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Archive for 2014



Field Poll Shocker: Republican Leads Statewide Race

Friday, April 11th, 2014

peteperson1With Gov. Jerry Brown in a commanding position to be re-elected in November and with transparency and integrity in office thrust into the news by scandal in Sacramento, the most interesting statewide contest – one in which a Republican has at least a shot at winning a constitutional office — is the race for Secretary of State.

It’s the office that propelled Brown himself to statewide prominence as a Watergate era reformer – an office that oversees elections and corporations – sort of Sacramento’s Minister of Fairness.

And right now, before any real campaign has been launched, Republican Pete Person is the leading contender in the latest Field Poll.

alexpadillamugPeterson, executive director of the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at PepperdineUniversity, is pulling 30% of likely voters compared to state Sen. Alex Padilla of the San Fernando Valley at 17% in the Field Poll from March 18-April 5.

Others Sucking Wind The rest of the candidates trail far behind, with the Green Party’s David Curtis at 5%, non-partisan Dan Schnur at 4% and Democrat Derek Cressman at 3%. The differences among them are statistically insignificant.

A whopping 41% of likely voters are undecided about the race and even the best-known candidate – Padilla – is still unknown to 54% of the voters.

In California’s two-step election process, the top two candidates in the June “primary”  election, regardless of party, face off in the November general election.

Before Democratic state Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco was arrested and charged with gun running and bribery, the standings in the survey were Peterson at 27%, Padilla 10% and Yee 8%. After Yee dropped out of the Secretary of State’s race, Peterson picked up 3% and Padilla added 7% in the Field Poll being conducted at the time.

Dan SchnurHow Non-Partisan Plays One of the most intriguing aspects of the SOS race is the presence of Schnur, the former Republican operative (and friend of many reporters) who later headed the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC and re-registered as a “no party preference” voter. At Calbuzz’s urging, the Field Poll — as an academic exercise — tested whether Schnur is helped or hindered by running as a non-partisan instead of as a Republican.

What the survey found was that when Schnur is listed as a non-partisan, about eight in 10 likely voters have no opinion about him – he’s the most unknown of all the candidates. Among those who have an opinion about him, 11% are favorable and 10% are unfavorable.

When Schnur is identified as a Republican, the number of voters with no opinion drops to 67%, his favorable goes up 4 points to 15% but his unfavorable rises by 8 points to 18%.

In other words, his favorable-unfavorable ration is +1% as a non-partisan and it’s -3% as a Republican. More people express an opinion about Schnur, political science suggests, because they react to the party label.

It’s an experiment worth undertaking since party registrations are declining and no non-partisan candidate has ever been elected to a statewide office in California.

Sadly for Schnur, he’s so utterly unknown to voters, that he’s got a long way to go to break into the top two finishers in June, as do Curtis and Cressman. About seven in 10 voters don’t know who they are. With turnout expected to decline in June and November as Jonathan Brown predicts, it will be especially difficult for those at the back of the pack to break through.

Party registration remains the most powerful predictor of voters’ preferences.

Peterson, the Republican, has a favorable-unfavorable among likely voters of 18-19%. Among Republican it’s 32-8% favorable, but among Democrats it’s 11-30% unfavorable and among non-partisans it’s 9-18% unfavorable.

Padilla, on the other hand, has a 35-9% favorable rating among Democrats and a 7-44% unfavorable among Republicans. Where he has and edge on Peterson is among non-partisans, who rate him 22-18% favorable.

lelandyee1Leland We Hardly Knew Yee As if to prove the point that a significant portion of voters are ignorant, the Field Poll also reported that before his arrest and withdrawl from the SOS race, Leland Yee’s favorable was 24-20% favorable and after his arrest it was 15-34% unfavorable. In other words, 15% of the voters still had a favorable opinion about a state senator charged with gun running and bribery.

It’s a great country.

The Field Poll surveyed 1,000 registered voters by land line and cell phone. 504 were identified as likely voters – 212 interviewed before Yee’s arrest and 292 after. The margin of error among voters interviewed after Yee’s arrest was +/- 5.5 points;  before his arrest it was +/- 6.5 points. Calbuzz is not permitted to subscribe to the Field Poll because some mainstream media clients are afraid of the competition so Calbuzz obtains the survey from sources.

Op Ed: SCOTUS Has Eviscerated Contribution Limits

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

briberyBy Sarah Swanbeck
Special to Calbuzz

Four years ago, in Citizens United v FEC, the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door for corporations and unions to make unlimited independent expenditures in political campaigns. In the wake of that decision, we’ve seen an arms race among the nation’s wealthiest donors, each vying to outspend the next in order to exert the greatest possible influence over our elections and lawmakers.

But if Citizens United started the arms race of money in politics, the Supreme Court’s decision last week in McCutcheon v. FEC has only escalated it. And we are about to see money in politics go nuclear.

mike-myers-21In its decision in McCutcheon, the Court further dismantled what remains of our country’s campaign finance system by eliminating aggregate caps to federal candidates, parties and certain political committees, opening new channels for the wealthiest donors to funnel even more money into our political systems. The increase in access for the wealthiest will come at the expense of average Americans, who don’t have the same means to purchase such political “free speech.”

In equating money so completely with speech, the Supreme Court has sent a clear message: you have a First Amendment right to speak, but not necessarily to be heard.

Since the Court made clear that money is a form of speech, the primary question up for consideration in McCutcheon was whether or not the Court could restrict that speech, in the form of aggregate caps on campaign contributions, in order to prevent corruption.

It is on the issue of corruption that the Court exhibits a complete lack of understanding for how money actually moves through the political system. Roberts’ majority opinion defines corruption narrowly as a quid pro quo in which a donor makes a campaign contribution in return for a particular favor – essentially bribery.

money-tornadoBut corruption can run through a system in ways that are much more subtle. The nation’s wealthiest donors have found ways to buy access to all areas of the political arena; major donors receive special access to the candidates they help elect, and their lobbyists spend millions to influence and even write legislation once the official takes office.

It’s this type of access and special consideration that can result in lawmakers prioritizing the will of the wealthiest few over the interests of the general public. It may not be an explicit quid prop quo, but excessive spending in our political system is equally corrosive to our democracy.

Californians are all too familiar with the corruption that comes with excessive money in politics. Just this year, three separate state senators have been indicted or convicted for egregious ethical violations and illegal activities. Yet in the wake of these scandals, the focus in the state legislature, and from the mainstream media, has been on quick legislative solutions to the ethics problem. Far too little time has been spent thinking about the underlying root cause of these ethics violations – a broken campaign finance system and the onslaught of money in politics – and the kinds of systemic changes needed to remedy the situation.

constitutionSo where does the McCutcheon decision leave those of us in the reform community, those groups fighting in the trenches to limit the corruptive influence of money in our political systems? What weapons are left in our arsenal as the Supreme Court continues to tie our hands behind our backs?

The clearest answer, although also the most difficult to implement, would be a constitutional amendment authorizing Congress and the states to limit campaign spending. But that may be a long-term solution for a problem that will continue to wreak havoc on our political system in the meantime.

In the short term, legislative solutions like improved campaign finance disclosure laws or a public financing system could help to level the playing field among donors and reduce the corruptive influence of money in politics.

But here lies another problem: the very people in position to change our campaign finance system – our legislators – are those currently benefiting from the status quo. Although elected officials will tell you how much they hate fundraising full-time, we have seen few lawmakers with the political will to step forward and advocate for a real overhaul of our campaign finance system.

If all this seems like a dire outlook, in some ways it is. It’s also the perspective of a campaign finance reformer still recovering after last week’s ambush.

Journalist David Simon recently commented that “if democracy is going to work, the government in some sense is you and your neighbors.” By that he meant that, at its core, government should be about the small conversations held among citizens and elected officials, working through issues and figuring out how to make government best serve the needs of the people.

swanbeck_photoThe influx of money into our political system has all but drowned out these quiet conversations. As Simon also observed, however, if we have reached a point where government is no longer about you and your neighbors, “then that’s the fight to have and it can’t be had by walking away.”

If there’s a bright side to all of this, it is that maybe — just maybe — in the battle against the corruptive influence of money in politics, we have reached a tipping point.

Sarah Swanbeck is the Policy and Legislative Affairs Advocate for California Common Cause

Op Ed: Time to Expel Senators Tainted by Corruption

Monday, April 7th, 2014

3senatorsBy Fred Keeley
Special to Calbuzz

Imagine that you are an employee working in the food mart of the corner gas station.  One night, you’re arrested for driving under the influence. You show up for work the next day, and your employer fires you for getting arrested.

Your due process rights for the drunken driving charge are limited to the criminal charge, not to whether or not your employer can fire you for getting arrested. People can disagree about the fairness of the law, but that’s the law.

Now, imagine that you are a state senator and that you have been charged, indicted, arrested and/or convicted of crimes that relate directly to your job as a legislator.  Can you be “fired” by the Senate? Yes.

corruptionOur state constitution says, “Each house shall judge the qualifications and elections of its Members and, by roll call vote entered in the journal, two-thirds of the membership concurring, may expel a Member.”

After three state senators [Democrats Ron Calderon, Rod Wright and Leland Yee], have, in 2014, been either charged, indicted, arrested, tried and/or convicted of felonies directly associated with the performance of their official duties, the question arises as to the proper reaction of the state Senate itself.  To answer that, let’s look at another political scandal, not so long ago.

In 2000, then-Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush [a Republican] resigned his statewide constitutional office, following hearings by the [Democratically controlled] state Assembly, because of charges that he had  misdirected millions of dollars of insurance settlement funds meant to compensate victims of the Northridge Earthquake into funds that assisted his political ambitions.

quackenbushQuackenbush resigned ahead of an all-but-certain impeachment in the Assembly and a trial and conviction in the Senate. My role in all that was to manage the non-partisan Assembly hearings (I represented the Monterey Bay area in the Assembly from 1996 through 2002).

In the case of Quackenbush, there was no call in the Legislature for him to take a paid vacation or to wait until he had been convicted in a court of law and his appeals were exhausted. There was no argument that he had a right to due process in the criminal matters first that would prevent the Legislature from investigating, impeaching or convicting him.

Quackenbush was a constitutional officer, not a state senator, but the analogy is apt. There is no question about whether the state Senate must wait for a conviction and appeals before it can expel a member. There is only the question of whether the state Senate can muster the backbone to expel the three members who have rained disgust and dishonor on the body that voters rely on to make our laws, pass a budget and serve as a check and balance to the extensive powers of the governor.

We have seen a stream of newspaper articles, blogs, editorials, op-ed pieces and general conversation about the three state senators involved in this swirl of unethical and, perhaps, criminal behavior, and what should be done about it. Some argue the weak case that the state senate has done the right thing to suspend them with pay and not take stronger action unless and until they are convicted and sentenced.

fred keeley_0102They are wrong.

Our democracy is strong but it needs the constant trust and confidence of the electorate that their representatives represent the citizenry fairly and honestly.

A paid vacation for three disgraced state senators will not do it.  Immediate expulsion will.

Fred Keeley, a liberal Democrat, is the elected Treasurer of  Santa Cruz County of Santa.  He served in the California State Assembly (1996-2002) during which time he led the Assembly’s hearings into the actions of former Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush.