Archive for the ‘tapegate’ Category

Is Brown Blowing It? Polls, Tapes & Hollywood

Friday, November 20th, 2009

jerrysmugNow that Jerry Brown has swooped in and out of Hollywood to collect more than $1 million in a single night, it’s well past time for him to hire a cadre of actual professionals to manage and focus his scattershot uncampaign for governor.

The skinflint, pig-headed arrogance which so far has led him and chief of staff lovely wife Ann Gust to think they could steer his ambitions for a third term through the most uncertain political environment in recent years is starting to look stupid: Brown has awkwardly stumbled through the first real controversy of his nascent campaign at a time when Republican front-runner Meg Whitman has been steadily building strength. (Jerry Brown photo by Phil Konstantin)

Whatever you think of the methodology of the new November Rasmussen Poll that has Brown and Whitman tied (improbably, we think) at 41%, the megatrends of the survey (which had Brown leading in September 44%-35%) seem indisputable: Pushed aloft with more than $20 million in early spending, fueling a duck-and-hide strategy, eMeg right now is growing stronger, while Crusty seems determined to fritter away his dominant position by stubbornly maintaining the annoying conceit that he’s not really a candidate yet.

035-996The AG’s big haul in Bel-Air on Wednesday night at the $32-million home of Sandy Gallin, former agent for the likes of Dolly Parton, Barbra Streisand and Michael Jackson, was “a huge success and a great launch for his effort down here,” according to organizer Andy Spahn, Steven Spielberg’s former political ramrod.

Spahn said the event raised more than $1 million from about 85 attendees who were invited by a host committee that included  JJ Abrams, Wallis Annenberg, Barry Diller, Larry Ellison, John Emerson, Diane von Furstenberg, David Geffen, Reed Hastings, Marilyn and Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jena and Michael King, Katie McGrath, Peter Morton, Jan Chet Pipkin, Lynda and Stuart Resnick, Michele and Patrick Soon-Shiong, Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg, Curt Tamkin and Tom Unterman. Each of whom pledged to give or raise $50,000.


Calbuzz pressed Spahn for the most important detail — what was on the menu. But he  wouldn’t give it up, except to say that Wolfgang Puck catered the event and was there. (Since Andy wouldn’t say, Calbuzz will just assume Jerry’s Kids dined on roast duckling, spring lamb, veal, arugula, alfalfa sprouts and endive salad, washed down with Chateau Angelus St. Emilion Grand Cru 2005, eh?)

But hey, Jerry can raise all the damn money in the world and it won’t do him any good stuffed under the mattress in his Oakland loft. Brown’s contempt for political consultants is well known, demonstrated most recently with the release of a transcript of a taped interview with AP political writer Beth Fouhy back in April:

“I have been around for awhile. When my father ran for governor they didn’t have all these paid consultants, you had volunteers…now everybody has vendors to talk to them about your hair style and about their internet page and their this and that. The consultants take an enormous salary but they gotta do something…When you pay these guys twenty grand a month they have to produce something. The candidates often don’t understand because they haven’t been doing these things.”

matthauWell guess what, Mr. Cranky Pants Walter Matthau wannabe? This ain’t your father’s campaign for governor.

There isn’t a good political consultant in America, enormously paid or not, who would have allowed the flap over former spokesman Scott Gerber’s secret taping of reporters to mushroom from a one-day kerfuffle story into an 18-day tortuous ordeal the way you did, before it finally dawned on you that the thing would never end until you tossed it to somebody credible enough to conduct an independent investigation.

Our progressive friends over at Calitics may be just a tad hysterical in the face of the new Rasmussen numbers: “Enough of this dithering from Brown already,” the estimable Brian Leubitz cried out yesterday.

Which caused Brown adviser Steve Glazer to reply: “They should work harder for Jerry Brown. We need all segments of the Democratic Party to pull together if we’re going to win this race against a deep-pocketed Republican.”carradine

Cool and breezy,  Grasshopper.  But Leubitz nailed it when he wrote of Brown:  If he wants to run for governor, great, fantastic, let’s do it. But Brown needs to realize that he just can’t skate through without bothering to announce that he’s running.


P.S. We don’t have access to the Rasmussen survey questions, the crosstabs or crucial information about the poll that would give us confidence to take it seriously. Some friends who’ve seen some crosstabs tell us it models the expected November electorate 44% Democrat and 38% Republican, which is a bit of a tilt toward the Republicans, but not too bad. But we don’t know who the client was (if any), what ballot titles were read to respondents, how the sample was drawn, what the geographic or demographic distributions were, etc., etc., etcFor our guidelines on taking polls seriously, click here.

Pro-Con: Policy Fight Behind Secret Taping Mess

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

proconartBehind the scenes, a high-stakes political fight which would affect the cost of auto insurance for California drivers is what triggered the on-going controversy over secret tape recordings made by Attorney General Jerry Brown’s ex-press secretary. The language that attorneys in Brown’s office crafted for the Title and Summary of an insurance industry-sponsored measure aimed for the 2010 ballot became the flash point that erupted in public over the tapes. Today advocates for and against the disputed initiative square off at Calbuzz, where we asked each to answer the same question: What is the insurance industry trying to accomplish with this initiative? You can click HERE for the PRO argument and HERE for CON.

Pro: It’s Good for Consumers

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

By Jim ConraConran Head Shotn
Special to Calbuzz

Signature gathering is underway for a 2010 initiative which will fix an inconsistency in auto insurance law, expand an already-existing discount and lower auto insurance rates for millions of California consumers who abide by California law and maintain auto insurance coverage.

Under current law insurers can give existing customers a discount for having continuous auto insurance coverage (sometimes called the loyalty discount), but if that customer wants to switch insurance companies the new company is prohibited from providing that same customer that same discount.

The Continuous Coverage Auto Insurance Discount Act ensures all drivers who maintain their automobile insurance coverage are eligible for this discount even if they change their insurance company. Who benefits? The more than 80% of consumers who maintain auto insurance.

This includes working families, single parents, elderly and young drivers. Changing the law to allow insurance companies to offer the same discounts to new and existing customers will make the auto insurance market more competitive.

If auto insurers want to attract new customers and keep their existing ones, they will have to offer lower prices, better plans and better service. Increased competition and lower rates is a good thing, especially in these tough economic times.

This measure does not in any way change the primary factors that currently determine a person’s auto insurance rates under California law. Insurance companies still will be required to base your auto insurance rates primarily on your driving safety record, miles driven annually and driving experience. And other discounts, like the good driver or student discount, will remain in place.

Disappointingly, there are a few who are trying to defeat this pro-consumer measure. Recognizing the uphill battle before them, they have attempted to cloud the issue by implying this very simple measure will cause massive upheaval in the market and have an adverse affect on some consumers. Specifically, they claim that because insurance is a “zero sum game” any discount provided to one class of customers has to be offset by another group of customers.

They are wrong. This initiative does not create a new discount, it only makes portable a discount already being provided to the vast majority of California drivers who continually maintain auto insurance coverage.

Currently, 82% of drivers are insured. Thus, the overall amount of insurance premium in the system does not change since it’s already factored into rates for eligible and non-eligible drivers. The only thing that would change is that customers would be free to shop around and shift from one insurance company to another without losing their continuous coverage discount.

Under current law, consumers are punished for switching auto insurance companies. Under this proposed initiative they would be free to keep their continuous coverage discount and seek out additional savings.

Much has also been made of the fact that the initiative is being spearheaded by Mercury Insurance. Clearly Mercury wants to offer this discount to lure new customers and increase its business in California.

But the only way it – or any insurer — can gain market share is by offering better rates or plans than the competition. And that, of course, means consumers will have more options and lower prices. That’s a very clear benefit and one that deserves voter support.

Jim Conran, the former Director of the California Department of Consumer Affairs, is President of Consumer First and co-chair of Californians for Fair Auto Insurance Rates

Con: It’s An Industry Scam

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

doughellerBy Doug Heller
Special to Calbuzz

The policy issue behind the hubbub surrounding the secret recordings made by Jerry Brown’s ex-spokesman stretches back to 1984, when Gov. George Deukmejian signed California’s proof of auto insurance law, making it easier to cite someone for driving uninsured.

In 1985, civil rights and community groups sued to challenge the law, arguing that insidious industry practices prevented many citizens from complying. The California Supreme Court acknowledged the severity of the problem, but ruled that the groups needed to seek a legislative, rather than judicial, fix.

Justice Allen Broussard, in a concurring opinion, focused on one of the worst practices: the use of prior auto insurance coverage as a basis for denying or surcharging a customer.

A 2005 court ruling on the subject summed up Broussard’s view: “… Justice Broussard noted two practices were widespread in the insurance industry prior to Proposition 103’s passage: prohibitively high insurance rates for the previously uninsured driver, and the exclusion of uninsured drivers from the insurance market altogether simply because they were not previously insured…Such practices arbitrarily penalized uninsured motorists, leaving many unable to comply with California’s mandatory insurance laws.”

When Californians enacted insurance reform with Proposition 103 in 1988, voters prohibited auto insurers from considering prior insurance coverage. Now, two decades later, Mercury Insurance, California’s third largest auto insurer, wants to reestablish the costly and unfair practice.

Its proposed initiative would override Proposition 103’s prohibition, allowing companies to base premiums on whether or not a driver has been continuously insured. Mercury’s public relations team claims it will give discounts to people who’ve had continuous auto insurance; they refuse to acknowledge that it also will allow rate increases on struggling families with a lapse in coverage.

That is exactly what Mercury was doing illegally until the Department of Insurance and a class action lawsuit stopped them several years ago. It is exactly what they wanted in 2003 — when they sponsored legislation virtually identical to the current initiative; the courts tossed that law because it allowed insurers to raise rates on people simply for having a lapse in coverage.

It is also exactly how the company prices policies in states without California’s protections. It’s worth noting that you don’t have to have been driving uninsured to face the no-prior-coverage penalty proposed in Mercury’s initiative. If you lost your job and sold the car, had surgery and stopped driving, or used public transportation exclusively for a time, you would pay hundreds of dollars more than someone who’d been “continuously covered” if you ever need insurance again.

Back in August, the Attorney General correctly described an earlier version of Mercury’s initiative, saying it would allow insurers to raise or lower premiums based on any lapse in coverage. A Brown campaign donor, Mercury disliked that, because initiatives allowing higher rates don’t do well with voters.

The company withdrew that proposal and resubmitted it with cosmetic changes. Lawyers in Brown’s office told me they were under intense pressure to change the Title and Summary, and Brown’s office accommodated: The new title and summary only mentions “discounts,” not the premium increases the proposal would allow for millions of Californians.

It’s bad enough getting a Title and Summary wrong; glossing over the ugly part of Mercury’s initiative is more egregious for the AG, because he wrote it fairly the first time.

Brown’s lawyers claim the two versions are different: the first, they say, explicitly struck the Prop. 103 provision prohibiting prior coverage discrimination, while the new version didn’t. They don’t mention that the new version clearly says it would take effect “notwithstanding” the no-discrimination provision of 103. Nor do they note that the Mercury-sponsored, invalidated 2003 law allowing surcharges didn’t strike the provision either.

Comments by AG lawyers in the taped interview with a reporter show they defaulted to legal obfuscation when asked about the issue: “I don’t want to say anything…that will end up in a lawsuit,” and “we don’t have a crystal ball” about how a court would rule on the key question.

The quotes come from the secretly recorded interview Brown’s ex-spokesman used to try to kill a story about the AG’s flip-flop. The rest is recorded, er, on the record.

Doug Heller is executive director of Campaign for Consumer Rights, the campaign affiliate of Consumer Watchdog.

Press Clips: Tales of the Tapes & Abortion Wars

Friday, November 13th, 2009

jerrygoldLeaving money on the table: Our friend Beth Fouhy got a wheelbarrow full of pure gold out of her interview with Jerry Brown last April, but left most of it sitting on the table.  A national political writer for AP, Fouhy was one of five journalists whose interviews with Brown or his AG office staff members were secretly taped by ex-press secretary Scott Gerber, in what has turned into a Capitol political drama worthy of its own reality show.

As Joe Mathews notes, the transcript of the lengthy Fouhy interview offers a case study, not only of Brown’s “cagey, canny, and candid” adversarial style  with reporters (Calbuzz would add “charming, churlish and coercive” to the list) but also his singular insight and talent for practical politics.

Because Fouhy was writing a profile of Brown for a national audience, the piece resulting from the interview was of necessity larded up lots of ancient history (not to mention balancing but boring Steve Poizner quotes) that required the sacrifice of most of the great, political junkie stuff she wrung out of Brown, from his to-the-penny recall about his rival’s fundraising to his utter disdain for campaign consultants.

Knowing Beth, we assume she was saving her jucier, insider stuff for a piece closer to the election, when interest would be higher and interviews with Crusty harder to come by. Which is another reason taping even on-the-record conversations with journalists is unethical at least: if the transcripts become public, the reporter’s proprietary questions and the answers he or she has collected are suddenly public property. That sucks. Sorry Beth, that didn’t stop us for one second  from using your stuff.

navelgazingJournalism navel-gazing alert: Investigative pundit George Skelton offers a thoughtful take about his queasiness and guilty voyeuristic feelings at reading every word of the tapes, a rumination that recalls many of the hard questions about the practice and ethics of journalism famously raised by Janet Malcolm in her seminal New Yorker pieces called “The Journalist and the Murderer.”

“Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible,” she wrote back in 1990, setting off an enormous kerfuffle among card-carrying ink-stained wretches across the land.

He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse. Like the credulous widow who wakes up one day to find the charming young man and all her savings gone, so the consenting subject of a piece of nonfiction learns—when the article or book appears—his hard lesson. Journalists justify their treachery in various ways according to their temperaments. The more pompous talk about freedom of speech and “the public’s right to know”; the least talented talk about Art; the seemliest murmur about earning a living.

Coming from a member of the tribe, such ruthless self-examination about the inherently manipulative nature of the journalistic enterprise was greeted as pure calumny by many of Malcolm’s colleagues.

It’s a plain fact that reporters and editors are notoriously thin-skinned about their own shortcomings – and we include ourselves in that category. In the New Media age, however,  it’s also true that the process of news gathering has become a story in itself,; the time when reporters could enjoy the luxury of treating as private property the ways and means they do their jobs is past, overtaken by the digital world’s demand for transparency.


Enough with the wool  gathering, what about the politics? Reasonable people may differ about the significance of the content of the tapes: Chilling look into the deep recesses of a troubled soul? Revealing glimpse of journalism at its best and worst? Elephant giving birth to mouse? You Be The Judge. But all right-thinking people can agree on one thing: as a political matter, Brown has botched the handling of this controversy.

More than two weeks after the first disclosure about Gerber recording conversations with reporters without their knowledge or consent, the AG’s office is still playing defense on the matter, and not very effectively at that.

On the day Gavin Newsom dropped out of the primary race, we warned that being the only Democrat left standing would prove a mixed blessing; the serial blundering by Brown’s minions in trying to get their story straight about the recordings has handed the GOP and its field of candidates a cudgel with which to bash him – not on ancient history  like Rose Bird , Medflies or Adrianna friggin’ Gianturco – but on something au courant and easily understood by voters.

The AG’s internal report of the recordings mess – i.e. some poor schmuck was assigned to investigate two of his bosses and, surprise, surprise, found them pure as the driven snow – just doesn’t pass the smell test, even if there wasn’t an email showing that Brown’s chief deputy knew, or should have known, in advance about Gerber’s plan to tape the conversation that got him busted. Which there is.

With Brown’s office concurrently running a probe of the scandal known as ACORN, which happens to include an investigation of whether secretly recorded videotapes were legal, the public perception’s of the integrity of that case  is at risk, as well.


Which is precisely why Republicans are now in full bay over the tapes matter. The state GOP on Thursday released an online ad attacking Brown on the issue (the tight shots of his old guy eyebrows may be the most damning image in the spot).  NB: This is just an online ad that only a handful of voters will ever see. To make it an effective message point, someone would have to put it on TV with about $2 million behind it. As is,  it’s mostly show-trial stuff.

Meanwhile, the party’s three wannabe govs have found rare unanimity on l’affaire des enregistrements. Team Whitman tagged the affair a shining example of why “Californians have lost confidence in Sacramento politicians” while The Commish said Brown has “failed to exercise (his) duties” to pursue impartial justice, echoing eMeg’s demand for a “third party investigation.”

Tom Campbell, of course, was the only one of the three to actually do his homedudley_do_right-703696work and suggest a rational policy solution (which coincidentally would offer Brown a political pathway out of the briar patch). Said Dudley Do Right:

The Attorney General should invite the State Auditor to conduct an independent investigation pursuant to California Government Code Section 8547.5 to determine whether the Attorney General’s office has violated state law. This step will assure the people of California of the neutrality and validity of the outcome.

The secret taping of reporter conversations is a very serious matter that could have a chilling effect on press freedoms. It is all the more serious when undertaken by a state law enforcement agency without proper consent.

Amen, brother.

Department of Shameless Self-Promotion: In case you missed it, the ByGodLATimes has graciously posted the radio clip from Warren Olney’s “Which Way LA” in which Times Assistant Managing Editor David Lauter is joined by an original Calbuzzer in a discussion of the Times/USC Poll findings as they relate to the constitutional convention and government reform.

Abortion wars: For those, like us, who think the political impact of House Democrats simultaneously approving health care reform and retreating on abortion rights has been underplayed, Washpost media man Howard Kurtz has an excellent round-up of news, analysis and commentary on the issue.