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Archive for June, 2013

See who’s buying your government

Meet America’s new gatekeepers to public office: 31,385 people who represent 0.01 percent of the nation’s population, but 28 percent of all disclosed political contributions: a cool $1.7 billion.

This “1 percent of the 1 percent” is analyzed in a new report out today from the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit and nonpartisan good-government group. The report found these people’s money reached the campaign coffers of every winning congressional seat last year; in fact, 84 percent of House and Senate campaigns took more money from this donor group than from all small (under $200) donations received.

(click to enlarge)

Unsurprisingly, California tops the list of states from which this money comes, at $239 million; next is New York with $210 million, Texas with $198 million, Florida with $119 million and Nevada with $115 million. Lists of all donors broken down by state can be found online.

And Atherton ranked fourth among all U.S. cities, with 97 donors giving $5.7 million.

Sunlight reviewed disclosed donations for the 2012 cycle to federal candidates, party committees, congressional campaign committees, PACs and super PACs. Making the list required at least $12,950 in donations, a number that has increased steadily in recent decades.

“The nation’s biggest campaign donors have little in common with average Americans,” noted Sunlight senior fellow Lee Drutman. “They hail predominantly from big cities, such as New York and Washington. They work for blue-chip corporations, such as Goldman Sachs and Microsoft. One in five works in the finance, insurance and real estate sector. One in 10 works in law or lobbying. The median contribution from this group of elite donors? $26,584. That’s a little more than half the median family income in the United States.”

Of the people on the list, 15,343 predominantly supported Republican candidates and committees while 11,088 predominately supported the Democrats. They’re almost 72 percent male, with the top five listed occupations being retired (4,131), president (2,764), attorney (2,738), CEO (2,671) and homemaker (2,432).

Posted on Monday, June 24th, 2013
Under: Uncategorized | 17 Comments »

Netroots Nation: Ro Khanna fires back at critics

Ro Khanna, the former Obama administration official who’s challenging Rep. Mike Honda in the 17th Congressional District, fired back Friday at the national progressive leaders who had smack-talked him a day earlier.

Khanna, 36, of Fremont, took questions from reporters near his booth in the main exhibit hall at Netroots Nation, the national convention of liberal online activists running through Saturday night in San Jose.

On Thursday, Democracy for America chairman Jim Dean and Progressive Congress executive director Charles Chamberlain had belittled Khanna’s attempt to unseat Honda, D-San Jose, who they hailed as a progressive hero. Chamberlain used the words “Republican lite” and “hack” to describe Khanna.

Ro Khanna“Name-calling is what’s wrong with American politics,” Khanna retorted Friday. “We’re trying to have a conversation based on facts and my record.”

His record, he noted, includes staunch opposition to the Iraq war and the PATRIOT Act; two years in President Obama’s Commerce Department; and a track record of helping to raise money for other Democrats.

Asked in what ways he might be more progressive than Honda, Khanna replied he would’ve voted differently than Honda did on lobbying reform; Khanna said he believes lobbyists should be made to disclose their bundling of contributions, and should be banned from giving gifts to lawmakers. He said he also wouldn’t have approved pay raises for Congress, as Honda did, at a time when so many Americans are still struggling to make ends meet.

And he said he would bring a “laser focus” on job creation for the middle class which he believes Honda has lacked.

Though House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi had once supported Khanna – when he was raising money for what everyone believed would be a bid to succeed Rep. Pete Stark after Stark’s retirement – she now supports Honda.

“I have a lot of respect for Leader Pelosi … and I understand her support of Mike Honda’s many years of service,” Khanna said Friday, but he believes national endorsements won’t make much difference to 17th District voters. “I’m very locally focused.”

Speaking amid the hustle and bustle of almost 3,000 liberal activists, Khanna said he understands online criticism of his bid to unseat Honda and even welcomes it as an important part of the democratic process.

But while Honda’s campaign volunteers had blanketed the convention Thursday, signing up supporters and handing out stickers, and Honda briefly addressed the California caucus, Khanna said he’s less interested in being a “talking head” or political grenade-thrower and more interested in serving constituents by cooperating across the aisle to get things done in Congress.

Posted on Friday, June 21st, 2013
Under: 2014 primary, Mike Honda, Technology in politics, U.S. House | 15 Comments »

Steinberg: Guns, mental health, public records

California State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is about to take the stage here at Netroots Nation in San Jose for a panel discussion on “Not Another Newtown: Building a Movement to Prevent Gun Violence,” but I caught up with him a few minutes ago.

Darrell Steinberg“We want to create momentum here in California and continue to push for a national solution to the gun violence problem,” said Steinberg, D-Sacramento. “We not only want to push through our legislation in California, which I’m confident we’ll be able to, but also to convey that what we’re doing is cutting edge.”

Steinberg is shepherding a package of bills that among many other things would ban all semi-automatic rifles that take detachable magazines – a step well beyond what any other state has taken.

“Rather than clamping down on the newest loophole that they find, we’re making it as clear as can be,” he said. “We need to eliminate not only the current loopholes but also anything else they might think of next.”

Discussing this in front of the liberal online activists of Netroots Nation is “an opportunity to continue to build the extensive public support for reasonable gun regulation,” Steinberg said.

He said he also would like to talk about mental illness, although he’s not willing to equate this with gun control because the vast majority of mentally ill people never commit any violent crimes. Here again, he said, California is far ahead of the curve; he noted that the biggest non-education budget boost this year is for expanded mental-health services.

“Mental health and combating mental illness is a key to solving so many of our society’s seemingly intractable problems,” Steinberg said.

On another matter, Steinberg said he’s satisfied with the resolution to the past week’s flap over budget trailer bills that would’ve gutted the California Public Records Act by letting local governments opt out of major provisions if they don’t want to pay the costs of compliance.

“It was never our intent to undermine the Public Records Act – it was to clarify that public agencies ought to be responsible for the cost of complying with the law,” he insisted, acknowledging that this week’s fiery criticisms of the proposed changes were “a significant distraction to some of the achievements in this year’s budget.”

The Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown have conceded that they’ll continue the Public Records Act’s state-funded mandate for another year, while putting a constitutional amendment before voters in 2014 to transfer the responsibility for bankrolling the law from the state to local agencies.

Steinberg said he’ll actively and publicly support that amendment when it’s on the ballot, but “I wouldn’t imagine that it would be an amendment that would be very controversial.” Voters should react well to the idea of permanently enshrining the Public Records Act – signed into law in 1968 by Gov. Ronald Reagan – in the state’s constitution.

Posted on Friday, June 21st, 2013
Under: California State Senate, Darrell Steinberg, gun control, Technology in politics | 5 Comments »

Some video clips from Netroots Nation

Couldn’t make it to Netroots Nation, the big national gathering of liberal online activists that began Thursday in San Jose? Well, you could read my story.

Or, I guess, you could see a few small bits of it for yourself. Here’s former Vermont governor and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean rallying the troops:

Here’s former Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass.:

And here’s U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaking remotely to introduce keynote speaker U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.:

More videos later today, hopefully. Meanwhile, Netroots Nation has created Storify recaps of two of yesterday’s panel discussions: “Making Wall Street Tremble: Case Studies from Innovative Corporate Campaigns” and “Beating Back Mansplaining and Other Acts of Sexism in Politics and Organizing.”

And if you want to keep up in real time today, all of the keynotes and some of the panel discussions are being streamed live online.

Posted on Friday, June 21st, 2013
Under: Technology in politics, U.S. Senate | 1 Comment »

NN13: Progressives not so hot on Ro Khanna

Here at Netroots Nation, the annual convention of liberal online activists that’s now under way at the San Jose Convention Center, I just had a casual sit-down with Democracy for America Chairman Jim Dean.

Also joining us was Charles Chamberlain, who’ll rejoin DFA as executive director in August after finishing his stint leading Progressive Congress, the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s foundation arm.

DFA is the national grassroots group and PAC that grew out of the 2004 presidential campaign of dean’s brother, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean – who also briefly dropped by our chat today, but didn’t stick around.

Jim Dean said he relishes Netroots Nation – where bloggers, petitioners, organizers and all kinds of online activists are bustling from seminar to panel discussion to exhibit hall now through Saturday night – because he gets face time with “people who are from places where things are difficult” for liberals, from Alaska to Florida.

“It’s a great way to better understand the work that other people are doing and to figure out how to leverage that,” he said, getting “a global view of all the different things – you want to do all of them, but you can’t.”

Dean said DFA tries to balance issue work with election campaigns to make the most of both. Right now the focus in Congress is on student loan interest rates and protecting Social Security and Medicare, while down in the states, things like fracking and campaign finance reform are taking center stage. But by later this year, he said, DFA will start drilling down into specific state and congressional races for 2014.

Here in Silicon Valley, Dean and Chamberlain said, DFA will be taking a close look at former Obama administration official Ro Khanna’s Democrat-on-Democrat challenge of Rep. Mike Honda – and that’s not good news for Khanna.

“Nothing is worse than a Democrat that’s ‘Republican lite,’” Chamberlain said, singling Honda, D-San Jose, and freshman Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Springs, for praise. “I can’t imagine we’ll stay out of either of those races.”

We talked about how Jeremy Bird – Obama’s national field director last year – is now helping to run Khanna’s campaign, even thought Obama and most other prominent Democrats have endorsed Honda. They know Bird, who cut his campaign teeth in part on Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign; they questioned why he’s working for Khanna now, and we discussed the “Silicon Valley wants to hack Washington” narrative that Khanna’s campaign is offering.

“I think the word ‘hack’ is probably right,” Chamberlain with an eye-roll. (UPDATE: I’ve been asked to clarify that he’s talking about Khanna there, not Bird.) “Look, everybody has to make decisions about who they’ll support … but this is a really questionable decision – the president has endorsed Honda, he’s a great progressive. It’s really shocking to me that anyone who considers themselves to be a progressive would be on the opposite side of this campaign.”

Jim Dean made it clear that DFA has made no endorsement yet. But when he looks at Khanna, he said, “I’m looking at a guy who can raise a lot of money, but it almost seems he’s running for office just because he can.”

Bird is presenting later today at a panel on “The New 50-State Strategy: Keeping Our Edge in the Ground Game,” and Khanna has a booth reserved in the exhibit hall and a press availability scheduled for tomorrow; Honda is scheduled to be on stage during tonight before U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., gives a keynote speech. We’ll see how all of them are welcomed.

UPDATE @ 4:18 P.M. FRIDAY: Khanna fires back.

Posted on Thursday, June 20th, 2013
Under: Mike Honda, Technology in politics, U.S. House | 16 Comments »

Elizabeth Emken to take on Rep. Ami Bera in 2014

Elizabeth Emken, the Danville Republican who challenged U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein in last November’s general election, has set her sights on a new office: the 7th Congressional District seat now held by freshman Ami Bera, D-Rancho Cordova.

Elizabeth EmkenA former nonprofit officer and businesswoman, Emken, 50, proved to be a tireless campaigner despite anemic fundraising and an opponent many had deemed invulnerable.

She referred to Bera as an “Obama wave freshman” in her tweet declaring her candidacy about an hour ago, indicating she believes Bera rode the president’s coattails and can’t hold the seat in a midterm election.

In a statement posted on her campaign’s website, Emken wrote she’s “coming off a U.S. Senate race where I garnered 4.7 million votes and rallied conservatives from across California.” True, although November’s election was the first time that the state’s new “top two” system was in effect, so that Emken and Feinstein were the only candidates on the ballot; Emken lost the race with 37.5 percent of the statewide vote, to Feinstein’s 62.5 percent – the widest victory margin Feinstein has ever had.

Emken wrote that “millionaire Ami Bera … barely defeated” incumbent Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, last year in a district that’s very close in voter registration. Bera won with 51.7 percent of the vote to Lungren’s 48.3 percent. The latest voter registration numbers show the district is 39.1 percent Democrat, 37.4 percent Republican and 18.9 percent no-party-preference.

“Ami Bera ran on Obamacare. Now as Americans are beginning to see how flawed this law is, and individual health care premiums in California are skyrocketing by up to 146%, he will have a lot of explaining to do,” she wrote.

“But I’m not running because of him. I’m running because of what is happening in Washington and the need to send someone to Washington who understands the struggles of our families and who is concerned about the direction of our country – and our government,” she continued. “Just this past week, Americans were shocked to learn that the Obama Administration has been conducting warrantless tracking of the phone calls of American citizens, with a secret program called PRISM. The Obama Administration used the IRS to target political opponents and appears to be covering up meetings between top IRS officials and senior White House staffers. The Department of Justice has been putting phone taps on White House reporters and investigating many critical of Administration policies.”

Emken also claims the U.S. Department of State “has yet to give a full accounting of what happened in Benghazi, Libya. The only thing that is clear is that the Administration failed to keep Americans safe – and then covered it up.”

“On all of these issues, Ami Bera has supported the Obama Administration,” she wrote.

I’ve left a voicemail for her, but haven’t yet heard back. Among the questions I’ll ask are whether she’s still a Danville resident; Danville is far outside the 7th Congressional District, but House members need only live within their state, not within the district they serve. The statement of organization her campaign filed earlier this month with the Federal Election Commission has an address in Elk Grove, but that’s not Emken’s address – it’s that of her campaign treasurer.

Republican former congressman Doug Ose also reportedly is considering a run against Bera in 2014.

UPDATE @ 6:04 P.M.: Emken says she has sold her house in Danville and is in the process of moving her family to a house she bought in Fair Oaks, within the 7th Congressional District.

“No one else to my knowledge has made the same moving commitment that I’ve made,” she said – a poke at Ose, whose Sacramento home is just a few blocks outside the district.

Emken said she travelled all over California for last year’s senate race, but spent a significant amount of time in this district because of its strong GOP campaign infrastructure due to the Bera-Lungren contest.

“I don’t think Ami Bera really fits the district and I think it’s a good fit for me,” she said, adding she’s been talking to people in the district for the past six months. “I’m committed, I’ll outwork anybody … It’s going to be a very exciting race.”

Posted on Wednesday, June 19th, 2013
Under: Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

Musical chairs for three local Assembly members

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, will take over as chairwoman of the Assembly Budget Committee, Speaker John Perez has just announced.

Perez, D-Los Angeles, named Skinner to replacy Bob Blumenfield, D-San Fernando Valley, who was elected to the Los Angeles City Council.

That sets the dominoes a-fallin’, of course. Perez also announced that Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, will replace Skinner as chairman of the Assembly Rules Committee, and Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, will replace Gordon as chairwoman of the Assembly Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee.

The appointments take effect July 3.

UPDATE @ 6:30 P.M.: Aaaaaaaand, everybody’s happy!

“I thank Speaker Pérez for appointing me chair of the Budget Committee,” Skinner said. “I look forward to taking on this new and challenging role. Filling the shoes of Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield, whose leadership and vision has helped California pass a balanced on-time budget for a third year in a row, is an honor. As budget chair, I look forward to putting education first, delivering essential services and strengthening California’s economic prosperity.”

“It is an honor to be appointed to Chair the Assembly Rules Committee, and I thank the Speaker for entrusting me with this responsibility,” Gordon said. “I plan to continue the good work of my predecessor, Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that the Assembly continues to be a strong and vibrant institution.”

Posted on Wednesday, June 19th, 2013
Under: Assembly, John Perez, Nancy Skinner, Rich Gordon, Susan Bonilla | 4 Comments »

Good-government activist to run for sec’y of state

A veteran good-government activist declared his candidacy for California secretary of state today in Sacramento.

Derek Cressman, a Democrat, said he’s seeking the office “to make elections count for Californians. “We need real leadership to limit the role corporations and big-moneyed special interests play in our elections.”

Derek CressmanCressman, 45, of Sacramento, has worked for the past 18 years with nonpartisan groups including Common Cause and the Public Interest Research Group. He said his priorities as secretary of state – a position which, among other things, is the state’s top elections officer – would include challenging the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that has opened the floodgates to unprecedented political spending.

He said he also would seek to modernize California’s voter registration and small business registration systems to reduce bureaucratic barriers to voting and enterprise, and upgrade the state’s voter guide to offer Californians better information on candidates and ballot measures.

“Derek’s not just another career politician looking to move up one rung on the ladder,” Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way, said in Cressman’s news release. “He is not indebted to special interests and will fight tirelessly for fair and transparent elections.”

Cressman’s campaign will be run by San Francisco-based 50+1 Strategies, led by Nicole Derse and Addisu Demissie; consultant Parke Skelton of Los Angeles will serve as a senior advisor to what Derse says will be “a truly grassroots campaign across California, engaging voters in their communities and online about their vision for our democracy and our state.”

Secretary of State Debra Bowen is term-limited out of office at the end of 2014. Next year will be the first time that this and other statewide offices are subject to the new “top-two” primary system, in which candidates of all parties compete directly for primary votes and then only the top two vote-getters advance to November’s general election, regardless of their party affiliation.

Other Democrats who’ve filed statements of intention to seek the office next year include former state Sen. Elaine Alquist of Santa Clara; former Assemblyman Charles Calderon of Montebello; former Assemblyman Mike Davis of Los Angeles; voting transparency and accountability activist Alan Jay Dechert of Granite Bay; 2012 Assembly candidate Mervin Evans of Los Angeles; state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton; state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys; and state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco.

Also in the race are Republican Pete Peterson, executive director of Pepperdine University’s Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership, and Green Party candidate David Curtis, an architect and activist from San Rafael.

Posted on Tuesday, June 18th, 2013
Under: 2014 primary, Secretary of State | 18 Comments »

Mark Leno responds to Public Records Act hubbub

The story that Tom Peele and I wrote late Friday afternoon about a budget trailer bill essentially letting local governments opt out of their obligations under the Public Records Act – which many say guts the law – drew a lot of righteous outrage over the weekend.

The general policy initially had been suggested by Gov. Jerry Brown, in his budget proposals. State Sen. Mark Leno, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee that authored the bill in question, didn’t get back to me Friday in time for the story’s deadline, but did return my call and leave me a message on Saturday afternoon. (I was off Monday, so I only just heard it this morning.) Here’s what Leno, D-San Francisco, said:

Mark Leno“The policy question before the Legislature was not in support or opposition to the Public Records Act – that is intact. Voters have supported the public records act, that has not changed. The policy question was is it a responsibility of the general fund – and the LAO has pegged the cost at tens of millions of dollars annually – to pay for local government to do what they should and the voters want them to do.

“We do not believe that there will be much change at all. Local government is not going to stop doing this, and if they do, they put themselves, local electeds will put themselves on record as a result of this bill to say ‘We won’t do this anymore.’ So if reporters or the public or anybody else has a problem with that, it’s with their local elected officials.

“Everyone supports the Public Records Act, it’s a question of is it a responsibility of the general fund. And then of course there’s the whole conversation of how the state has been abused by these mandates, locals billing us outrageous amounts for minimal time and expense – that’s a whole other question.”

Posted on Tuesday, June 18th, 2013
Under: California State Senate, Mark Leno | 11 Comments »

Lee goes on SNAP diet, will screen hunger film

With more than $20 billion in cuts proposed to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – formerly known as Food Stamps – in the 2014 Farm Bill, Rep. Barbara Lee is leading two dozen House members in a “SNAP Challenge,” living on the $4.50 per day food budget of an average SNAP recipient.

Lee, D-Oakland, issued a news release calling the proposed cuts “unconscionable and unacceptable.”

“When I was a young, single mother, I was on public assistance, and I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the vital lifeline that the American people extended to me,” she said. “SNAP is the difference between food on the table and a child going to bed hungry. I’m so encouraged by all my colleagues who are joining me for the SNAP Challenge, and I encourage folks from across the country to get engaged and join the chorus voicing opposition to these outrageous cuts.”

Lawmakers are updating the public on the challenges of eating on $4.50 by Tweeting at #SNAPchallenge. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, is also taking part, and said, “We need Congress to understand what these cruel austerity measures mean on a personal level rather than a generic statistical sample.”

So Lee might be rather hungry tomorrow as she joins director Lori Silverbush for a free screening of the film, “A Place at the Table,” in 1 p.m. at the Oakland Museum of California, at 1000 Oak St. An official Sundance film festival selection, the movie brings millions of Americans’ experience of hunger into stark focus through the stories of three individuals living with food insecurity.

Lee and Silverbush will take part in a panel discussion after the screening, joined by Alameda County Community Food Bank Executive Director Suzan Bateson; Community Food and Justice Coalition Executive Director Y. Armando Nieto; and Alameda County Social Services Agency Director Lori Cox.

“With nearly 46 million people living in poverty in our nation and 173,000 in poverty in Alameda Country alone, it is far past time to address poverty and hunger,” Lee said.

Posted on Friday, June 14th, 2013
Under: Barbara Lee, Jared Huffman, U.S. House | 17 Comments »