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Archive for the ‘Reform’ Category



Why Goo Goo Plans are Toast; Labor Runs Amok

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

We come to bury California Forward, not to praise it. The goo goo reform plan, now subsumed into SCA 19, contains a host of worthy measures affecting budgeting and spending. But it’s the much-needed centerpiece – reducing the two-thirds vote needed to approve the state budget – that is its undoing. For now.

Why? Because to put the measure on the ballot will itself require a two-thirds vote, which won’t happen because even if all the Democrats lined up together – and that’s not at all certain – the Republicans would kill it.

As His Royal Walters wrote last week: “Politically, the plan appears to be a nonstarter.”

Loyal Calbuzzers know that we have long argued that without a variety of reforms – including majority vote on the state budget — California will remain fundamentally ungovernable.

Sure, a governor and Legislature will play their roles, budgets will be passed, schools and prisons will operate, the state will function. But California will continue to float along like a raft on the ocean, not like a true ship of state being steered along a certain course.

Besides the majority-vote budget provision, the SCA 19 – at the request of California Forward – also includes a provision that says:

any bill that imposes a fee shall be passed by not less than two-thirds of all Members elected to each of the two houses of the Legislature if revenue from the fee would be used to fund a program, service, or activity that was previously funded by revenue from a tax that is repealed or reduced in the same fiscal year or in a prior fiscal year.”

Now, Jim Mayer and Fred Silva of Cal Forward – two really smart guys whose thinking we respect – say this is NOT an attack on the Sinclair Paint decision (which Calbuzz has covered exhaustively) that allows the Legislature to raise fees by majority vote as long as there is a “nexus” between the fee and the service it pays for.

They say it only would apply to a limited situation in which a fee was proposed to replace a specific excise tax used to fund a specific program, service or activity. The measure was inserted, Mayer said, “in order to build some support for majority vote from business groups who would otherwise kill the bill.”

Which kinda underscores our point:  If it doesn’t affect Sinclair, why do it at all? Because, they say, some business interests are worried that the Legislature will try a massive bait-and-switch, swapping out tax-based revenues with majority-vote fees.

The way we read the measure, it does affect Sinclair since every program, service and activity is funded by “revenue from a tax,” and so, any place where the Legislature wanted to subvent tax funds with fee funds would require a two-thirds vote – which under Sinclair only requires a majority. But we’re not what you might call your “tax experts.”

Anyway, even if the liberals go along – and if just a few of them read this like we do, that’s not likely – the Republicans are not likely to give away their one-third-vote leverage. Which is why we say you can stick a fork in Cal Forward’s proposal.

Back Away From the IPhone!

Back in January, Calbuzz was first to break the news that three longtime Democrats from a new Silicon Valley firm were rolling out “a product that – for better or worse — promises to cut dramatically the cost of gathering signatures for ballot initiatives by using social networking and touch-screen technology.”

Verafirma Inc.’s Democracy Project, founded by Jude Barry, Michael Marubio and Steve Churchwell, we reported, makes it possible for activists to use email, Facebook and other social networking venues to distribute ballot initiative language and arguments, and to collect and verify signatures from users who have an iPhone, Droid or other new generation touch-screen device.

So when we heard about Barry, a Calbuzz contributor, getting blacklisted by Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, we thought it was just a case of union protectionism run amok.

The ostensible reason for placing Barry and his firm, Catapult Strategies, on the  “do not patronize” list was that Verafirma is selling its signature-gathering technology to the folks trying to qualify a ballot measure for “paycheck protection” — labor’s most-hated proposal which would ban use of union dues for political purposes.

This didn’t make any sense. Verafirma is licensing use of a technology that anybody can use. It’s as if they’d come up with a pedestrian GPS system and Republican precinct walkers wanted to use it. It’s like selling electronic clipboards and pens. The technology is neutral. It’s like blacklisting an iPod dealer because right-wingers are buying and using his product.

But then we read Internal Affairs in the Mercury News and nosed around a bit more and it all came clear: Pulaski was doing the dirty work for Cindy Chavez, who heads the South Bay Labor Council and who is supporting Forrest Williams for county supervisor. Barry is working for Teresa Alvarado, seeking that same seat on the county board.

Chavez told the Mercury News she didn’t draft the Pulaski letter, although she knew it was in the works. And she took a whack at Barry for allowing “a company of his to support taking the right away from working men and women to speak politically.”

Calbuzz has no candidate in the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors race. We just think Barry  — who worked for Ted Kennedy and Howard Dean, ferchristsake — is getting rat-fucked. Sure paycheck protection is anti-union. And one of Barry’s defenses — that it wasn’t his personal account at Verafirma — is specious.

But none of that should matter: he’s done nothing to challenge labor’s right to organize or influence politics. This stinks.

FPPC Lets Newsom Double Dip: Calbuzz called attention to a loophole in the law governing contributions a while back but the FPPC has decided that you can run for one office, max out to the limit, drop from that race and enter another and max out again from the same donors. This lets Gavin Newsom, now a candidate for gov lite, go back to all those donors who gave him $25,900 when he was a candidate for governor. Whatever.

Should the FPPC Regulate Tweeters, Facebookers?

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

By Steve Maviglio
Special to Calbuzz

In the Age of the Internet, when campaigns, advocates, consultants and engaged citizens are using all forms of social media — Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Gmail Buzz, etc. — to communicate about politics, the Fair Political Practices Commission is struggling to figure out what in all that constitutes political communication that ought to be regulated — like paid advertising — and what is purely a function of free speech.

It’s a fair question.

Last week, I testified (and Tweeted) before the FPPC’s Subcommittee examining electronic communication in political campaigns as part of a panel of political consultants (also at the table was Julia Rosen, the Courage Campaign’s Online Political Directorm and Bryan Merica from ID Media and Fox & Hounds Daily). We were followed by Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation, Derek Cressman of Common Cause, Tiffany Mok of the ACLU and Professor Barbara O’Connor, Sacramento State University.

The subcommittee wanted to hear from us if it should develop, in the words of Chairman Ross Johnson, “appropriate responses to new political realities.”

My advice was straightforward: do no harm. Don’t regulate independent bloggers. Don’t do anything that will stunt the growth of the Internet to attract and involve voters. But do provide clear guidelines for disclosure if there’s campaign money involved. And while you’re at it, provide clarity on the advice campaigns are getting from the commission, and conform to Federal Election Commission requirements.

Halfway through my testimony — where I was trying to detail the multiple changes on Facebook that would make it difficult for the FPPC to mandate where disclosure requirements might be posted — I looked up and saw all three commissioner’s with “what the hell are you talking about” faces. They were clearly baffled by technology they’d never dealt with personally (indeed, there was no wifi in the room, the hearing wasn’t webcast and the three commissioners admitted to never having used Twitter). That wasn’t encouraging.

But while three commissioners were dazed and confused by comments about pixels and Google Adwords, they seemed get what all the panelists were saying: proceed with caution. As  commissioner Tim Hodson told me afterward, the hearing “underscored both the perils of addressing such wide open and ever changing area and the need to ensure minimal disclosure.”

Hodson and his fellow commissioners are picking up on FPPC’s decade-long review of political campaign activity on the web. Back in the stone age of internet campaigning, Assemblyman Keith Olberg penned AB 2720, which created a Bipartisan Commission on Internet Political Practices. The Commission’s job was to determine if and how web-based communication could confirm to the mother of California’s campaign law, the oft-amended Political Reform Act, which was authored in 1974, well before Al Gore invented the Internet.

After toiling for a year, the Internet Commission reported “we do not think it would be wise or necessary to adopt new laws or a new administrative vehicle specifically aimed at  limiting or regulating the use of the Internet by political actor.”

The December 2003 report also presciently warned of regulating ever-changing web campaign technology:

When government attempts to regulate the use of technology, what we do not know can indeed hurt us. The speed of technological change and the ability of practitioners to adapt to new rules make regulatory efforts in these areas difficult. Swift changes can make old rules inoperable or inappropriate.

Technological changes that affect how hyperlinks are generated, how content from one Web site is framed by another, how online advertising is delivered to users, and how lists for unsolicited email campaigns are constructed, for example, could all change the meaning and the impact of regulations written prior to these innovations.

And things did change. Twitter, Facebook, viral YouTube videos, and Google email blasts all have become de rigueur elements of modern campaigning. First Democrats Howard Dean and then Barack Obama, set the pace for developing innovative electronic communications. In January, Scott Brown dumped more than 10 percent of his advertising budget in online advertising, and credited it, in part, for his win.

This may be just the tip of the iceberg, as campaigns get smarter about microtargeting on the  web. A recent study by Tulchin Research found that 57 percent of Californians access political news and information via Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. Some 40 percent of social media users are following or supporting candidates for office via Facebook and Twitter. One in five voters use their smart phones to get political news and information.

FPPC Chairman Ross Johnson seems to be hinting that he’s not inclined to do anything to hamper this rapid growth electronic communication. And that’ s good.

“The Commission is not interested in requiring individuals to report as committees when they are merely exercising their First Amendment rights, but if this is paid political speech, then perhaps tighter regulation requiring greater disclosure and transparency is in order,” he said in a press release before the hearing

That’s the path I’d expect the FPPC to go: requiring greater disclosure, somewhere, somehow on all campaign-paid electronic communication. That’s not as easy as it sounds, though, and the commission has its work cut out for it to make that regulation work.

Later this year the subcommittee will present its findings to the full Commission for consideration of whether new rules are necessary to require the disclosure of who is behind electronic messages advocating for or against the election of California’s state and local candidates or ballot measures.

These changes could require the adoption of regulations by the Commission, or entirely new state laws, which must be adopted as a bill by the Legislature, or as a proposition by a vote of the people.

The Commission is right to investigate this new landscape as long as it first does no damage.

(The FPPC will hold another subcommittee hearing from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. , March 24  at the University of Southern California Law School, Ackerman Courtroom, Room 107, located at 699 Exposition Boulevard, Los Angeles. Full information can be found here.)

Excloo: SV Firm Rolls Out Initiative by Facebook

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

048-105Three longtime Democrats from a new Silicon Valley firm today are rolling out a product that – for better or worse — promises to cut dramatically the cost of gathering signatures for ballot initiatives by using social networking and touch-screen technology.

Verafirma Inc.’s Democracy Project – founded by Jude Barry, Michael Marubio and Steve Churchwell – will make it possible for activists to use email, Facebook and other social networking venues to distribute ballot initiative language and arguments, and to collect and verify signatures from users who have an iPhone, Droid or other new generation touch-screen device.

Costs will be negotiable, but according to Barry, they will be “dramatically less” than the $1 to $2 per signature currently paid to signature-gathering firms. Because ballot proponents typically need about 600,000 signatures for a statutory measure and about 1 million for a constitutional amendment, cutting the price for signatures could go a long way toward empowering boot-strap, grassroots forces.

The product will not be good news to those reformers who believe it already is too easy to manipulate California law by initiative. However, the  Verafirma partners argue, “We will make the initiative process less costly for true grassroots efforts. In essence, we will return the initiative tool to its original purpose as envisioned by Hiram Johnson and others.”

Since Democrats and the left are – at this point anyway – light years ahead of the Republicans and the right in online networking, Verafirma’s Democracy Project would appear, at the outset, to favor those forces. It could help level the playing field by giving the low-rent populists the same power now enjoyed by corporate conglomerates.

As Verafirma argues in its YouTube presentation: “Ultimately, this is not about interest groups talking at voters but friends talking with friends, neighbors talking with neighbors, all using Verafirma as a natural tool to allow them to understand and participate in their government.”

It could also empower wing nuts, who otherwise could not get their measures onto the ballot. As Barry put it, “Technology, whether Tivo or atomic energy, has a variety of uses . . . This technology will ultimately force reform.”

Barry, a Calbuzz contributor, is a San Jose political consultant,  former campaign manager for Steve Westly’s 2006 campaign for governor, California state director for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign and chief of staff for former San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales.

Marubio has been a political fundraiser and activist in Chicago and Washington, D.C., and has worked in the cryptography and electronic signature field for clients including the Federal Reserve Bank, Citi Corp, Travelers Insurance, NetSuite and JP Morgan Chase. He is currently CEO of Xignature, an electronic signature company.

Churchwell is a partner at the law firm DLA Piper LLP, has represented clients in numerous initiative and referendum campaigns and served as general counsel to the California Fair Political Practices Commission from 1993-2000.

UPDATE, 3:30 PM: Here’s a pdf of the VFwhitepaper by Steve Churchwell with research and argument concluding that signatures gathered electronically meet every provision of California election law.

middle_fingerI’m sorry, I’m waiting for my close-up on “Meet the Press”: Add the Los Angeles County Republican committee to the list of those shut out of Meg Whitman’s oh-so-busy schedule.

While all but the most loyal Calbuzzers are doubtless fed up with hearing us whine about not getting some dim sum time with eMeg, when she stiffs a  local political group representing more than a million registered Republicans, it’s time to wonder if she understands that being governor comes with certain, you know, expectations for showing up at stuff.

Citing a scheduling conflict, Whitman recently declined an invitation from the Republican Party of Los Angeles County Central Committee (sic) to speak at a candidates forum Jan. 14. Her primary opponents — entrepreneur and former state insurance commissioner Steve Poizner (R) and former Rep. Tom Campbell (R) – are set to attend.

The report, by Sean Miller in DC trade rag “The Hill,” most likely won’t make this week’s edition of the Whitman campaign’s “Field Notes,” hanging as it does on sharp criticism by county vice chairman John Cozza, who says that eMeg not only ignores the GOP base but acts like a squish, to boot.

This just in from the future: Governor-elect Meg Whitman won’t be able to squeeze her inauguration into her busy schedule, but hopes to have many future opportunities to be sworn in, said spokeshuman Sarah Pompei.

bullwinkle1

Speaking of volcanic press secretaries: Not to be outdone by eMeg’s digital propaganda apparatus, Whitman rival Steve Poizner has launched his own daily campaign eblast, imaginatively titled “Poizner Press Pass” (what is this – a student council election?)

Bettina Inclan, press secretary to The Commish, is honchoing the project, and we wish her all her the best doing it daily – Daily? Really? – which is a major chore, even for a vast global organization as fully staffed up as Calbuzz . So we’re sorry to report that Inclan launched the deal with a major typo, dropping a key word from her first graf:

NOTE: This email is off the record.

Clearly, she meant to say “This email is NOT off the record.” Because nobody would try to put off the record items like, “155 days to the primary,” or “tomorrow, Steve will be in Sacramento” or even “The Hill’s Sean J. Miller takes a look at California’s governor’s race” (for the record: we planned to rip off that Hill item hours before “Poizner Press Pass” pimped it).

Not to mention that no one in their right mind would entertain the thought that something could be off the record that is sent by email to every political reporter in the state.

Our mission: We’re from the press, and we’re here to help.

13: What Reform Plans Would & Wouldn’t Do

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

JarvisFinal-200Our three-day series of guest op-eds about major proposals for political reform last week here, here and here, generated a wave of thoughtful Calbuzzer comments, many focused on Prop. 13.

Several progressives expressed concern that neither the set of initiatives put forth by California Forward, nor the constitutional convention package sponsored by Repair California, would amend the Prop. 13 framework on taxation in a way that would allow dramatic political change.

The issue was raised most directly by Calbuzzer “David” who wrote:

The heart of the state’s dysfunction is the ability of simple majorities of voters to impose supermajority requirements in perpetuity. For instance, Prop 13’s 2/3 requirement on taxes was itself imposed by less than a 2/3 majority. Any “constitutional reform” which leaves this atrocity in place is not a true reform, but simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Since the current con-con proposals explicitly prohibit changing the 2/3 rule, they are yet another waste of time for a state that is rapidly running out of it.

Amid considerable debate and discussion on the site, however, a key difference emerged between the two sets of reforms:

The ballot measures submitted by California Forward would specifically  prohibit changing the Prop. 13 requirement for a two-thirds vote needed to raise taxes, either in the Legislature or locally. But the convention agenda outlined in the Repair California initiative expressly would allow delegates to study and, if they saw fit, to propose to voters a reduction of the supermajority requirement.

Alert Calbuzzer Adrian Covert was the first to call attention to this little-calbuzzernoticed element of the convention initiatives. Covert, who blogs over at pacificvs.com wrote:

The Constitutional Convention proposals…specifically put all vote thresholds on the table. By voting in favor of a convention, voters will in-fact be giving convention delegates a clear mandate to do so.

The guy’s right on a very important point.

The concon package includes two proposed initiatives; the first seeks voter authorization to convene a convention, while the second broadly defines the issues to be considered by the delegates. In the second initiative, Section 83130 (a) (3) states that the convention is authorized to address:

Spending and Budgeting, including the budget process and related requirements, the term and balancing of a budget, voting thresholds, mandated spending and ways to increase fiscal accountability and efficiency.

In other words, the convention could, if it so chose, propose an amendment to alter the two-thirds rules on raising taxes. This reading of the measure was confirmed for us by Clint Reilly, who’s running the Repair California campaign. The group is a political spin-off of the Bay Area Council, whose CEO, Jim Wunderman, got the convention idea started.

To be clear, this is the only element of Prop. 13 that would be in play in either reform package. The convention specifically cannot deal with the Prop. 13 system for determining property taxes:

Section 83130 (b) The convention may also propose to change any statutory provision directly related to the proposed constitutional revision or amendment. The revision, any amendment, or any related statutory provision proposed by the convention may not include new language, or alter existing language, that (1) directly imposes or reduces any taxes or fees; (2) sets the frequency at which real property is assessed or re-assessed; or (3) defines “change in ownership” as it relates to any tax or fee . . .

con_conWhen we first read this, it seemed to us that it left room to allow convention delegates to propose amending Prop 13 to put in place a split roll system, which would assess commercial property at a different (higher) rate than residential.

We thought the language on this was unclear so we interviewed Steve Miller of Hanson Bridgett who drafted the section. He told us it was worded to keep the convention from taking up the split roll.  So that’s the word from the horse’s mouth.

Bottom line: As written, neither of the major reform packages aimed at the 2010 ballot leave much room for changing Prop. 13, but the constitutional convention leaves the door open for one major amendment that could have widespread political impact.

Con Con Pros: Citizens Should Propose Reforms

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

wunderman2By Jim Wunderman
Special to Calbuzz

California’s state government is broken. This dysfunction has left our state unable to deal with the serious issues of our time.

This hurts our state, it hurts our economy and it hurts Calbuzz readers. California’s dysfunction has made us a laughing stock, but it’s not funny, it’s tragic. Californians are frustrated – they should be – and they want something done.

At least two groups have put together serious, well-recognized efforts at reform: California Forward and Repair California. Backed by an original $15 million investment, California Forward has gathered some of the top leaders in our state, plus experts who know the system from the inside.  They came up with a high-priority list of reforms and whittled them down with a “politics of the possible” filter.  California Forward has produced a reform package with many items Repair California, and my organization, the Bay Area Council, might support.

Some have asked if California Forward succeeds, does California still need a constitutional convention?  The answer is an emphatic, “Yes!”

con_conThe source of our woes are deep, including:  an out of control budget process; the broken balance of power between the state and local governments; our election process; our initiative process; term limits; too many overlapping jurisdictions; a lack of sun setting or review on new government units; too much centralized power; unfunded mandates; and poorly constructed executive and legislative branches.

These problems require a big fix, as soon as possible.

The way to do that is with a constitutional convention to examine our governance system in total, and propose a holistic, systemic fix. State constitutional conventions have been successfully called more than 230 times in the United States. It is time to call one in California.

Repair California has turned in ballot language to call the first California convention in more than 130 years.  The measures would call a limited convention to reform four areas of the constitution:

– The budget process;

– The election and initiative process;

– Restoring the balance of power between the state and local governments; and,

– Creating new systems to improve government effectiveness.

Who will be in the room?  That is the critical question and the makeup of this convention is why this effort will succeed where other California reform efforts have failed.

Today, due to deep cynicism, “who” is proposing the reform matters as much as the reform itself.  Voters have made clear they no longer trust “experts” or politicians, they only trust themselves. Due to the drawing of everyday Californians as part of the delegation, this convention will be a celebration of our democracy and our state’s incredible diversity.  John Adams said of gatherings like conventions that they “should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large.  It should think, feel, reason, and act like them.”  The convention proposed for the November 2010 ballot will produce just such a group.

How do everyday citizens make good decisions on reform?  Repair California believes you need established experts there as well.  Therefore, a smaller additional group of delegate seats will be divided by population among California’s counties. In each county, a committee of five local government leaders will review applications at public meetings and pick their county’s expert delegates.

This innovative approach mixes the values of everyday Californians with experts chosen by the elected leaders closest to the people.  It also ensures that the convention’s reforms are vetted by a pool of people just like the voters who will eventually decide on the product of the convention.  The “proposers” will be the people.

The United States of America was founded on a unique vision of self-government that became an inspiration to the world.  The founders and the framers believed, as Thomas Jefferson said, “Every man, and every body of men on earth, possesses the right of self-government… I am not among those who fear the people.”  Over a half century later, President Abraham Lincoln renewed the spirit of 1776 when he declared that America was a place “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Today, California democracy is a bizarre shadow of the founders’ original vision.  Sacramento has been gathering cobwebs for some time, undermined by special interests, raw partisanship, and citizen disenchantment.  In order to once again become a living expression of the founders’ inspiration, California desperately needs a democratic renewal.

While perfect is not possible in any endeavor, this innovative convention was shaped by the state’s best thinkers and thousands of other Californians to reflect the political, geographic and cultural diversity of this huge state.  It is geared to succeed at the ballot.  California needs fundamental change, and no other reform proposal offers this good of a deal.  Not even close.  It is time to let the people speak.  Call the convention.

Jim Wunderman is the President and CEO of the Bay Area Council and a member of Repair California at www.repaircalifornia.com.