decided to run in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate against Barbara Boxer, explaining why in this posting. He's not delusional. He doesn't think he has a chance of winning. Nor does he have a beef with Boxer.

He calls her a "state of the art Democrat." But he does have problems with the state of the Democratic art.

Prolific writer on public policy issues that he is, Kaus figured he'd have a shot at gaining a way-off prime time speaking slot at the California Democratic Party's coming convention.

Shawnda Westly, the party's executive director, put the kabosh on that idea:

"We're sorry but we just can't accommodate your request to speak during the general session. We will return your check to you via mail tomorrow."

Westly explained that party leaders including Chairman John Burton concluded that Kaus' candidacy is not viable.

When The Swarm talked with Kaus, the blogger-candidate readily acknowledged that he is not likely to follow in the footsteps of Al Franken, the upstart politician who won the U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota. Kaus was still working on getting his web site up, a basic step in this age of Internet politics, especially for a blogger like Kaus.

UPDATE: Kaus' web site is up and, as you might guess, provocative.

Viable or not, Kaus is not without a following. How many long shots get real estate in both the New York Times Magazine and CalBuzz?

Kaus certainly has a perspective on governance and the Democratic Party.

He agrees with the Democratic overhaul of health care but worries about the next big thing, immigration and amnesty for illegal immigrants. Party elite believe their stand on illegal immigration is "the way to win the Latino vote."

Kaus also takes issue with the Democratic Party's embrace of all things labor, and of what he sees at the teachers' union hold on and mishandling of public schools. "Unions run the show in Sacramento," Kaus said.

Not viable, you say? In a Democratic primary?

April 2, 2010
Republicans party but aren't raising much money

 Rex's take on Mike Duvall.jpg

The Republican Party hit a few bumps this week, what with l'affaire d Erik Brown.

Brown, in case you missed it, is (or was) the Republican consultant who billed the Republican National Committee $1,946 for "meals" at a Hollywood nightclub that is said to have a bondage theme.

Embarrassing though that was, the GOP in California has far bigger problems. In its latest campaign finance filing, the California Republican Party disclosed that it has $1.4 million in the bank, and $324,000 in unpaid bills.

The California Democratic Party, by contrast, reported this week that it has $9.132 million in the bank, and a mere $3,073 in debt.

The GOP would have been in far worse shape, but for $250,000 from Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, and $510,000 from A. Jerrold Perenchio, the wealthy former chairman of Univision.

As several others have reported, Brown and his firm, Dynamic Marketing, Inc., had numerous California clients. But little noticed was that his clients included Mike Duvall, the former assemblyman who resigned after he was caught talking on a hot microphone in a Capitol hearing room about a lobbyist he claimed wore "eye patch" underwear.

Duvall paid Brown $40,522 between 2006 and 2008. Duvall reported that some of the money was for campaign literature. But for $33,104, Duvall offered no description.

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 20, 2010
Was Ronald Reagan talking about ObamaCare?

RONALD REAGAN.jpg

 

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 12, 2010
Darius Anderson helped Republican heavy win pension money

Darius Anderson.JPG

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.

February 18, 2010
Artie Samish is smiling from wherever he might be

ARTIE SAMISH 1949.JPG

California lawmakers are preparing to wage battle with so-called placement agents, a rather secretive group that helps money managers win business from the California Public Employee Retirement System, and other pension funds.

As described in today's editorial, Assemblyman Ed Hernandez, a Democrat from Baldwin Park, is carrying a bill on behalf of CalPERS that would force placement agents to register as lobbyists, and comply with all the same laws.

Through their trade groups, the placement agents appear willing to accept most regulation, with one big exception--the way they get paid.

As it is, they collect pay based on their success. They like that system fine. One placement agent, former CalPERS board member Alfred Villalobos, has received $60 million in fees for his work helping money managers win CalPERS business, as The Bee's Dale Kasler wrote in this profile.

The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association said in a statement that it is "opposed to the lobbyist prohibition on contingency fees.

"Securities sales are paid on a contingency fee basis, so a contingency fee prohibition amounts to a placement agent ban.  Such a ban would limit the state's ability to tap a diverse group of investment opportunities, including smaller minority and women-owned investment funds, and could keep state pension funds from investing in the best possible investment strategies for their plan participants--the people of California."

But for six decades, California has prohibited lobbyists from receiving pay based on whether they "succeed." It is one of 38 states that have such prohibitions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The prohibition dates back to 1949.

Back then, the legendary cigar-chomping lobbyist Artie Samish made the blunder of bragging to Collier's Weekly that he was the "governor of the legislature." He even posed for what became the cover phone with a ventriloquist's dummy, suggesting that he was pulling the strings. To prove him wrong, the legislature passed several reforms.

Back in 1974, UCLA law professor Daniel Lowenstein and Bob Stern, head of the Center for Governmental Studies, worked for then Secretary of State Jerry Brown who directed them to write what became the Political Reform Act.

"Jerry Brown hired me to write the best possible law," Stern said.

They began by looking at the existing law.

"There were provisions we were not going to change," Stern said, recalling that the ban on success-based fees dated back to the Samish-era reform and was not worth changing. "We didn't want to weaken existing law."

Placement agents will be working the Capitol halls to kill Hernandez's bill, or at least amend it so they can collect pay based on their success. Some will even hire lobbyists to do their bidding.

February 10, 2010
Check your wallet when governors say 'trust me'

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger regularly tells Californians to "trust me."

Schwarzenegger two years ago promised "hundreds of millions of dollars" for the state budget if only voters would support compacts authorizing massive expansion of four Indian-owned casinos in Southern Califrornia.

Writing in the state's official voter pamphlet, the governor vouched for the deals, saying the compacts he helped negotiate would provide "billions" over the years for police, fire and schools.

Tribes that benefited from the deals dumped $82 million into their winning campaign. Foes led by commercial gambling interests spent $50 million opposing the deals.

Voters approved the deals, as they have repeatedly done when Indian gambling goes before them.

Two years after the vote, we at The Swarm assume that we ought to be able to find out how many "hundreds of millions" have been delivered to California.

We thought it was a timely question now that the Morongo Band of Mission Indians is seeking the right to operate Internet poker with other gambling interests.

Schwarzenegger signed a compact with Morongo and the electorate to ratified that deal as part of the 2008 package.

But there's a rub. The Schwarzenegger-negotiated compacts exempt information that the tribes provide to the state from disclosure under the California Public Records Act. As a result, amounts individual tribes pay to the state is secret.

Ok. But isn't the public at least entitled to know what the overall amount is that the four tribes have paid to the state coffers? Voters were, after all, told in a very public way in California's official voter pamphlet that the deals would deliver "hundreds of millions."

Schwarzenegger's Department of Finance referred Swarm questions to the California Gambling Control Commission. The Gambling Control Commission, which is part of Schwarzenegger's administration, declined The Swarm's request for the information, citing secrecy provisions in the compacts negotiated by Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger says "trust" him. Perhaps. We prefer another governor's suggestion: Trust but verify.

February 8, 2010
Schwarzenegger seeks to help more developers like Ed Roski

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is hoping that his political relationship with billionaire Ed Roski Jr. bares offspring.

As we wrote on Sunday, the governor signed extraordinary legislation exempting Roski from lawsuits over California environmental law in his effort construct an 80,000-seat football stadium in the San Gabriel Valley town of City of Industry. The stadium would house the National Football League team Roski hopes to bring to the Los Angeles area.

Now as part of his push to help the economy, the governor is urging lawmakers to approve legislation that would authorize his administration and future governors to grant the same sorts of exemptions to 25 projects a year.

The governor contends that these would be projects where environmental impact reports already have been done.

But under this proposal, the governor's secretary of Business, Transportation & Housing would gain significant power to reward developers. The secretary could exempt 25 projects, ranging from roads to housing, from lawsuits questioning whether or not the developers had complied with the California Environmental Quality Act.

Schwarzenegger has not identified the projects. But his proposal gives the geographic spread: 10 in Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange and Riverside counties; five in Sacramento and other Central Valley counties; five in the Bay Area; and five to be determined.

Schwarzenegger portrays himself as the environment's best friend. But this idea amounts to an assault on the state's strongest environmental law, the California Environmental Quality Act.

Many developers are political players. This could be a great way for a governor to reward friends. But that wouldn't happen, at least not under this administration.

The concept raises all sorts of other questions. What happens if a developer doesn't make the list? Could that developer seek special legislation to be placed on the favored list? Could that developer sue to be added to the list.

In his drive to create jobs as his tenure ends, the governor might consider being direct. If there is a problem with "frivilous" lawsuits in which CEQA is cited, perhaps he should focus on that issue.

January 31, 2010
Meg Whitman's tax cut idea finds support in an unlikely place
  Meg Whitman on MSNBC.JPG

Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman called for a specific tax cut in her latest round of East Coast television appearances--and is finding support in a surprising corner of Sacramento's lobbying corps.

The former eBay chief executive officer, appearing on MSNBC's Morning Joe show, called for "targeted tax relief," specifically calling for an end to what she called a "factory tax."

She complained that in California, manufacturers must pay sales tax on the equipment they purchase to make whatever widgets they sell.

"It is a really good reason to go overseas or to a neighborhing states," Whitman said of the sales tax, which is 9.75% and generates more than $1 million annually.

It's no surprise when a Republican wants to cut taxes. But it's a little unusual when Lenny Goldberg and Jean Ross, two leading tax and budget experts from the left in Sacramento, don't reject the concept out of hand.

Goldberg said such a break should not go to utilities or telecommunications companies, but rather to tech companies and other true manufacturers.

Goldberg is a lobbyist whose clients include organized labor, and is head of the California Tax Reform Association. He said Whitman's idea "is not wrong."

Goldberg said such a break makes far more sense than the roughly $2 billion in corporate tax cuts that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the legislature approved last year--and that our Rex Babin captured so perfectly.

"If you're going to give away money to corporations, that is a better way," Goldberg said.

Ross, of the California Budget Project, said the cut would not be a bad idea "if we had an extra $2 billion."

"The question is, 'How do you pay for it?' It is problematic given recent tax breaks," Ross said.

Whitman also criticized California's initiative process, something that will not endear her to the more populist wing of her party. 

Said Whitman:

"The referendum process dates back to 1918, I think. It has its useful purpose but there is no question we have had too many referendums on the ballot and too much spending has been propositioned into process. I think you have got to have a different approach, no question about it."

Minor notes. It was 1911. And most Californians refer to it as the initiative process.

You have to wonder what Schwarzenegger thinks about that, what with all his initiatives.

--Dan Morain 

January 27, 2010
Barbara Boxer expects a fight after Massachusetts vote

Barbara Boxer is sounding worried and American Future Fund is feeling its oats.

The Iowa-based nonprofit, with the high-powered Washington consultants, is being credited by the Boston Globe and others with being the first independent campaign committee to jump into the Massachusetts senate race on behalf of the winner, Republican Scott Brown.

But rather than simply bask in its win, the group took out print ads getting into the faces of Democrats, essentially warning that will lose their seats if they continue supporting President Obama's economic policy.

The ad said:

 

"Liberals are risking their careers by supporting a big government health care plan that the country can't afford, and that polls show the American people don't want. ... Are You Willing to Sacrifice Your Career for Obama?"

The ad likely won't have much impact on Democrats. But as Chris Cilliza wrote in Washington Post's The Fix, Barbara Boxer says: "Every state is now in play."

 

Sandra Greiner, president of American Future Fund, told The Swarm that she is not sure Boxer is vulnerable. But Greiner, the focus of a column today in The Bee, is particularly concerned about legislation to create a cap-and-trade system to control greenhouse gases. Boxer is pushing that bill.

 

"We do have a tremendous interest and concern about cap and trade. If that moves forward, so will I," Greiner said.

 

Who knows whether American Future Fund will play in California. But if it does, we can expect ads like this and like this.

 

Greiner said in a phone interview that the group's Internet fund-raising has taken off since word spread of its role in the Massachusetts race. Her group is an upstart, having been created only two years ago. But it has shown an ability to raise money, generating $7.5 million in its first year, 2008, its publicly available tax return shows.

 

--Dan Morain

 

January 6, 2010
Schwarzenegger helps a friend, whacks a foe

As he enters his final year in office, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is picking a new fight with one of his favorite foils--the prison guards' union.

In the process, he likely will be helping one of his political allies, private prison company called Corrections Corp. of America--and skewering one of his foils, California's prison guard union.

In his State of the State speech today, the lame-duck governor proclaimed his intention to push to privatize prisons. Such a move, he says, would sharply cut the $8 billion-plus the state spends on prisons.

He plans to use a ballot measure that would entice voters by guaranteeing that the state would spend more on universities than on prisons. He will face a major fight. The prison guards' union fiercely opposes private prisons and repeatedly has shown its ability to spend millions on campaigns.

But of course, its money is not unlimited. Any money it spends to battle Schwarzenegger at the ballot would be money it could not spend to help elect candidates who might be friendly to the union's cause.

In tomorrow's column, I will be explaining how one firm, Corrections Corp. of America, has received a lucrative contract to house California inmates. One legislator, Assemblyman Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate), is preparing to hold hearings on the matter later this month.

 --Dan Morain

January 4, 2010
Richard Pombo is running--and prairie dogs are worried

Pombo-Prairie Dog.jpgRichard Pombo is jumping back into politics--and the news is causing prairie dogs across South Dakota to dive into their burrows.

Pombo lost his congressional seat in 2006, a victim of the Democratic tidal wave, an intense campaign against him by environmentalists, and of his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Pombo originally won office by claiming to be an anti-politician. But he discovered that politics is fun--so much so that he aims to head south of where he previously served and run for the seat being vacated by George Radanovich.

Speaking of aiming, it was Pombo who held one of the all-time great fundraisers. Back in 2004, when he was chairman of a congressional committee with oversight over Indian affairs, Pombo invited his benefactors to join him on the Rosebud Sioux reservation in South Dakota. He raised a bundle of money into his RichPac, as the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics found.

There, they could partake in a buffalo hunt. For people arriving early, there was a special treat. As the invitation above says, people with a hankering for little critters could blast away at prairie dogs.

We at Swarm have never savored prairie dog. We couldn't find a recipe at Epicurious. But in some parts of this great land, prairie dog seems to be a delicacy. Here's what we could find. Prairie dog pie sounds especially yummy.

 --Dan Morain



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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