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Posts Tagged ‘Reform’



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: A Confederacy of Punches

Friday, April 30th, 2010

All Goldman all the time: Putting aside the New York Post’s instant classic cover hed, the week’s best commentary on the Goldman Sachs mess (California division) is a new web ad from Steve Poizner’s campaign featuring a nice mashup of TV blow drys reading eMeg-ties-to-Wall Street stories.

Combining quick cuts of newspaper quotes with excerpts from Whitman’s shifting explanations about her stock spinning, the piece from Team Commish delivers a 1:52 flurry of punches to eMeg’s patrician nose, all set to the strains of a stock, investigative-type remix score called “Caught Red-Handed.”

We’re scratching our heads, however, over the short clip of Joe Mathews, our favorite Mr. Cranky Pants blogger, telling KNBC-TV why Goldman Sachs matters to the governor’s race, just one day before he wagged his finger at the silliness of the governor’s race hubbub over…Goldman Sachs. No truth to the rumor that the unsafest spot to stand in California is between Mathews and a TV camera. . . . To be “fair,” we note, after Joe complained in a comment below, that after explaining why Whitman was furiously spinning the issue back on Brown and Poizner he apparently also told KNBC that he’s not convinced the Goldman issue will affect the outcome of the governor’s race and that he thinks solving the state’s budget woes is a more relevant issue.  So there.

Traders to their country: Euro-econ blogger Georges Ugeux offered a demystifying take on the whole matter that concludes Goldman isn’t really an investment bank at all. After watching this week’s parade of arrogant traders condescending to the Senate Banking Committee Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations wrote:

What became completely obvious for all the world to see is that Goldman Sachs is a hedge fund dressed up like a client business and that they are absolutely not interested in clients except to use them as screen for their own proprietary trading activities. As a hedge fund, Goldman Sachs is just a group of astute risk managers, brilliant market strategists who managed during the crisis to weather the storm. Their claim that they were not “directional” in their proprietary or principal business was absolutely disingenuous. .

Another G-S must-read: Gretchen Morgenson’s bottom-line take on what’s wrong with the financial regulation “reform“ legislation before the Congress:

Unfortunately, the leading proposals would do little to cure the epidemic unleashed on American taxpayers by the lords of finance and their bailout partners. The central problem is that neither the Senate nor House bills would chop down big banks to a more manageable and less threatening size. The bills also don’t eliminate the prospect of future bailouts of interconnected and powerful companies.

Too big to fail is alive and well, alas. Indeed several aspects of the legislative proposals sanction and codify the special status conferred on institutions that are seen as systemically important. Instead of reducing the number of behemoth firms assigned this special status, the bills would encourage smaller companies to grow large and dangerous so that they, too, could have a seat at the bailout buffet.

At least he’s for literacy: Scoop of the Week honors to Capitol Weekly’s Malcolm Maclachlan whose Actual Reporting dug down deeply on the mysterious question of how “Mount Pleasant,” Poizner’s besieged memoir about teaching in a San Jose high school, managed to hit #5 on the New York Times best seller list.

Exactly what role Team Poizner played in pushing the tome up the list has been one his handlers have assiduously ducked for weeks, up to and including their refusal to discuss the matter at all with Cap Weekly.

Although he doesn’t come up with a definitive answer on how the author managed to soar briefly (it tanked after one week)  to the commercial  heights occupied by slightly better known literary lights as Michael Lewis and Mitch Albom, the resourceful Maclachlan uncovers a host of intriguing clues, including the below-the-radar  maneuverings by a couple of Southern California book marketing companies, and a spate of folks still head-scratching  over how and why the book appeared in their mail boxes.

More evidence may be forthcoming when Poizner files his Q2 campaign expense and contribution reports in a few months, but Malcolm meanwhile suggests that buying enough copies of his own book to become a “best-selling author” wouldn’t exactly break the bank for the wannbe guv:

Poizner certainly has the wealth, having sold his last company for $1 billion. If he paid the $11.69 asking price on Amazon, not counting shipping, 5,000 copies would set him back $58,450, or about 1/1,000th of what Whitman has put into her own campaign.

Book notes: If you haven’t heard it, believe all the hype about Ira Glass’s takedown of Poizner and “Mount Pleasant” on PRI’s “This American Life” last weekend. In our 121 years on the planet, we’ve never listened to such a skillful, subtle and surgically precise evisceration of a pol. The tape is here and the transcript here.

Crusty’s lucha con el lenguaje: Conservative radio yakker and Calbuzz blogroller Eric Hogue also scored a sweet little scooplet with his report that Jerry Brown’s campaign had no Spanish-speaking representative to offer when Univision called to find a surrogate to face off in a televised debate with one from eMeg’s camp.

That’s right – Jerry Brown has no Spanish speaking member on his gubernatorial campaign team. One wonders how he is “communicating with the base of the Latino worker in California” if he has a language barrier.

“We haven’t filled that position yet,” a Brown spokesperson said weakly.

Team Crusty finally scared up the reliable Tenoch Flores, the communications director for the state Democratic party, to face off against the redoubtable Hector Barajas from Megland, but the incident is a flat-out  embarrassment for a candidate who has been known to brag on his connections to Cesar Chavez and appointment of the first Latino supreme court justice.

As a political matter, it’s also the first glaring example of why Brown’s skinflint, who-needs-consultants operation could prove costly against the Armada of eMeg (or The Platoons of Poizner, for that matter).

Yikes, the end of civilization really is near!

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.

California Reform Movement 2010: R.I.P.

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Calbuzz is way overdue for a rant about the rich irony of the once-promising reform campaign to convene a state constitutional convention ignobly sinking because of…a lack of money.

Really?

The last time we checked, the membership of the Bay Area Council, the corporate coalition whose staff leadership got the ConCon effort started in the first place, included: Amgen, AT&T, BofA, Blue Shield, Chevron, Comcast, Del Monte, Franklin Templeton Investments, Genentech, Goldman-Sachs, Hewlett-Packard, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Levi-Strauss, Oracle, Pacific Gas & Electric, Shell Oil, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and Wells Fargo, along with more than 200 other of the most successful companies with operations or outposts in the Bay Area.

And so: The effort to qualify for the ballot the group’s signature issue foundered because it couldn’t raise more than a measly $3 million for the campaign? Come on. These guys make Gordon Gekko look like Mother Teresa.

The plain fact is that if the high-end companies that populate the council wanted the convention to go, it would have gone. Instead they slammed shut their wallets, the clearest evidence there could be that they don’t want major reform, because they already know how to navigate the twisted, dysfunctional, Byzantine, gridlocked system just the way it is; unlike average citizens, they can penetrate it with mega-bucks campaign contributions and initiative campaigns.

Exhibit A: PG&E. The Pacific Greed and Extortion Co. will spend up to $35 million on its special interest Prop. 16 on the June ballot. The measure would block cities and counties from going into the public power business without a two-thirds local vote. As Chronicler David Baker reported :

So far, PG&E has supplied all of the proposition campaign’s funding, totaling $6.5 million. On Friday, PG&E took the unusual step of telling its investors that funding for the campaign would affect the company’s 2010 profits, lowering them by 6 to 9 cents per share. PG&E Corp. provided the information while reporting its 2009 profit ($1.22 billion, down from $1.34 billion in 2008) and giving its forecast for 2010.

PG&E describes the ballot initiative as a matter of fairness.

Fairness, indeed.

Our sources inside the Bay Area Council and its “Repair California” political wing note that member companies are also holding back their cash in preparation, as one put it, “for a nuclear arms race in November.”

They’re worried about at least two measures to split the property tax roll to allow higher taxes on business properties, an oil extraction tax, limitations on insurance rates, repeal of Proposition 13′s two-thirds requirement for local tax increases and the potential to overturn AB 32′s climate change provisions. And that’s just for starters.

California Backward: So pathetic are current prospects that Repair California is seriously considering throwing in with the California Forward folks and creating some kind of alliance or united front for reform, even if they have to drop their proposal to actually call a constitutional convention and just push the measure that would authorize voters to call a convention.

California Forward, that other paragon of reform circa 2009, is meanwhile dying a somewhat slower death. The incrementalist sponsors of this once-ballyhooed goo-goo group  are also having trouble, um, raising money – to campaign for two proposed initiatives.

Excuse us if the Calbuzz Paranoid Caucus entertains the notion that what you like to call your  Corporate Interests lost interest in this sucker the minute we blew the whistle on Cal Forward’s backroom attempt to dump the Sinclair Paint exemption, which would allow a majority of the Legislature to raise revenue by imposing mitigation fees on business.

Much of what’s left in one of the Cal Forward measures is spinach-and-broccoli good government stuff like performance-based budgeting, while the other tracks a similar initiative sponsored by the League of California Cities. The one element well worth saving in the Cal Forward soup is authorizing communities to raise the local tax by 1 cent with a majority of the people — which is NOT in the League’s “Keep Your Mitts Off Our Budgets” measure.

Some of the Cal Forward folks — most of whom have been totally feckless at raising money — think they can still get a) a billionaire angel to be named later to fund their ballot measures or b) a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to put something like their measure on the November ballot that would allow approval of a state budget by a majority vote, instead of the two-thirds required now. FFC. Good luck with that, guys.

Meanwhile, the bottom line on the collapse of the goo-goos was articulated nicely by the L.A. Times edit page:

This election year will bring many promises about bold leadership and new ideas, but there comes a point in most democratic societies at which the machinery gums up and some of the most cherished hallmarks of liberty — campaigning, voting, serving in office — descend into mere ritual. That’s when it’s time to rebuild the machinery.

Or not.

Happy 2010: Oy Vey, an Election is Breaking Out

Friday, January 1st, 2010

HangoverThe hoariest cliché in the news business – besides  Where Are They Now, the Irrelevant Anniversary yarn and frying an egg on the sidewalk during a heat wave – is the end-of-year Top 10 list.

And at Calbuzz, we’re nothing if not hoary clichés. Or maybe clichéd whores. Whatever.

As you find yourself face down in a bowl of gelatinous guacamole this New Year’s morn, trying to remember why you’re wearing rubber underwear and Raider wrist bands, here’s the Calbuzz Top 10 stories of the year, a 2010 primer for those who got drunk and missed 2009.

dianneworried2

Difi (Hearts) D.C. Calbuzz launched March 16, with a hiding-in-plain-sight perceptual scoop saying flatly that Senator Dianne Feinstein wouldn’t run for governor. Despite her septuagenarian coquette act and unstinting effort to keep a few moldering embers of interest flickering about a late-entry campaign, Difi’s demurrer was the biggest 2009 factor that shaped the race, which we’ve handicapped with updated analyses here and here. (This just in: she’s still older than the Golden Gate Bridge.)

jerryflippedThe re-incarnation of Jerry Brown.  Casting himself as “an apostle of common sense,” Brown sent a clear signal he was in it to win it when he gave Calbuzz an extended interview discussing the governor’s race, then promptly retreated to his tent to insist that he was  reviewing all his options. Right. While at least one would-be analyst suggested that Crusty the General cleared the field, he did no such thing: Brown’s singular status as the Democrats’ presumptive nominee emerged from the collapse of erstwhile rivals Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa as  the Philandering Twins proved to be little more than a sideshow.

Why Rich Guys Don’t Win Elections. Back before it was fashionable, we reported on the sorry history of wealthy folks trying to buy top-line offices in California, a bit of Calbuzz conventional wisdom that will be challenged in 2010, with three zillionaires running for governor or Senate.caveman

Where did all the cavemen go? Way back in March, we noted the oddness of a California Republican primary race for governor without a true-blue movement conservative in the field  and, beginning with Arlen Specter’s party switch, we’ve tracked the way the Tea Party’s national purge movement is manifest in California.

Why won’t this woman go out with us? Win or lose, eMeg’s campaign is poised to become 2010’s most entertaining show for fans of politicmegs as spectator sport. With an imperious manner not seen since Catherine the Great, a campaign budget bigger than the GDP of Belize and an army of consultants the size of the U.S. Postal Service, eMeg has already provided the cognoscenti lotsa laughs with a smash hit performance about her voting record, her messy corporate divorce from Craigslist  and her passionate bid to win the hearts and minds of people who don’t vote in California. That this titan of industry apparently lives in mortal fear of sitting down to Dim Sum with Calbuzz  just adds to the general hilarity (memo to legal dept: check on residuals and copyright for Calbuzz “eMeg” coinage).

outrageThe voters are outside, and man are they pissed. From the May 19 special election debacle to the real-life terror of living through a withering recession, Californians are in a foul mood for the ages. The electorate is changing and they want change, but no one now in the arena seems to know exactly what that’s supposed to look like.

Why California can’t be governed. The flip side of populist anger at Sacramento is the inconvenient truth that voters themselves are largely responsible for tying state government into knots, having approved three decades worth of low-tax-high-spending initiatives and a series of crackpot  reforms, from term limits to  the tyranny of minority rule, which add up to Capitol policy makers lacking the tools or clout to do what needs doing.

What does rsinclairpainteform look like? The upside of all the doom and gloom about state government is that it’s yielded some of the most interesting reform measures since Hiram Johnson was chewing on Abe Reuf’s leg. Despite the collapse of tax reform, led by the screw-the-pooch performance by Friend of Arnold Gerald Parsky, the seriousness and substance of policy questions being raised by advocates for a constitutional convention and for the California Forward reform measure are complex, intriguing and important – even when they get deep, deep into the weeds on issues from Prop. 13 to the crucial Sinclair Paint decision.

Environment vs economy. California’s economic decline has reignited a long-simmering debate about the economic impacts of the state’s sweeping environmental protections. eMeg has already thrown down the gauntlet, calling for a roll back of the landmark AB32 climate change legislation, which is likely to become a big deal in the election this year. The other environmental debate that just won’t go away is the bitter dispute about the Tranquillon Ridge offshore project, an issue whose weeds Calbuzz never tires of whacking.

calbuzzartThe Calbuzz Haiku Contest. Amid all the political and policy fun and games, the best thing about Calbuzz’s first year has been getting in touch with a community of highly informed readers, thoughtful commenters and roster of triple smart guest writers (thanks Penny Elia, Merv Field, Steve Maviglio, David Ferry, Jon Fleischman, Fran Gibson, Ron Kaye, Fred Keeley, Linda Krop, Greg Lucas, Mark Massara, Bob Naylor, Mark Paul, Heather Reger, Susan Rose, Jean Ross, Richie Ross, Marc Sandalow, Tanya Schevitz, Dan Schnur, Don Sipple, Phil Ting, Evan Wagstaff, Anthony Wright and the late Msrs. Dylan Thomas and Mark Twain, as well as the members of the Calbuzz Board of Anonymous Advisers – you know who you are and we promised not to say).

See you Monday.