Quantcast

Archive for the ‘Campaign Regulation’ Category



Why the CA Republicans are Flirting With Stalinism

Monday, March 14th, 2011

In preparation for the statewide convention of the California Republican Party this weekend, the Calbuzz Department of Process, Rules and Schadenfreude has been in secret discussions with apparatchiks who are cooking up what you might call your Soviet Rule – whereby the GOP Politburo determines who’s pure enough to get the party imprimatur in a top-two primary.

The idea is to ensure that before actual voters decide which candidates they want to consider in a November run-off election, the most conservative activists in the California GOP will meet and determine who the “actual” Republican in the race is, so that no polluted candidate can lay claim to the party label.

We’ve also taken a look at the GOP Alien and Sedition Act proposed by the cave-dwelling California Republican Assembly, which would expel any GOP legislators who vote to put Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax extension on the June ballot.

The proposed resolution (and we quote)  “censures these traitorous Republicans-in-Name-Only, ask(s) for their resignation(s) from their positions within the California Republican Party, pledges to endorse and support efforts to recall them from office, and directs the California Republican Party staff, agents and officers to refuse to provide them with funding or assistance in future elections.”

As if the CRP had any money or assistance to give.

In the words of Jim Brulte, the former legislative leader and perhaps the smartest GOP thinker in the state: “If the California Republican Party spent half as much time trying to elect Republicans in November as they do trying to purify the party in June, we’d have a lot more elected Republicans.”

But the true believers would rather have 20% of the Legislature populated by purist ideologues than have 50% and a healthy dose of diverse thinking.

The Democrats also have a system for endorsing candidates that was adopted before the top-two primary was approved by the voters. But in cases where there are open seats and several candidates, the party seldom endorses because the threshold is so high. And when it does, whoever wins the primary – endorsed or not — is automatically the party’s nominee. How that will work in a top-two primary remains to be determined: maybe the Dems will come up with a similar system of purging one of their own, too.

But for now, it’s the upcoming Republican convention that’s at hand and it looks like it’s going to be a warriors’ weekend. There’s even a proposal on the table to ensure than any incumbent legislator is automatically endorsed by the party – even though those legislators may be running in different districts after the citizens’ reapportionment is completed.

Comrade Jon “Josef” Fleischman explained why the Reeps are so stirred up: “The idea is that unless the Republican Party is behind someone, we might not have a candidate in the top two.”

But what if the voters in a district opt for the non-endorsed, unpure (perhaps even –gasp – a moderate) Republican as one of their top-two choices? How will the Politburo react? Just because a candidate says he or she is a Republican doesn’t necessarily mean the party considers him or her an actual Republican. What if it’s a pro-choice Republican? Or a Republican opposed to offshore oil drilling? Or – OMG – a RINO who voted to put Brown’s tax measure on the ballot?

That’s where Celeste Greig’s grand ole’ CRA resolution comes to the rescue – with a Great Purge, cleansing the party of unclean, odious moderates, seeking to make sure cats don’t mix with dogs, that people can’t marry chickens and that marginal tax rates aren’t treated like bad cheese.

How else to ensure a robust, thriving and united party? How else to stamp out democratic centralism? How else to eliminate those Trotskyites lurking in secret cells in Anaheim, Redlands or Redding? Give ‘em the axe, the axe, the axe, we say.

This is why we love covering politics: because just when you think things can’t get more bizarre, some party chairman invites some dog-ass ideologue to debate the governor whose spokesman, appropriately, offers up an actual dog as a surrogate. Or the last remnants of a dying party apparatus sponsor resolutions and rule changes designed to narrow their party even further.

We should have to pay to cover this stuff. Oh wait, we already do.

Sundheim: Prop 34 a Roadblock on Road to Reform

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

By Duf Sundheim
Special to Calbuzz

That renowned philosopher, Mick Jagger, gave us great political advice when he reminded us, “You can’t always get what you want.”  However, in California, we’re singing “I can’t get no satisfaction” in unusual unison.  The Legislature seldom receives overwhelming approval ratings; when they pass legislation, they usually please some and displease others.  But lately, those who think they are doing a good job is down to friends and family.  No one is getting satisfaction.

Recently California voters approved two measures:  redistricting (Props 11 and 20) and the two-tiered election system (Prop 14), that when fully implemented will make our representatives more responsive to the will of the voters.  However, Prop 34,  passed in 2000, which dramatically reduces the amount that can be given directly to a candidate, stands as a significant roadblock to this effort.

Before redistricting reform, elected officials literally picked their voters by genetically engineering their districts.  This led to outrageous results such as a district that runs from Magic Mountain in LA County to within spitting distance of Carson City, Nevada!

Under the new system, an independent commission will stop such outrages and elections will be determined not by how the lines are drawn but who local voters want.  Second, with the passage of Prop 14, an action bitterly opposed by the parties, the voters took further control away from the party bosses by enabling every voter to vote for the candidate of their choice in the first or “primary” round, with the top-two squaring off in the second.

So how does Prop 34 impact these reforms?  First, irrespective of such impact, Prop 34 is an utter failure.  The sponsors promised it would “control campaign spending” and “reign in special interests”.  It has done neither.  Since its passage, campaign spending has exploded, not decreased; over $1 billion has been spent on campaigns through 2009 alone.  In terms of “reigning in special interests”, between 2000 and 2006 there was a 6,144% increase in independent expenditures in legislative elections. Point One:  Prop 34 should be revoked because it has failed of its essential purpose.

In terms of the reforms, Prop 34 is a major roadblock because it radically shifts power towards the party bosses and special interests.   By placing severe limitations on how much individual candidates can raise and at the same time allowing parties and special interests to raise unlimited funds, the backers of Prop 34 created a perverse universe where small contributions that have limited impact go to candidates, and big contributions that often make the difference only can go to party bosses and special interests!   Thus, candidates are dependent on the party bosses for funds and the bosses have not been reluctant to use the power such dependence creates.

Recently an outspoken Democratic Latina legislator, Nicole Parra, voted against the party bosses.  The leadership changed the locks to her offices and made her relocate across the street from the Capitol.  Needless to say, her colleagues got that not-too subtle message: buck the bosses and you literally are out on the street.

The system also prevents us from seeing who is supporting the candidates.  For example, say Bernie Madoff wants to donate to Dave Smith’s race.  If Madoff gives directly to Smith, even if he “maxes out”, his contribution probably will be less than 0.004% of the funds spent on Smith’s behalf — and such contribution will be disclosed.  Smith gets little help and a big black eye for taking Madoff’s check.

But if Madoff gives millions to the party and the party runs the funds through the fifteen plus accounts the law requires, Smith gets the kind of help that makes a difference and no one has any way of making the connection between Madoff’s contribution and Smith’s campaign.  Pretty neat, huh?   Hence political parties have become the repository of all “toxic” contributions – those no candidate wants to touch.  But it is these toxic contributions that often determine elections.  Talk about a brownfields problem!

The goal of the reforms is to have the voters, not the party bosses, decide who is elected.  To do so, the candidates voters support need to be able to compete financially.  And if in raising money candidates continue to be limited to squirt guns while the parties and special interests are allowed to use fire hoses – well, you know who is going to win, and it is not going to be the voters.

Prop 34 is a serious roadblock on the road to reform — a roadblock that should be removed immediately.

Sundheim, a Palo Alto attorney, was chairman of the California Republican Party from 2003 to 2006.

Press Clips: One Woman I-Team Sacks Tax Board

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Mega-kudos to Laura Mahoney, Sacramento correspondent for the Daily Tax Report and the winner of the Calbuzz Little Pulitzer for Investigative Reporting, for a superb, 25,000-word probe of the powerful, under-the-radar state Board of Equalization.

The only journalist who regularly covers the board, she  spent 18 months reporting and writing the five-part series, which reveals an incontrovertible pay-to-play connection between campaign contributions to its elected members and the outcome of tax appeals on which they rule.

“I realized when (the project) took me as long as it did to gestate my babies, I was in trouble,”  said Mahoney, a mother of two.

Known as “the Board of Eeek!” to generations of California reporters who quake with fear at the mere thought of covering complex financial stories, the BOE not only administers billions of dollars of tax collections, but also adjudicates disputes about them between the state and corporations or individuals.

Mahoney reports that California’s is the only such elected board in the nation with those dual roles. With its members (four are elected from districts of about 8 million people each, the fifth is the state controller) as dependent on special interest campaign cash as every other state pol, the  big accounting, law and other professional firms that do business with the board, along with their  PACs and high-end clients, are only too happy to accommodate.

Mahoney is a 20-year veteran of the Daily Tax Report, the flagship of BNA, a Washington-based publisher of  periodicals focused on high-level, specialized policy reporting for business and government. Besides the extraordinary level of detail and data analysis in her pieces, the strength of her reporting is the understated, dispassionate style and tone of her writing (kinda like us!), which makes her relentless accumulation of fact upon fact upon fact, and the conclusions she derives from it, that much more powerful. A summary of her findings begins:

Taxpayers with complex tax dispute cases before the California State Board of Equalization were more likely to win their cases if they or their representatives made campaign contributions to the elected board members, either directly or through political action committees, according to a detailed examination by Daily Tax Report, a BNA publication.

In a series of reports, BNA examined the outcomes of 70 complex, high-stakes cases argued before the board between 2002 and 2009, and compared those cases to publicly available campaign finance records.

BNA found more than $1 million in contributions to board members from taxpayers or their representatives who argue those cases before the board. All of the contributions were legal and contributors who spoke to BNA denied any causality between their contributions and success before the board.

We just bet they did. Check this:

However, a correlation appears to exist between contribution levels and success before the board, based on BNA’s original research.  BNA found that 20 of the 70 cases examined had less than $250 tied to them, and those taxpayers won their cases 30 percent of the time.

Success rates rose with higher contribution rates. Dividing the remaining cases in equal groups, BNA found another 17 cases had between $250 and $16,000 in contributions tied to them, and those taxpayers won 53 percent of the time. The next group of 16 cases had $16,000 to $50,000 tied to them, and those taxpayers won 75 percent of the time. The last group of 16 cases had $50,000 to $137,000 tied to them, and those taxpayers won 88 percent of the time.

Huh. Imagine that.

There’s lots more good stuff, as Mahoney names names, dissects the politics of the board’s operations and weighs the policy implications of what she found.

One of the conclusions of the final report of the governor’s tax reform commission released last year was that California should create an independent board to handle the politically charged issue of tax appeals.  So far, no one in the Administration or Legislature has seen fit to try to push such a reform.

After reading Mahoney’s special report, someone really, really should.

Cutting room floor:

Finally someone notices that the  “anti incumbent wave” of primary season is all about Republicans.

Lou Cannon’s take on mid-terms: mercifully free of heavy breathing

We’re still working our way through Todd Purdum’s big Vanity Fair piece on what’s wrong with Washington ‘cuz we keep stopping where he says $3.5 billion got spent on lobbying last year – $1.3 million for each day Congress was in session.

World’s only human shorter than Barbara Boxer gets it pretty much right.

Judge Vaughn Walker: liberal elite insider. Uh, wasn’t he appointed by a Republican?

What’s Obama’s problem?

A-He’s too condescending.

B-He thinks he’s Prime Minister.

C-He sold out much too fast.

D-He’s totally incompetent.

E-He doesn’t have a problem.

F-He’s easily intimidated.

G-His problem lies in the very nature of man.

Calbuzz sez: B, C and F.

In case you missed it: Since the whole dispute over the Manhattan Islamic community center erupted, we’ve been determined to keep Calbuzz a Ground Zero Mosque Free Zone. But we finally came across something that sums up our take, thanks to Aasif Mandvi.

How the FPPC Should (and Shouldn’t) Meddle Online

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Calbuzz is generally not too keen on any regulatory movement, cause or organization, especially not one that’s intent on regulating us. But we have to say there are good reasons to extend – carefully — to the online world some of the disclosure requirements on political campaigns that now apply in the old media world of broadcast and print.

The trick is for California’s Fair Political Practices Commission to use a light touch so as not to kill the baby in the crib. Internet political communications still are in their infancy. You Tube, for example, by which so much of today’s online political messaging is conveyed, wasn’t even created until February 2005 and it didn’t really catch on in the political world until the 2008 cycle.

When the FPPC considers rule-making this fall, the fundamental principle should be this:

Keep the burden of disclosure on the candidates, campaigns and advocates without creating undue burdens on the media through which they choose to communicate. (Especially us.)

We agree with the FPPC report on this issue that:

When a committee or candidate engages in campaigning, the public should know that the communication is being paid for, regardless of the form that communication takes. In the current networked world, political communication by a regulated committee or candidate that occurs over the Internet is the functional equivalent of a broadcast ad, and an email is the functional equivalent of a mailer.

Fortunately, the FPPC and its staff have been cautious, open and deliberate as they approach the issue. They recognize, for example “that it is difficult to regulate a moving target. Innovation is not predictable and could be stifled by moving too quickly and regulating too strictly.”

Who’s paying for what: The FPPC report recognizes that you can’t require the same disclosure for a postage-stamp-sized web ad, a tweet or a Facebook message that you demand in a TV commercial. But you could require that a web ad or even the name of a tweeter or Facebooker  who’s pushing campaign communications should link to a page on which it’s disclosed who is behind the message so that an online reader understands where the message is coming from and who’s paying for it.

As the report noted:

Some paid advertising does not allow adequate room for disclaimers required by current law (e.g., some forms of electronic advertisements, twitter communication, etc.). In those cases, candidates and committees must provide information in ways that are practicable given the limitations of the medium (e.g., on the website that is accessed when one clicks on an ad; on pages providing information about the source of tweets; on appropriate places in social networking sites; through information that pops up when the mouse is rolled over word or phrase).

The Maryland Board of Elections recently passed new electronic media rules to provide just such flexibility. The Maryland regulations provide that if electronic media advertisements are too small (e.g., a micro bar, a button ad, a paid text advertisement that is 200 characters or less in length, or a small paid graphic or picture link) to contain an “authority line,” the ads will comply with the required disclosure of the political committee authorizing the message if the ad allows the viewer to click on the electronic media advertisement and the user is taken to a landing or home page that prominently displays the authority line information.

That makes sense to us.

Sock puppets and web whores: There’s one place where we’re not sure the FPPC goes far enough: requiring online communicators like bloggers to disclose if they are being paid by a campaign or political committee for more than the standard value of their advertising.

The rationale for not requiring disclosure by sock-puppet bloggers is this: 1) the FPPC does not want to dampen robust free speech on the internet and 2) payments to bloggers will be disclosed in the campaign or political committee’s expenditure reports.

We heartily agree with the principle of doing nothing to dampen free speech on the Internet,or anywhere else. But there is a big difference between Steve Poizner placing an ad on Calbuzz at the same rate that ad space is sold to anyone else, compared to Meg Whitman paying $15,000 a month to Green Faucet, the parent of the Red County blog, in order to secure a steady stream of favorable coverage and support masquerading as news coverage.

One is just a business transaction in which the web site selling advertising is not a paid mouthpiece for a campaign but instead a free agent on the Internet.

The other is little more than paid campaign communications. Blogs that are subsidized by a political committee – and who have thereby crossed the line into paid advocacy — ought to be required to make that clear to their readers.

Voluntary disclosure is not good enough. There are too many unscrupulous cheats out there and too many web whores. Moreover, it’s nothing for a campaign with big resources to set up a web site that looks like a neutral observer but which is, in reality, just an extension of the campaign.

At the very least, expenditure reports should be modified to specify  “internet communications,” and “online advertising.” Something along the lines in the FPPC report, which calls for:

…requiring that expenditure reports contain more detail of payments for activity on the Internet, including payments to bloggers, so that these payments can be more easily discerned. The brief description on the expenditure report would include the name of the recipient of payment for electronic communication, the purpose of the payment, and the name of website or other similar address where the communication (blog, tweet, Facebook page, etc.) appears.

For now, the report says:

We do not recommend requiring disclosure in blogs at this time because of our concern about stifling this robust and growing source of political discourse. We considered an alternative that would require bloggers compensated by a campaign committee to disclose on their blogs that they have material connections to a campaign. This was based, in part, on a recent Federal Trade Commission guideline requiring bloggers endorsing products to disclose their financial connections to the manufacturers of the product. Requiring disclosure of paid bloggers would also be analogous to Section 84511 of the PRA mandating disclosure of paid spokespersons in ballot measure ads.

We recommend instead that the Commission continue to monitor the development of activity on weblogs and assess whether disclosure through expenditure reports is sufficient to ensure voters know when a blogger is part of a political campaign and when she is acting as an interested citizen expressing her political views. If the Commission determines that the failure to require more disclosure of compensated political bloggers has undermined the right of the public to be informed about the course of political communication, the issue of appropriate regulation should be revisited.

Calbuzz prediction: unless the FPPC requires disclosure, plenty of unethical bloggers, tweeters and Facebookers will fail to tell readers who’s buying their loyalty.

In search of a bright line: There are some other issues still to be fleshed out. For example, who is to be considered “news media” and who is not.

The report says the Political Reform Act’s media exemption (on advocacy) “should be interpreted to include online media sources, whether or not they also participate in print or broadcast media.”

Importantly, however, blogging should not automatically be considered to trigger the media exemption unless the blog meets the standards for being considered part of the media. It is not necessary to expand the media exemption to include uncompensated bloggers who are unaffiliated with campaigns because they are protected by the exemption recommended above for volunteer uncompensated political communication.

This gets really tricky.

Relevant passages in the Political Reform Act define news media as “a regularly published newspaper, magazine or other periodical of general circulation which routinely carries news, articles and commentary of general interest” or “a federally regulated broadcast outlet” or certain kinds of newsletters or regularly published periodicals.

What does that make an online political news site like Calbuzz? Or partisan sites like Calitics or FlashReport? Or an aggregator like Rough & Tumble? All of which have or would gladly accept, advertising from candidates and political committees. What would you call Red County? Or California Majority Report? Do they “meet certain standards for being considered part of the media?” Or are they advocates for causes and candidates?

Click on the “eBay: Don’t Buy It Now” ad on this page and you get taken to California Working Families which tells you the page is “Paid for by California Working Families for Jerry Brown for Governor 2010, a Coalition of Public Employees, Firefighters, and Building Trades Organizations. I.D. # 1324632.  Not authorized by a candidate or a committee controlled by a candidate.” That’s the way it should work.

Likewise, if you click on “It’s Time for a New California” on the FlashReport home page, you get taken to Meg Whitman’s campaign home page which tells you at the bottom “Paid for by Meg Whitman For Governor 2010.” They probably ought to include their FPPC identification, but that’s a quibble.

But if you click on erichogue on Twitter, there’s no way to know that the screeching right-wing tweets from the conservative radio commentator just might be influenced by that $1,000 payment he got in the last reporting period from the Whitman campaign.

So what’s his Hogue News?  He’d like us to believe his site is “news media.” But he’s already proved he’s a for-rent mouth breather. Trouble is, the only people who know are those who’ve followed the arcane news about campaign finance or those who’ve read through Whitman’s expenditure reports and stumbled across the payment to him.

It won’t do for the FPPC to define “news media” in a way that includes only the dead and dying old media, as the current regulations do. But it also won’t do to ignore the fact that some online practitioners feel no compunction to level with the public about their status as paid advocates.

Plenty of free parking: Calbuzz would be happy to participate in further discussions with the FPPC on these issues. And if the FPPC would like to buy an ad on our site, they can find the rate card right here.