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Category: October 2012

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Arizona nonprofit must turn over records, judge orders

Yes on 30, No on 32

A state judge on Wednesday ordered an Arizona nonprofit to hand over a wide range of records involving its $11-million donation to California political campaigns, a victory for the state's campaign finance watchdog.

The Fair Political Practices Commission is trying to unmask the donors behind the Arizona group, and the case is being watched as a test of California regulations intended to prevent campaign contributors from anonymously routing money through nonprofits.

"This is a moment of truth for our campaign disclosure laws," said Derek Cressman of Common Cause, an activist group that filed a complaint against the Arizona nonprofit.

The legal wrangling is not over, however, and it's unclear if the names of donors could become public before the election next week. State authorities want the records, including email and financial statements, by Thursday afternoon, but the Arizona nonprofit is expected to appeal the order.

Plus, if authorities get the records they want, they will still need to conduct an audit to determine whether the group is improperly shielding donors' identities.

The Arizona nonprofit, Americans for Responsible Leadership, gave the $11 million to the conservative Small Business Action Committee. The committee is fighting Gov. Jerry Brown's tax hike plan, Proposition 30, and supporting a separate measure to curb unions' political influence, Proposition 32.

The donation has become one of the most controversial issues in this year's campaigns, placing California in the midst of a nationwide debate over disclosing political donors using secretive nonprofits.

Federal law allows nonprofits to keep the identities of their donors confidential. But California regulations say donors must be identified if they gave to nonprofits with the intention of spending money on state campaigns here.

If the Arizona group has violated disclosure rules, "the court finds that irreparable harm has occurred and continues to occur as each day passes and voters continue to cast their votes without information that may influence their votes," wrote Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne W. L. Chang in her Wednesday order.

The Arizona group insists it is following all the laws and has a 1st Amendment right to keep its donors secret. Its lawyer, Jason Torchinsky, said in court Wednesday that the nonprofit is being unfairly targeted by state authorities, showing that "if your speech is unpopular, expect reprisals and immediate government action."

Gary Winuk, chief of enforcement at the Fair Political Practices Commission, denied that the audit was politically motivated.

"Our only agenda is to make sure the public has information to make their own informed decisions," he said.

ALSO:

Authorities racing the clock to identify Arizona donors

Gov. Jerry Brown says shadow lurkers should be 'ashamed'

Judge clearing path for campaign finance probe into Arizona group

-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento
twitter.com/chrismegerian

Photo: A man hands out signs supporting Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown's tax hike plan, and opposing Proposition 32, which would reduce unions' political influence. Credit: Reed Saxon / Associated Press

Authorities racing the clock to identify Arizona donors

With clock ticking, Gov. Jerry Brown tries to assuage voters' fears

Brown shuttle

Gov. Jerry Brown continued his campaign for tax hikes in Los Angeles on Wednesday, trying to assure voters they can trust Sacramento with more of their money.

“I’m always looking for waste," he said. "I don’t even like to spend money."

Brown, who studied to become a priest five decades ago before leaving the seminary, joked that, "I’m the only governor to ever take a vow of poverty. I took a vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience."

He added, "I’ll just focus on the poverty," drawing laughter from the crowd of about 100 who attended the luncheon.

Throughout the campaign, Brown has combated entrenched cynicism about how state government spends taxpayer money, and his tax hike plan is a close call with voters just days before the election Tuesday. The governor wants to raise the sales tax by a quarter-cent for four years and increase income taxes on the wealthy by 1 to 3 percentage points for seven years.

Without the taxes, Brown says, there will be nearly $6 billion in budget cuts, mostly to public schools. That worries Weston Jackson, 17, of North Hollywood High School, who asked Brown if he had a backup plan was if the taxes fail.

The governor said there was no acceptable alternative to cutting spending on education unless the state gets more tax revenue.

The answer didn't put Jackson's mind at ease.

"I’d hate to see the proposition not pass and his strategy backfire," he said, adding, "I think it’s kind of a gamble that’s very risky.”

ALSO:

Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to pick a central Prop. 30 sales pitch

Proposition 30's backers and critics rally supporters in final week

Can Gov. Jerry Brown turn Arizona controversy into votes for tax plan?

-- Christine Mai-Duc in Los Angeles and Chris Megerian in Sacramento
twitter.com/cmaiduc and twitter.com/chrismegerian

Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks from a podium underneath the space shuttle Endeavour on Tuesday in Los Angeles. Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA via Associated Press

“Don’t tell me about cutting. I’m about as frugal as you’re going to get.”

Prison agency cancels contract with firm co-owned by senator's husband

Me.walters.treasurerThe state prison agency has canceled a $17 million contract with a firm co-owned by the husband of state Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Laguna Niguel), citing the failure of the company to fully pay medical workers it provided to serve inmates.

The decision follows a report by The Times in June that at least a dozen subcontractors — including dentists and pharmacists — hired by two of David Walters’ firms, said they were owed $120,000 in back payments. David Walters is a co-owner of Drug Consultants Inc., a firm that has contracts with the state to provide medical workers for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The healthcare office of the prison system said in a letter Wednesday to Drug Consultants Inc. executives that it "has received multiple reports that DCI has failed to pay non-disputed claims to registry nursing personnel utilized by DCI to perform services at California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation…"

The problem is "interfering with the delivery of services," said the letter from Renee Carroll, manager of the contract management section for the medical agency overseeing the prisons.

Carroll wrote that the "continued pattern" of nonpayment to workers, the "failure to provide requested financial documents" and "recent  notification of downsizing of its office" taken together "indicate an unstable financial condition," which justified the termination of the contract.

Walters and her husband could not be reached for comment Wednesday. The senator reported in her most recent economic interest statement, for 2011, that DCI is a wholly owned subsidiary of Monarch Staffing Inc., in which David Walters has a 40% interest. She reported that DCI received revenue of at least $950,000 last year from 19 state prisons including San Quentin and California Rehabilitation Center Norco.

ALSO:

California sets new record for voter registration

Authorities racing the clock to identify Arizona donors

L.A. Democrats decry outside group's mailer slamming elected officials 

--Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: State Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Laguna Niguel). Credit:  www.mimiwalters.com.

 

 

Clock is ticking for Gov. Brown's Prop. 30 [Google+ hangout]

Times reporter Chris Megerian will join city editor Shelby Grad at 1 p.m. for a Google+ hangout on Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative, Proposition 30.

A recent poll showed slipping support for the proposition, and the governor still has not settled on a central sales pitch for his tax-hike initiative, even though election day is fast approaching.

Republican leaders in the California Legislature are already planning their next steps if voters reject the measure next week.

VOTER GUIDE: 2012 California Propositions

From Times reporters Michael J. Mishak and Anthony York's weekend story on Brown's message behind Prop. 30:

On the stump, Brown emphasizes that most of the tax increases will affect only the wealthiest Californians. The campaign ads make little mention of that.

The mixed messages underscore the Democratic governor's struggle to persuade skeptical taxpayers to open their wallets and provide fodder for a well-financed opposition to plant doubt among voters. A recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll showed support for the proposal slipping below 50% for the first time.

The shifting "creates uncertainty and makes voters head in the 'no' direction," said John Matsusaka, president of the Initiative & Referendum Institute at USC.

Californians have not approved a statewide tax increase since 2004, when they voted for a levy on those making more than $1 million to pay for expanded county mental health programs.

Brown has acknowledged the difficulty of selling new levies to voters, saying his campaign made a strategic decision not to mention the word "taxes" in its ads.

ALSO:

Authorities racing the clock to identify Arizona donors

If taxes fail, Republicans say they can help avoid cuts to schools

Proposition 30's backers and critics rally supporters in final week

California sets new record for voter registration

A record number of Californians have registered to vote for the Nov. 6 election, with a new online registration system and growing interest in the tight presidential race helping to create a surge of applications in recent weeks.

As of Wednesday, counties have reported a record 18.14 million people are registered to vote, eclipsing the previous record of 17.33 million registrants, set in February 2009.

The numbers will go up as some counties this week finish counting new registrants, according to Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc., which is analyzing the numbers. He predicted the final number will be about 18.4 million registered voters.

Mitchell said a key factor in the surge is the state's decision to allow online voter registration for the Nov. 6 election, which drew more than 1 million applications in the last few months.

State officials including Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who authored the law allowing online registration, hailed the new record. “I am thrilled to see so many Californians participating in our democracy," Yee said in a statement. "While other states created illegitimate ways to suppress the vote, we found ways to increase the voter rolls."

Mitchell’s firm found that 48% of new voters registered as Democrats, 20% as Republicans and the remaining 32% as "decline to state" or other parties. Yee noted the 28-point Democratic advantage is more than double the current partisan spread. The surge in new registration could change the dynamic of some legislative and congressional contests, Mitchell said.

ALSO:

Skelton: Proposition 39 fixes lawmakers' tax mistake

Ex-Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez takes hit in real estate market

Berman, Sherman mix it up -- again -- in congressional race forum

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

 

 

Todd Zink returns big contributions in state Senate race

APphoto_State Legislature(2)With the election looming next week, most candidates are scrambling for all the money they can get to keep the mail and television ads flowing.

So it baffled some observers that Republican state Senate candidate Todd Zink’s campaign in the 27th District has returned $140,000 in recent days to two county GOP committees.

"Either Todd Zink is supremely confident, or else he is throwing in the towel," offered Parke Skelton, a campaign strategist for Democratic Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), the other contestant in the Nov. 6 election.

The answer is much simpler: Zink had voluntarily agreed to abide by a state spending limit, which is $1,169,000, and he has reached the limit, according to John Peshong, chairman of the Republican Party of San Luis Obispo. Zink returned $100,000 in contributions from Peshong’s committee and $40,000 he had received from the GOP committee in Sacramento County.

For accepting the limit, Zink was allowed to place a candidate's statement in the official voter pamphlet. Pavley did not observe the voluntary spending limit, Skelton said..

Zink, a Los Angeles County prosecutor and former Marine, noted that he just purchased $60,000 more time for radio ads for the last week of the campaign. "Understand that Marines never give up," he said.

Republicans are still hopeful Zink can unseat Pavley in a district that straddles the San Fernando Valley and Ventura County. "He has an exceptionally strong campaign," Peshong said of Zink. "He’s running a great race."

ALSO:

Skelton: Proposition 39 fixes lawmakers' tax mistake

Ex-Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez takes hit in real estate market

Berman, Sherman mix it up -- again -- in congressional race forum

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: State Senate candidate Todd Zink. Credit: Todd Zink for Senate / Associated Press

 

 

Authorities racing the clock to identify Arizona donors

Gov. Jerry Brown (center) is surrounded by students during a rally at Cal State L.A. His tax-hike proposition would help raise funds for education.

With the election approaching, it’s unclear whether California’s campaign finance watchdog will be able to unmask the donors behind a controversial Arizona nonprofit before voters cast their ballots next week.

A state judge is expected Wednesday to finalize her decision forcing the nonprofit to turn over records to authorities, and the Fair Practices Political Commission wants the information by Thursday afternoon.

But the Arizona group, Americans for Responsible Leadership, will probably appeal the order, leading to more legal wrangling.

“We believe that the state has not proven its case and that the FPPC does not have the authority to issue an audit in advance of the election,” said Matt Ross, a spokesman for the group’s lawyers.

Earlier this month Americans for Responsible Leadership gave $11 million to the conservative Small Business Action Committee, which is fighting Gov. Jerry Brown's tax-hike campaign and pushing another ballot measure to curb unions' political influence.

If the commission does get the records, it will need to review them to determine whether the nonprofit has improperly shielded the identities of its donors. California regulations say donors must be identified if they gave to nonprofits with the intention of spending money on state campaigns here.

Ann Ravel, the commission’s chairwoman, said authorities would be reviewing any records they get as quickly as possible. If the nonprofit “failed to comply with California law, we will require them to file an amended form describing the names of all their donors,” she said.

ALSO:

Gov. Jerry Brown says shadow lurkers should be 'ashamed'

Judge clearing path for campaign finance probe into Arizona group

Can Gov. Jerry Brown turn Arizona controversy into votes for tax plan?

-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento
twitter.com/chrismegerian

Photo:  Gov. Jerry Brown (center) is surrounded by students during a rally at Cal State L.A. on Tuesday. His tax-hike proposition would help raise funds for education.Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Judge clearing path for campaign finance probe into Arizona group

Ann Ravel is chairwoman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission. A state judge in Sacramento appears ready to side with California's campaign finance watchdog in its effort to unmask the donors behind the Arizona nonprofit that donated $11 million to state campaigns earlier this month.

The judge issued a tentative ruling in the case Tuesday afternoon, one day before lawyers for the state and the Arizona nonprofit are scheduled to face off in court.

In the ruling, Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang said the Fair Political Practices Commission can demand a variety of records to show whether the nonprofit was improperly shielding its donors' identities.

Chang did not say whether the nonprofit, Americans for Responsible Leadership, will eventually have to publicly disclose who its donors are. California regulations say donors must be identified if they gave to nonprofits with the intention of spending money on state campaigns here.

Americans for Responsible Leadership gave the $11 million to the conservative Small Business Action Committee, which is fighting Gov. Jerry Brown's tax-hike campaign and pushing a ballot measure to curb unions' political influence.

Without conducting an audit of the nonprofit, Chang said, Californians could suffer "irreparable harm" because voters may not get information critical to deciding how to vote on those issues.

The Arizona nonprofit has criticized the request for records as politically motivated and said it has a 1st Amendment right to keep its donors secret.

In its own court filing, the Fair Political Practices Commission said the Arizona group's defenses "are frivolous and grossly misstate California law."

The commission also denied that it was probing the group because of political pressure, saying the unusual circumstances surrounding the donation prompted its request for records.

ALSO:

Hurricane causes delay for campaign finance case

Gov. Jerry Brown says shadow lurkers should be 'ashamed'

Can Gov. Jerry Brown turn Arizona controversy into votes for tax plan?

-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento
twitter.com/chrismegerian

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

L.A. Democrats decry outside group's mailer slamming elected officials

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The Los Angeles County Democratic Party on Tuesday denounced an outside group's mailer in a hotly contested San Fernando Valley congressional district race. The mailer, sent to Republican voters by Californians for Integrity in Government to support Rep. Brad Sherman in his battle with fellow Democratic Rep. Howard Berman, features three prominent liberal Democrats who are supporting Berman.

"If you love these politicians, then vote for Howard Berman," says the mailer's headline above photos of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.

Eric Bauman,  chairman of the county Democratic Party, released a statement saying his organization "strongly condemns the negative and divisive mailer by the so-called Californians for Integrity in Government.

"This is exactly the reason why we opposed 'super Pacs' and other non-identified independent expenditure committees that feel free to make misleading, nasty, ugly and libelous statements about candidates without restraint."

Some critics saw the mailer as racist, sexist and anti-gay because Waters is black, Boxer is a feminist and Frank is gay.

The Berman campaign on Monday criticized the mailer in an email to supporters seeking donations. "I know your mailbox has been filled with distorted information about Howard, but this one takes the cake," the email began.

The Sherman side also condemned the mailer and pointed it out has no control over actions by groups operating outside the campaign.

Californians for Integrity in Government has spent around $400,000 to oppose Berman and support Sherman, federal records show. Another outside group has raised money to support Berman and oppose Sherman.

Both Democrats are trying to appeal to Republican voters as well as their own base.

ALSO:

Skelton: Proposition 39 fixes lawmakers' tax mistake

Ex-Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez takes hit in real estate market

Berman, Sherman mix it up -- again -- in congressional race forum

-- Jean Merl

Photo: Democratic Reps. Brad Sherman, left, and Howard Berman at a candidates forum earlier this year. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

If taxes fail, Republicans say they can help avoid cuts to schools

Bob Huff 2Republican leaders in the California Legislature are already planning their next steps if voters reject Gov. Jerry Brown's tax-hike plan next week.

In a Tuesday letter to school leaders, the Republicans said they want to work with Democrats to prevent nearly $6 billion in cuts if the taxes are voted down.

"Throughout this year's budget debate, Republicans argued that education did not have to be the target of these deep trigger cuts," wrote state Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) and Assemblywoman Connie Conway (R-Tulare).

About $5.4 billion of the cuts would hit public schools and community colleges. The Cal State and University of California systems would face a $250 million cut each.

Brown's plan, Proposition 30, would increase the sales tax by a quarter cent for four years and income taxes on the wealthy by one to three percentage points for seven years. Support for the ballot measure has dropped in recent polls, and the governor has been crisscrossing the state to rally voters.

It's unclear if the Republicans' efforts will bear any fruit. Brown says cuts can't be prevented without higher taxes, and the current budget includes a roughly $8.5-billion gap that Democrats expect to fill with new tax revenue.

In addition, the governor has said he'll veto any effort to avoid the automatic cuts if the taxes are rejected.

[Updated 4:35 p.m.: A spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said the Democratic leader is ready to work with Republicans but dismissed their letter, saying it “doesn’t hold water.” 

“With education funding in the balance and no viable nor new solutions offered, it's disappointing that this is nothing more than a terribly timed attempt at political point scoring,” said the spokesman, Rhys Williams.]

ALSO:

Hurricane causes delay for campaign finance case

Gov. Jerry Brown says shadow lurkers should be 'ashamed'

Gov. Jerry Brown denies making racially charged remark in speech

-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento
twitter.com/chrismegerian

Photo: Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff (R–Diamond Bar) argues against Democrats' budget plan in the Capitol in June. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

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