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Federal court ruling gives California politics watchdog more teeth

October 18, 2012 |  8:43 am

6a00d8341c630a53ef01761727476a970c-500wiThe head of the state’s campaign finance watchdog agency says it will be in a better position to enforce mass-mailing violations because of a federal court decision this week.

A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Postal Service must end its refusal to disclose how many pieces of political mail were sent out by a candidate for the Manhattan Beach Unified School District board.

The decision is significant and can affect ethics agencies in other states as well, said Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

"The judge reinforced the importance of government transparency, which is a cardinal principle of the FPPC," Ravel said Wednesday. "The decision secures the ability of all agencies enforcing political disclosure laws to get information to enable us to fulfill our mission.''

The state agency sought the information as part of an investigation into whether former school board member William Eisen violated campaign finance law by failing to disclose that he was responsible for a mass mailing opposing his recall in November 2008. To prove a violation, the FPPC must determine that the Eisen sent out at least 200 pieces of campaign mail.

U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell Jr. on Tuesday rejected the argument of officials for the Postal Service that the information could not be released to the FPPC because it is exempt as information of a commercial or financial nature that is privileged and confidential.


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Photo: Ann Ravel, chairwoman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press