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Group wants feds to probe Berkeley Marines flap

Lawyers for the conservative group Move America Forward have written to U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello of San Francisco “asking the federal government to investigate whether the Berkeley City Council’s official anti-Marine position and encouragement of anti-war groups to ‘impede’ the work of Marine recruiters constitutes a breach of law,” according to MAF’s news release. “If the City Council violated the law, the letter asks the U.S. Attorney to prosecute the perpetrators.”

The release says the letter also voices concern that Berkeley Police were unresponsive and negligent to public safety during a protest MAF organized in Berkeley on Feb. 12, 2007. The letter’s original copy has already been mailed, but MAF leaders will hand-deliver another Monday morning at San Francisco’s federal courthouse and then hold a news conference right afterward.

“We have been fighting them all the way and this is simply the next step,” former KSFO conservative talk radio host and MAF cofounder Melanie Morgan said in the release, also reiterating her demand that Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates give a full, official apology to all troops, veterans, and their families, and rescind resolutions giving special treatment — a parking space and sound-permit rights — to CodePink, one of the groups protesting at Berkeley’s U.S. Marine Corps recruiting center in recent months. “Berkeley has got to realize that we’re not going away.”

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Candidates report fund-raising results

I’ve spent most of the day pouring through campaign finance reports for candidates running in the June 3 election.

Eeeh gawd, what a mind-numbing exercise! I’m all for public disclosure but I’m not sure the average voter has the stomach or the eyesight to wade through all this disclosure.

Nonetheless, it’s always interesting. It’s still a bit early and we haven’t seen the influx of independent expenditures likely to surface later on in the campaign.

But one of the themes of this campaign thus far is some of the candidates’ willingness to loan their campaigns big bucks.

Here’s a preview of a campaign finance story I’ve written for publication in the Contra Costa Times later this week:

Money is pouring into the contests for open Assembly districts 14 and 15 and the state Senate seat currently held by President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Alameda, according to campaign finance reports filed this week.

Candidates for two contested Contra Costa County supervisor seats are also raising cash, although one candidate had to send some of the money back.

Supervisor candidate Guy Houston, a soon-to-be-termed-out Assemblyman who is challenging incumbent Mary Nejedly Piepho, returned $3,850 he had transferred from several of his other campaign accounts. The money originated with political action committees and the amount exceeded the county’s contribution limit of $40,000 per election.

Houston reported $148,786 cash on hand as of March 17 and has collected $192,956 in contributions since the beginning of the campaign. He has transferred $108,000 of that figure from his Assembly and Board of Equalization campaign committees.

Piepho had $74,993 cash in her campaign account and has received $81,380 in contributions toward her re-election bid.

Four Republican challengers vying or the chance to replace Houston in the Assembly are sparing no expense even it means writing super-sized personal checks.

Retired automobile dealership entrepreneur Robert Rao of Livermore personally loaned his campaign another $150,000 as of March 17, according to reports filed this week. Rao has forked over a total of $359,069 from his own funds since he began the campaign.

Rao reported $299,477 cash on hand in his campaign fund, the highest among the GOP field. He has received $553,889 in contributions, including his loans.

San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson (he doesn’t have a web site yet) loaned his campaign $95,000, a step he took to jump-start a campaign he said almost didn’t happen after his father recently fell ill and passed away. He has received $199,927 in contributions.

Businessowner Judy Biviano Lloyd of Danville made a far smaller personal loan of $10,000 to her account, for a total of $17,112 from her own funds. She reported $211,173 in the bank as of the end of the filing period. She has received $304,708 in contributions.

Only optometrist Scott Kamena of Livermore has kept his wallet closed. He reported $283,566 in his campaign account in what appears to be a successful fund-raising appeal to fellow eye doctors. Since he started campaigning in 2006, he had received $412,433 in total contributions as of March 17.

On the Assembly District 15 Democratic ticket, San Ramon Valley School Board Trustee Joan Buchanan of Alamo is well ahead of her politically unknown opponent and Walnut Creek economist Ted Ford.

Ford reported $2,140 cash on hand and $4,030 in contributions, including a $2,000 personal loan.

Buchanan showed $122,475 in her account as of March 17, and has loaned her campaign $50,000.

Buchanan received $222,383 in contributions – including the loan – plus another $8,800 in contributions since the reporting deadline. The recent donations include $4,200 from IBEW and $3,600 from EMILY’s List.

In Contra Costa County, Supervisor Federal Glover of Pittsburg maintained a substantial financial lead over his four challengers in District 5. That could change as several candidates entered the race just prior to the March 7 candidate filing deadline and haven’t time to raise any cash.

Glover reported $103,281 cash on hand, including contributions of $1,675 from former Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla of Pittsburg, $1,000 each from Conoco Phillips, Garaventa Enterprises and his former employer, Dow Chemical.

The incumbent’s closest fiscal competitor, Erik Nunn, had just $1,786 in the bank. Nunn, a chief financial officer and Oakley Planning Commissioner.

Businessman Don Parscal loaned his campaign $3,015 and received an additional $1,630 in contributions.

Antioch school board trustee Gary Agopian and former Antioch mayor Mary Rocha, who entered the field late, had nothing to report.

The four Democratic primary candidates in the Assembly 14 primary (there are no Republican candidates) have also relied on personal loans to bolster their campaigns.

The leading fundraiser is political novice Dr. Phil Polakoff of Berkeley. He reported $55,883 cash on hand and has collected $139,892 in contributions, although that figure includes $31,000 in personal loans.

Nancy Skinner, an elected member of the East Bay Regional Park board and a Berkeley resident, had $122,198 in the bank, and has received $132,768 in contributions. She has loaned her campaign $30,000.

Richmond Councilman Tony Thurmond had $53,494 in the bank and has raised $77,000 since he started his campaign. He has loaned his campaign $4,200.

Berkeley City Councilman Kriss Worthington had $64,317 cash on hand. He has received $109,026 in contributions, including $22,000 in loans.

In the hotly contested state Senate race for Perata’s seat, Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, and former Assemblywoman Wilma Chan of Alameda have banked substantial war chests.

Chan had $507,283 cash on hand while Hancock reported $406,107 in the bank.

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DiFi grills Mukasey on corruption unit shutdown

mukasey.jpgU.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey will address the Commonwealth Club of California at noon tomorrow in San Francisco’s Intercontinental Hotel on “how he has made public confidence in government a priority, and highlight the Justice Department’s success in investigating and prosecuting public corruption.”

But color U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., underwhelmed with Mukasey’s dedication to rooting out public corruption. She sent him a letter today asking him to explain the decision made earlier this month to disband and eliminate the public-corruption unit in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles; she worries whether pending and future cases of public corruption will be rigorously pursued given the reassignment of 17 lawyers away from this unit.

Of course, y’all could go ask Mukasey yourselves tomorrow. Tickets are available here; they’re $15 for club members or $30 for nonmembers, but premium seats in the first few rows costs $45 for members or $65 for nonmembers. The hotel is at 888 Howard St., and check-in starts at 11:15 a.m.; attendees will be subject to search, no bags or packages allowed.

UPDATE @ 1:35 P.M. THURSDAY: You can read Mukasey’s remarks as prepared for delivery here, on the Justice Department’s Web site. “Let me be clear: Politics has no role in the investigation or prosecution of political corruption or any other criminal offense, and I have seen absolutely no evidence of any such impropriety in my time at the Department, and would not tolerate it.”

Read the complete text of Feinstein’s letter, after the jump… Continue Reading

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Torlakson seeks to end two-thirds budget vote

State Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, has introduced legislation that would allow lawmakers to pass a budget and raise taxes with a majority rather than two-thirds vote.

Senate Constitutional Amendment 22 will let the Legislature pass a budget by a majority vote and send the spending plan to the Governor. It will bring California in line with 47 other states that pass budgets by a majority vote, Torlakson said.

The two-thirds protection is revered by conservatives and Republicans, whose only true power in the Legislature rests with their ability to block a budgets and new tax measures and thereby force Democrats to meet at least some of their demands in return for a deal.

But both sides have dug in their heels on how to close next year’s remaining $8 billion budget gap and many expect to see a bitter, drawn out fight that may lead to competing ballot-box budgeting measures in November. Democrats want a combination of cuts and new taxes while Republicans oppose tax hikes. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed mostly cuts, including reductions in education.

Here’s what Torlakson’s press release said:

California is one of only three states that require a two-thirds vote to pass a budget. This “supermajority” requirement has repeatedly led to budget gridlock that delays funding to schools, colleges, health care for the elderly and disabled, and other vital services, said Torlakson, D-Antioch.

“When a budget plan is clearly crafted and approved by one party or the other, then that party can get the praise or the reprimand at the ballot box,” Torlakson said. “The current system leads to finger pointing and excuses for concessions made to one party or the other.”

SCA 22 also allows the Legislature to raise revenues with a majority vote.

California endured 52 days without a state budget in 2007, when Senate Republicans refused to provide enough votes to pass the spending plan. Only two other states – Arkansas and Rhode Island – require a two-thirds vote to pass state budgets. Congress and most cities and counties have a majority vote requirement.

Principal co-authors for SCA 22 are Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-Santa Clara and Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley; co-authors are Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica and Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Martinez.

The two-thirds requirement in California started in 1933, when the vote threshold was tied to annual budget growth exceeding 5 percent. A 1962 Constitutional Amendment applied the two-thirds vote to all state budgets.

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Lifejackets, anyone?

Political party operatives on both sides excel at snarky commentary but this press release from the California Democratic Party was just too good to pass up:

Assembly Republicans enjoy “luxury yacht parking” for the day

Perhaps the fumes from the engines on their power yachts finally got to them. That’s the only logical explanation we can think of as to why the Assembly Republicans, breaking their own record for political tone-deafness, would have chosen the swanky new boutique hotel Le Rivage as the location for their caucus retreat.

Nestled into the banks of the Sacramento River, Le Rivage offers “elegant surroundings, select accommodations, impeccable service, and unique amenities combine to create the finest luxury hotel in California’s capital.” What unique amenities, you ask?

How about – you guessed it — “luxury yacht parking, long term and short term.”

According to the hotel’s website: Le Rivage Hotel proudly hosts Sacramento’s premier yacht parking. Conveniently located adjacent to the luxury hotel and on The Sacramento River. Le Rivage Marina includes:

  • 25 permanent slips from 36-100ft vessels
  • Dual 50 amp service
  • Pump-out station
  • Boat catering
  • Short-term parking
  • Yacht sales
  • Use of hotel pool, whirlpool, and fitness center with berth rental

What better way for Assembly Republicans to celebrate their crowning legislative accomplishment of the new session thus far – their killing of the bill to close the “sloophole”?

And in case you’re wondering where the Assembly Democrats are holding their legislative retreat – the Dems will be at the low-cost, environmentally-friendly UC Davis Medical Center.