Center for Governmental Studies is shutting down

A prominent California political think tank headed by the godfather of the state’s political watchdog reforms is shutting down, a victim of the recession.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies issued a news release Thursday night saying it will be closing its Los Angeles offices “after 28 years of service in the public interest.”

“The recession has depleted our funding, and we cannot continue to operate CGS in its present form,” wrote President Bob Stern and Vice Chair and CEO Tracy Westen. “The CGS board and leadership have therefore reluctantly concluded that it is necessary to close.”

Stern, Westen and a few former staff members will finish a few projects before moving on to other ventures.

Stern – a former attorney for the Assembly Elections Committee and then for the Secretary of State’s office – was the principal co-author of California’s Political Reform Act of 1974 and became the first general counsel of the Fair Political Practices Commission. He also was a principal drafter of Los Angeles’ ethics and public campaign finance laws in 1990. The release said he expects to continue work as an expert consultant, public speaker and political commentator.

The center’s website will remain live, as will as its PolicyArchive, Video Voter and ConnectLA sites.

Stern’s and Westen’s statement said the center has been guided by the principle “that 21st century democracy can only be improved by efforts both to reform the underlying structures of government and to use new communications technologies to inform citizens and help them participate in their governments.”

Read about some of the center’s past projects, after the jump…

California Commission on Campaign Financing, which published landmark reports on California state, local and judicial campaign financing, drafted the model laws which became Propositions 68 and 208 on the 1988 and 1996 state ballots, and published the most comprehensive set of ballot initiative reforms in the nation.

California Citizens Budget Commission, which in 1995 and 1998 recommended dozens of state budget reforms, some of which have now been enacted and some which are still being debated for implementation.

California Citizens Commission on Higher Education, which made important recommendations, now needed more than ever, for solving California’s debilitating “boom-and-bust” cycle of funding for higher education.

California Channel, the nation’s largest satellite-fed, public affairs cable television channel, now serving close to six million homes with gavel-to-gavel coverage of the state legislature’s floor sessions and committee hearings, governor’s press conferences and occasional California supreme Court oral arguments, and operated 24 hours a day by the California Cable Television Association.

National Center on State and Local Campaign Finance Reform, which published books, studies and charts on the public financing laws of all the 50 states and numerous detailed reports on individual state and local campaign financing systems.

Democracy Network, the nation’s first and largest online source of candidate debates and voter information, which CGS prototyped in 1994, launched in 1996, built a Spanish-language version for Venezuela in 1998, installed in the nation’s first digital cable network, Time Warner’s state-of-the-art “Full Service Network in Orlando, Florida, partnered with AOL and 1998 and 2000 to offer candidate information to millions of users, and operated in partnership with the National League of Women Voters and Grassroots.com through 2001.

PolicyArchive, the world’s largest, free, online source of public policy research, now providing instant access to over 33,000 public policy documents.

Video Voter, a way for cities and states to offer candidates and ballot measure committees free opportunities to communicate their views to the public in video-on-demand formats, via broadcast television, cable television, YouTube (“centgov”) and the Internet -opportunities which New York City, Los Angeles, Santa Monica and other cities now provide on a continuing basis.

ConnectLA, the nation’s first website to provide low income communities with access to information on affordable housing, jobs, healthcare and government services.

Digital Democracy, an online prototype for a new system of digital, citizen-to-elected official communication.

HealthVote and CalHealthReform, websites operated in partnership with the California HealthCare Foundation to inform voters of legislative and ballot initiative measure developments in healthcare.

“We are proud of this record,” Stern and Westen wrote. “However, all good things must come to an end. Happily, endings often have a way of becoming exciting beginnings. Best wishes to you all, and thank you sincerely for your loyal support over the years.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RR senile columnist

    It’s no great loss .