On politics in the Golden State

Category: "Top Two" primary

Sherman files FEC complaint targeting brother of election rival Berman

Brad Sherman is accusing Howard Berman of improperly overpaying his brother, Michael Berman, for campaign services in years when Howard Berman faced little or no reelection opposition. The Sherman campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission and asked for an investigation
It's the latest twist in an increasingly vitriolic campaign for Congress: Rep. Brad Sherman is going after the brother of fellow Democratic Rep. Howard Berman.

In a complaint filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission, the Sherman campaign is alleging that Berman vastly, and illegally, overpaid Michael Berman or his political consulting firm for campaign services during two decades in which the congressman from the San Fernando Valley faced only token reelection challenges and spent relatively little to reach voters.

The complaint comes as Sherman and Howard Berman are engaged in a costly, nationally watched battle for the same San Fernando Valley congressional seat. Last year's redrawing of political boundaries placed their homes in the same district, and the state's new "top two" primary system allows members of the same party to advance to the November general election. The two former allies increasingly have attacked each others' records, styles and character.

It is not illegal to hire family members for campaign work, and some other members of Congress do it. But federal campaign finance laws require that the services provided be legitimate and in line with the usual cost, or fair market value, of the job performed.

The Sherman campaign combed through years of Berman finance reports filed with the FEC to try to determine how much money had been spent on so-called voter contact, such as mailers and TV and radio ads, and how much had gone to Michael Berman or his firm, Berman & D'Agostino Campaigns.

From the 1992 election cycle through 2010, the Sherman campaign said it found about $493,000 appeared to have been spent on voter contact, but that Michael Berman, whose specialty is direct mail and other outreach, had been paid $741,500 during the same period.

Parke Skelton, Sherman's strategist, said the usual commission paid to a voter-contact consultant in congressional or legislative races is 10% to 15% of the cost of the mail or ad, a figure confirmed by several other veteran consultants from both sides of the political aisle.

Sherman campaign manager Scott Abrams wrote in the FEC complaint that there was "an overwhelming amount of evidence to show that Howard Berman has used campaign funds to enrich his brother ... for services that were not actually rendered, or has paid campaign funds to Michael Berman well in excess of market value for 'services' in non-competitive races." 

"Additionally, the date that such payments were made bear no relationship to when any of these supposed services could have been provided," the complaint continued.

The Berman campaign called the complaint "ridiculous" and said it was meant to distract voters from Sherman's "sparse" record. 

"Michael is one of the most well respected and utilized political consultants in California," said Berman chief strategist Brandon Hall. "Countless candidates and initiatives, including Congressman Brad Sherman, have paid Michael for his professional services. Michael has been instrumental in advising Howard over the last 30 years and has been paid for his services."


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-- Jean Merl

Photo: Howard Berman, left, and Brad Sherman during their first debate in January. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

Valley Republican club won't give nod to either Berman or Sherman

GOP voters in a district featuring a fierce election battle between two Democratic congressmen this fall shouldn't count on guidance from the San Fernando Valley Republican Club.

The organization decided this week it won't endorse either Howard Berman of Valley Village or Brad Sherman of Sherman Oaks as they compete in one of the most watched and costliest House races in the nation this year.

A combination of redrawn political maps and a new elections system that sends the top two primary finishers, regardless of party affiliation, to the fall runoff has left Republicans in the strongly Democratic 30th Congressional District without a candidate from their own party.

Sherman, who finished first among seven candidates in June, and Berman, who came in second, both have been courting Republicans and other non-Democratic voters.

In a written statement issued Wednesday, club President Gary Aminoff said the organization "commends both Cong. Berman and Cong. Sherman on their strong support for Israel."

But they're just too darn liberal:

"It would not be possible for Republicans who believe in conservative principles to be able to support either candidate in good conscience," Arminoff said.


California watches windfall shrink as Facebook stock slides

California workers want legislative staff raises to be rescinded

Blumenfield is fourth assemblyman set to run for L.A. City Council

-- Jean Merl

Photo: Reps. Howard Berman, left, and Brad Sherman at a candidates forum early this year. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times



GOP leader urges Prop. 8 author to exit Assembly race

Andy Pugno
Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway is urging donors in the Sacramento suburbs to push the author of Proposition 8 out of a heated Assembly race and rally around the GOP incumbent.

In a letter to donors this week, Conway said Andy Pugno, author of the ballot measure banning same-sex marriage in California, was breaking his pledge not to campaign against the top GOP voter-getter in the June primary, Assemblywoman Beth Gaines (R-Rocklin), and mounting an "expensive and counter-productive campaign" against the incumbent.

"I hope you will join me in urging Andy Pugno to keep his pledge and suspend his campaign, so we can all come together and concentrate on restoring conservative leadership to the state," she wrote.

Pugno did not return a call for comment. He told the Sacramento Bee on Wednesday that Conway's plea was "a blunder that highlights they've lost touch with real people who are sick and tired of business as usual." Pugno told the newspaper that, despite his previous pledge, he had not yet decided whether to run against Gaines in November.

The June primary turned into a conservative purity contest, with Pugno vowing to fight what he characterized as the relentless efforts of the liberal Legislature to undermine the people's vote against gay marriage.

In her appeal to donors this week, Conway noted that Gaines was dedicated to "upholding policies that promote strong families" and voted against a bill that requires the teaching of gay history in public schools.


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-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento


Photo: Andy Pugno, general counsel for the Yes on Proposition 8 Campaign, responds to a question during a news conference in Sacramento in 2009. Credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Liberatore ends recount bid in inland congressional race

After workers had tabulated just six precincts, congressional candidate Phil Liberatore called a halt to his recount request, county elections officials said.

Liberatore had come in third in the June 5 primary, behind anti-illegal immigration activist Gregg Imus and Assemblyman Paul Cook. All are Republicans.

Michael J. Scarpello, San Bernardino County registrar of voters, said Liberatore, who was required to pay for the recount, asked to stop it three hours after it began on Friday.  The results had not changed, showing Liberatore with 63 votes before and after the ballots were retallied, Scarpello said.

Liberatore, a businessman who counsels clients with problems with the IRS, came in 240 votes behind second-place finisher Cook, a retired Marine Corps colonel and Vietnam veteran. Under the state's new elections rules, only the first- and second-place finishers in primary races for seats in Congress and the Legislature, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the fall general election.

The 8th Congressional District stretches through parts of three counties but most of the voters live in San Bernardino County.


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--Jean Merl

Photo: Michael Daniels accepts ballots in Sacramento on June 5. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press






Final ballots tallied in LA County; Johnson still out of fall race


The last remaining ballots have been counted in Los Angeles County races in the June 5 election, officials said Friday, seemingly settling a razor-close contest for an Assembly seat in the San Fernando Valley.

With all 41,860 valid ballets tallied, charter schools executive  Brian C. Johnson finished third -- by just 31 votes -- and is out of the fall competition for the 46th Assembly District. His campaign had no immediate comment Friday. 

Under the state’s new "top two" elections system, all the candidates appear on a single ballot and only the first- and second-place primary finishers -- regardless of political party -- advance to the general election.

Johnson, who had strong financial backing by charter school advocates and was opposed by teachers unions, was one of five Democrats on the ballot. Adrin Nazarian, a top aide to L.A. City Councilman Paul Krekorian, came in first.

High school teacher Jay Stern, the only Republican on the ballot, came in second and will face Nazarian on Nov. 6 in the strongly Democratic district.

Johnson could seek a recount, but he would have to pay for it, and the likelihood of its changing the outcome is generally viewed as slim.

The outcomes held up in other close area Assembly races as well, according to election officials’ final update Friday.

Ian Calderon, scion of a prominent Democratic political family, edged out former Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez for a Whittier-area Assembly seat and will face Republican Noel James in the fall.  Calderon’s uncle, former Democratic  lawmaker Tom Calderon, earlier lost his chance to return to the Assembly in a neighboring district.

County officials said the Board of Supervisors plans to sign off on the election results Tuesday and send them to the secretary of state’s office.


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-- Jean Merl

Photo: Election day June 5. Credit: Paul B. Southerland / Associated Press

Victorville Democrat sues over California's 'top two' primary

A Victorville Democrat has filed a federal lawsuit (PDF) alleging that California’s new “top-two” primary system is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday by Elise Brown, an African American and Democratic Party leader in San Bernardino County, said the two Republican candidates selected in the primary in her congressional district, which includes the San Bernardino County deserts and Inyo and Mono counties, “present race-hostile policy positions” and do not recognize the “right of women to control their reproductive health decisions.’’

The federal lawsuit alleges that the top-two primary system violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because the only two candidates she can vote for in the November election for the 8th Congressional District are Republicans. The two candidates who emerged from the June 5 primary were Republican Gregg Imus, a Lake Arrowhead home builder and anti-illegal immigration activist, and Republican Assemblyman Paul Cook of Yucca Valley.

The new primary system also violates constitutional rights that protect freedom of association and equal protection, as well as the protections against having a citizen’s voting rights denied on “account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” the lawsuit alleged.

“Democrats have had the right to have a party representative in the general election for Congress since California joined the Union over 160 years ago,’’ the lawsuit stated.

Brown’s attorney in the lawsuit is Robert D. Conaway, the husband of Jackie Conaway -– one of the two Democrats in the race for the 8th Congressional District. Jackie Conaway finished fourth in the field of 13 candidates, which was the largest number of congressional hopefuls in any race in California.

Chad Hanely, the campaign manager for the Imus campaign, said scrapping the state's top-two primary system would benefit Republicans across California, since there are many more contests with two Democrats facing off in the November election.

He also dismissed the lawsuit's allegation of racism, saying that allegation is trotted out all the time because of Imus' association with the Minuteman movement that patrols the Mexican border.

"When people want to go against us, all they want to do is play the race card,'' he said.

The lawsuit asks the federal court to issue a temporary restraining order that prohibits California Secretary of State Debra Bowen from certifying the election, and to restore the traditional primary system that allows the top vote-getter from each party to be on the November ballot.

The secretary of state's spokeswoman, Shannan Velayas, on Wednesday night said she had not seen the lawsuit and was not aware of its allegations.

"The secretary of state's office follows the law until a court orders otherwise,'' she said.

California voters in 2010 approved the new top-two primary system which, in races for the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and state Legislature, sends the two candidates who collect the most votes to the November election, regardless of party affiliation.

The Cook campaign could not be reached for comment.


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 -- Phil Willon in Riverside

Imus, Cook in House race; counting in other squeakers goes on

This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

Officials have finished counting  ballots in a close inland congressional district race that will pit two Republicans against one another in the Nov. 6 general election.

With election results certified Friday by San Bernardino County, the candidates will be Assemblyman Paul Cook of Yucaipa and home builder and anti-illegal immigration activist Gregg Imus of Lake Arrowhead.

Two other counties that reach into the sprawling 8th Congressional District finished counting their smaller chunks of the ballots earlier.

Thirteen candidates, including two Democrats and one independent, were on the June 5 primary in the solidly Republican district, making this the largest field of any of the House of Representative races this year in California.

Under the state’s new elections system, only the top two vote-getters in the primary, regardless of any party affiliation, advance to the general election.

In some other close races, Los Angeles County elections officials continued to tally votes Friday in three squeakers.  While the contests remained close, the finishing order of the candidates has not changed with recent updates.

Assemblywoman Betsy Butler of Marina del Rey and Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom, both Democrats, continued to hold first and second place, respectively, in the 50th Assembly District race.

[For the record, 8:11 a.m., June 23: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said the Butler-Bloom race was in the 66th Assembly District.]

Ian Calderon, son of Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Whittier), was keeping his lead over fellow Democrat and former Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez for the second slot in the general election for the 57th Assembly District; the winner will face Republican Noel A. Jaimes in the strongly Democratic district.

And in the heavily Democratic 46th Assembly District in the San Fernando Valley, charter schools executive Brian C. Johnson, a Democrat, was trailing Republican Jay L. Stern for second place by just 35 votes, according to Friday’s update. Democrat Adrin Nazarian handily captured first place on the ballot. The five Democrats on the ballot split their party’s vote, allowing Stern, the only Republican, to slide into second place.

County officials hope to finish counting all the remaining ballots by Monday afternoon.


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-- Jean Merl

Photo: A California polling place on June 5. Credit: Associated Press



Democrat Muratsuchi adds GOP support in Assembly race

Democrat Al Muratsuchi, running for an Assembly seat in a South Bay “swing” district, racked up another Republican endorsement on Friday.

Torrance City Councilman Bill Sutherland said in a statement released by the Muratsuchi campaign that he was “proud to give my wholehearted endorsement” to the Torrance school board member and deputy state attorney general.  “I’m supporting Al because I believe we need common sense solutions and not extreme ideology in Sacramento,” Sutherland said.

Sutherland had backed Republican aerospace engineer Nathan Mintz of Redondo Beach in the June 5 primary but Mintz lost a place on the ballot to Republican businessman Craig Huey of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.  Huey is widely viewed as more conservative than Mintz, and several prominent GOP moderates are backing Muratsuchi, including Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, Gardena Mayor Paul Tanaka and Palos Verdes Estates Mayor George F. Bird Jr.

The newly drawn 66th Assembly District is nearly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, with about one-fifth of voters declining to choose a party. Registration and the area’s moderate voting history suggest that the seat could be won  Nov. 6 by either party, and leaders of both are targeting the race. Both candidates are expected to court unaffiliated and opposite-party voters.

Under the state’s new primary system, in which Muratsuchi placed first and Huey second, only the top two primary finishers, regardless of party, advance to the general election.

--Jean Merl


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Photo: A worker hauls mailed ballots to be counted during the June Primary.

Credit: Los Angeles Times

George Skelton: New California primary system may still need tweaking

Californians test drove a new primary system this month. Under the new rules, the top two finishers in each race, regardless of party, advance to the November ballot


Californians test drove a new primary system this month. Under the new rules, the top two finishers in each race, regardless of party, advance to the November ballot. 

Supporters hope that will lead to more moderate politicians in Sacramento, helping break the Capitol's partisan gridlock. In Monday's column, George Skelton considers whether there's more work to be done on California's primary system.

For starters, he says, it seems strange that candidates can easily beat their opponents, only to face them again in November.

"That seems a waste of tax dollars for an unnecessary election redux," he said, adding, "So maybe the top-two system needs a major tweak: Win a majority vote in the primary and you win. Period."

Like most things in politics, however, it's not that simple. You can read the full column here. All of Skelton's columns are here.


Californians to test new primary system

A statistical snapshot of California's primary

Few centrists advance in California's new primary system

Photo: Voters casting ballots in Venice in 2010. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Outcomes remain uncertain in some California primary contests

Voting at an L.A. restaurant on Tuesday
The races aren’t quite over yet in a handful of California primary contests that were so close their outcomes may hinge on the ballots left uncounted on election night Tuesday.

As county elections officials work through the thousands of remaining ballots, candidates in three congressional races and more than  a dozen Assembly contests are waiting to see whether they will be on the ballot for the Nov. 6  general election.

Under the state’s new “top two” primary system, only the first- and second-place finishers in the primary can advance to the fall election.

Officials have less than a month to finish their tallies. Yet to be counted are mailed ballots that arrived by Election Day but were too late to be included in the tallies posted after the polls closed that night and so-called provisional ballots, which require checking for voter eligibility or duplication.

Among the contests too close to call  is the 13-candidate race in the inland 8th Congressional District, which includes the San Bernardino County mountains and deserts and Inyo and Mono counties. There, four candidates were bunched near the top: Republican Assemblyman Paul Cook of Yucca Valley, who was in first place; Lake Arrowhead home-builder and anti-illegal-immigration activist Gregg Imus, also a Republican; Barstow Democrat Jackie Conaway; and Phil Liberatore, a Republican tax consultant based in Whittier.

In San Diego County’s 52nd Congressional District, Democrats Lori Saldana, a former assemblywoman, and former San Diego City Councilman Scott Peters are battling for the second spot on the ballot. Peters finished 645 votes ahead of Saldana on election night. The eventual winner will face Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Carlsbad) in November.

The outcomes also are uncertain in several Los Angeles-area Assembly contests.

Among the most hotly contested was the six-way dustup for the San Fernando Valley’s newly drawn, strongly Democratic 46th Assembly District. There L.A. City Council aide Adrin Nazarian finished first with 27.5% of the election night tally, with charter schools executive Brian Johnson second with 20.3%. Just 83 votes behind Johnson was teacher Jay Stern, followed by attorney Andrew Lachman, who trailed Johnson by 332  votes on election night. All are Democrats but Stern, who is a Republican.

For the Westside’s 50th Assembly District, the second-place finisher, Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom, led another Democrat, community activist Torie Osborn, who was 673 votes behind him, and environmental attorney Brad Torgan, the only Republican on the ballot, who trailed Bloom by 687 votes. Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Marina del Rey) finished first -- 102 votes ahead of Bloom.

And in the eastern Los Angeles County 57th Assembly District, Ian Calderon, son of state Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Whittier), finished 231 votes ahead of former Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez for the second spot on the ballot. Republican Noel James finished first with 43.4% of the vote in the solidly Democratic district.

Los Angeles County elections officials said they plan to start releasing updated tallies on Friday. The next update after that will be on Tuesday. Results can be found on the county registrar’s website, www.lavote.net.  Election night results can be found on the Secretary of State’s website, www.sos.ca.gov.


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Interactive map: California primary results

-- Jean Merl

Photo: Voters cast ballots at an L.A. restaurant during the Tuesday's primary election. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times


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