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AG Kamala Harris says give, but give wisely

Commercial fundraisers in California raised $338.5 million in 2011, but only just over half of that actually went to charitable organizations, according to a report released today by state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

So in this season of giving, ask a lot of questions about how and who to give to.

“This report gives Californians the vital information they need to make educated choices about where to make charitable contributions this holiday season,” Harris said in a news release. “While commercial fundraisers play a role in supporting charities in California, it is important for donors to know how much of their money will be used to support the charity’s programs, and how much will go to overhead.”

The 51 percent of donated funds going to charities using a professional fundraiser in 2011 is actually an increase from the 2010 average of 44.4 percent.

Commercial fundraisers, hired by charities to raise money on their behalf, typically charge a flat fee for their services or take a percentage of the contributions they collect.

Most charities registered with the Attorney General don’t use commercial fundraisers to raise funds, but do their own, in-house fundraising. But state law requires commercial fundraisers to register with the Attorney General’s office and file annual financial disclosure reports detailing income and expenses for each fundraising campaign.

The $338.5 million figure excludes thrift store operations and vehicle donation programs, which are accounted for separately.

The Attorney General’s office also publishes a Guide to Charitable Giving for Donors with advice and guidelines, including:

    Ask the fundraiser how a donation will be distributed. Fundraisers are required by law to tell a consumer this information.
    Ask what percentage of donations will be used to pay for fundraising expenses. This information can better inform the consumer as to how much of the contribution will go to the cause versus overhead.
    Ask if the fundraiser works for a commercial fundraiser and is being paid to solicit. If the answer is yes, then it is likely less of the funds are going to the charity.
    Avoid cash donations, as cash can more easily be diverted to non-charitable purposes and there is no way to trace it.
    Avoid giving credit card information to a telephone solicitor or in response to a telephone solicitation.
    Learn about a charitable organization, its activities and its fundraising practices before giving.

The Attorney General’s office maintains a searchable online database on registered charities and registered professional fundraisers, but donors also can check with the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance and the American Institute of Philanthropy.

Posted on Thursday, November 29th, 2012
Under: Attorney General, Kamala Harris | No Comments »

Lawmakers boycott contempt vote on Holder

The House voted 255-67 today to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for allegedly stonewalling over documents relating to the probe of the Fast and Furious “gunwalking” operation on the U.S.-Mexico border.

But more than 100 Democrats left the House floor to boycott the vote, including several Bay Area lawmakers: Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“I cannot and will not participate in this hyper-partisan and purely political vote today to hold Attorney General in contempt of Congress,” Lee said in a news release.

“Contempt power should be used sparingly, carefully and only in the most egregious situations. The Attorney General has gone above and beyond in his response to request for information on “Fast and Furious”, an unfortunate operation that began under the Bush Administration and, in fact, was terminated by Attorney General Holder,” she said. “This contempt vote is unprecedented, unwarranted and entirely unnecessary. Gandhi once said that ‘Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good.’ That is why I am standing with so many of my colleagues in refusing to participate in this shameful Republican political stunt.”

Reps. George Miller, D-Martinez; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Mike Thompson, D-Napa remained on the floor to cast votes against the resolution.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called for the vote with this statement:

John Boehner“It’s important for the American people to know how we got here and to know the facts of this case. The Congress asked the Department of Justice for the facts related to Fast and Furious and the events that led to the death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. The Department of Justice did not provide the facts and the information that we requested. Instead, the information came from people outside the Department, people who wanted to do the right thing. In addition to not providing the information, the Administration admitted to misleading Congress, actually retracting a letter it had sent 10 months earlier.

“I think all the Members understand this is a very serious matter. The Terry family wants to know how this happened and they have every right to have their answers. The House needs to know how this happened, and it is our constitutional duty to find out. So the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee issued a lawful and narrowly tailored subpoena. We’ve been patient, giving the Justice Department every opportunity to comply, so that we can get to the bottom of this for the Terry family. We’ve shown more than enough good faith, but the White House has chosen to invoke executive privilege. That leaves us no other options. The only recourse left for the House is to continue seeking the truth and to hold Attorney General in contempt of Congress.

“Now I don’t take this matter lightly, and I frankly hoped it would never come to this. The House’s focus is on jobs and on the economy. But no Justice Department is above the law and no Justice Department is above the Constitution, which each of us has sworn an oath to uphold. So I ask the Members of this body to come together and to support this resolution so that we can seek the answers that the Terry family and the American people deserve.”

After the vote, Holder issued a statement which is presented in its entirety after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Thursday, June 28th, 2012
Under: Anna Eshoo, Attorney General, Barbara Lee, George Miller, Jackie Speier, Jerry McNerney, John Boehner, John Garamendi, Law enforcement, Lynn Woolsey, Mike Honda, Mike Thompson, Nancy Pelosi, Obama presidency, Pete Stark, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 17 Comments »

Kamala Harris touts pact for online-dating safety

Online daters, take heart – California Attorney General Kamala Harris has your backs.

Harris announced Tuesday that three of the nation’s leading online dating providers agreed to issue a joint statement of business principles to help protect people seeking their soul mates from instead falling victim to identity theft, financial scams and sexual predators.

Her agreement with Santa Monica-based eHarmony, Dallas-based Match.com and Beverly Hills-based Spark Networks – which operates websites such as JDate and ChristianMingle – states that the companies will protect their members by using online safety tools, including checking subscribers against national sex offender registries and by providing a rapid abuse-reporting system for members. They’ll also keep proactively educating their members about safe online practices, providing tips such as fraud-prevention guidance and how to safely meet people offline.

“I commend these companies for committing to these important consumer protections,” Harris said in a news release. “Consumers should be able to use websites without the fear of being scammed or targeted. It is a priority for this office to ensure consumers are protected online, and companies who are creating in the Internet space have a continued opportunity to innovate and thrive.”

She said providers will continue their efforts to screen members for financial or physical safety threats, including looking for fake profiles and checking sex offender registries to prevent registered sex offenders from using their fee-based services. Anyone identified as a registered sex offender won’t be allowed to use these services.

“In the interest of protecting and educating users, I strongly encourage all online dating companies to adopt the same principles as these industry leaders,” she said.

Harris last year created an eCrime Unit to prosecute identity theft, data intrusions and other tech-involved crimes. She’ll assign a liaison from that unit to deal with reports of suspected criminal activity provided by the three online dating providers and other providers who adopt these principles.

About 40 million Americans used an online dating service and spent more than $1 billion on online dating website memberships in 2011, Harris said; of couples married in the last three years, one in six met through an online dating service and one in five people have dated someone they met through an online dating site.

The CEOs of all three companies reiterated their commitments to member safety in Harris’ news release, and said they’re proud to work with her to set an example for the industry.

Posted on Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
Under: Attorney General, Kamala Harris | No Comments »

For-profit medical pot? No prob, law’s author says

A former South Bay lawmaker who authored the state’s medical marijuana framework says state officials have misunderstood, or perhaps twisted for their own ends, a crucial section of that law dealing with whether dispensaries can operate on a for-profit basis.

It’s been the state’s contention for years that for-profit dispensaries aren’t allowed. But former state Sen. John Vasconcellos, D-Santa Clara, issued an open letter earlier his month saying that’s not at all what his SB 420 of 2003 said. Here’s the operative part of that letter:

John VasconcellosIt was certainly true that one side wanted to outlaw any profit-making, while the other side did not and would not. So right there and then – in order not to lose our coherence as a working team hoping for a broadly supported result and to hold our coalition together – we took the openly deliberated, fully appreciated compromise way out: We catered to neither side on this issue. Instead the Task Force crafted the language that appears in Health and Safety Code section 1 1362.765(a) as follows: “…. nor shall anything in this section authorize any individual or group to cultivate or distribute marijuana for profit.”

It was so carefully crafted that neither side could claim victory. In effect that issue was entirely left to whatever otherwise is the status of that issue in California law.

Although certain members of our Task Force did advocate for a prohibition on profit-making, that position was firmly rejected by the Task Force in favor of the above compromise language.

The language we fashioned means nothing more – nor less – than what it explicitly says. Nothing in that section prohibits profit. Nothing in that section explicitly authorizes profit, either. But I must point out that nobody is required to obtain an “authorization” from the Legislature to make a profit in California.

In fact, it would have been utterly incongruous for us constituting that A.G.’s Task Force, to have come up with such a ban on profit, which could not readily be interpreted or found to be explicitly or implicitly in support of implementing Proposition 215′s intention to allow patients to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes.

In short, the language in question, which was painstakingly crafted as a result of careful give-and- take from all sides, simply restates a self-evident fact about what is not in that section, but the language does not in any respect purport to prohibit profit – if that had been the intent, the language would have so stated clearly. It obviously does no such thing.

This made my head hurt a little, so I called Oakland attorney Robert Raich, who has argued a medical marijuana case to the U.S. Supreme Court and was part of the task force that drafted SB 420. He broke it down for me: This language was a sop to the cops.

“We needed to throw a bone to them to make them happy so they wouldn’t completely oppose it and walk away from the table altogether,” he said. “But you don’t really need authorization from the Legislature to make a profit. … The fact that it says it doesn’t authorize profit doesn’t mean it prohibits it.”

Raich said he explained it to one of his Oaksterdam University students thusly: The student can say he doesn’t authorize his girlfriend to use his car, and if the girlfriend then drives it, she has run afoul of his lack of authorization. But if the student says he doesn’t authorize Raich to drive Raich’s car, there’s no real effect because the student never had authority over Raich’s car to begin with.

Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office declined to comment on Vasconcellos’ letter.

But, having covered California’s medical marijuana policy since 1997, I’m guessing the state isn’t impressed. I think its lawyers would note all marijuana cultivation and distribution was illegal before voters approved certain narrow exceptions in Proposition 215 of 1996, the Compassionate Use Act; that ballot measure certainly didn’t create a right to profitable sales. Vasconcellos’ 2003 law also didn’t alter that status quo: The section dealing with collective/cooperative cultivation is silent on it, and the section Vasconcellos cites, dealing with primary caregivers, made it clear the Legislature wasn’t authorizing such sales.

So I’d be willing to bet that if someone presents Vasconcellos’ letter in court, the state would argue that such a radical departure from existing law isn’t something the Legislature would have left to implication or conjecture. But I also think the state would argue that Vasconcellos’ letter doesn’t fit within the rules that courts use for determining legislative history and intent, and so is moot anyway.

Posted on Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
Under: Attorney General, Kamala Harris, marijuana | 3 Comments »

DeSaulnier seeks criminal probe of Caltrans

An East Bay lawmaker asked Attorney General Kamala Harris today to open an criminal investigation into accusations of falsified inspections of the new span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge now under construction.

State Senate Transportation and Housing Committee Chairman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, wants Harris to probe Caltrans’ Foundation Inspection Branch, which was the targeted in a committee hearing he chaired last week following a Sacramento Bee investigation that raised the allegations.

“The committee believes that failure to conduct reliable inspection tests on the foundations of bridges, freeway ramps, retaining walls, and other structures may erode the public’s confidence in Caltrans’ management of the state highway and bridge program,” DeSaulnier wrote in his letter to Harris. “State government cannot be a safe haven for employees who shirk their public safety duties and who steal state property for private purposes. To this end, I am requesting that your office investigate the allegations of professional and managerial improprieties in the Foundation Inspection Branch of Caltrans for any criminality.”

Specifically, DeSaulnier wants Harris to look into Caltrans employees’ alleged theft of state materials and use of state equipment as well as the use of employees on state time to transport the materials to a construction site on private property; alleged falsification of inspection data; Caltrans managers’ failure to fire anyone for these alleged offenses; Caltrans’ workers possible intimidation of the Foundation Inspection Branch’s manager; and the possibility that allegedly bogus inspection data was meant to benefit one or more contractors.

UPDATE @ 5:41 P.M.: Spokeswoman Lynda Gledhill says Harris’ office has received DeSaulnier’s letter and is reviewing the request.

Posted on Tuesday, November 29th, 2011
Under: Attorney General, California State Senate, Kamala Harris, Mark DeSaulnier, Transportation | 3 Comments »

Kamala Harris reacts to feds’ marijuana blitz

California Attorney General Kamala Harris has now issued a brief statement about the recently announced federal crackdown on California’s medical marijuana dispensaries:

“Californians overwhelmingly support the compassionate use of medical marijuana for the ill. We should all be troubled, however, by the proliferation of gangs and criminal enterprises that seek to exploit this law by illegally cultivating and trafficking marijuana. While there are definite ambiguities in state law that must be resolved either by the state legislature or the courts, an overly broad federal enforcement campaign will make it more difficult for legitimate patients to access physician-recommended medicine in California. I urge the federal authorities in the state to adhere to the United States Department of Justice’s stated policy and focus their enforcement efforts on ‘significant traffickers of illegal drugs.”

Of course, that’s exactly what the feds say they’re doing, anyway.

Posted on Friday, October 21st, 2011
Under: Attorney General, Kamala Harris, marijuana | 13 Comments »

ATF: No guns for medical marijuana users

Almost lost in the hubbub of this week’s IRS and Justice Department crackdowns on California’s medical marijuana dispensaries was another revelation of federal action: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is telling gun sellers it’s illegal for medical marijuana patients to own firearms.

The Sept. 21 letter from ATF Assistant Director Arthur Herbert states, “ Any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her state has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes, is prohibited by Federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition.”

A lot of advocates – be they advocates of medical marijuana or the Second Amendment – are boiling mad.

“ATF’s blatant discrimination against Americans whose use marijuana legally under state law is outrageous,” Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann said Thursday. “It’s not just that ATF is riding roughshod over the rights of citizens who use marijuana legally with a doctors’ recommendation and thumbing its nose at laws enacted by sixteen states. It’s that there’s absolutely no evidence whatsoever that use of marijuana – whether for medical purposes or otherwise – is linked to reckless use of guns. … There should be zero tolerance for this sort of discrimination by the federal government.”

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who serve one of the 16 states with medical marijuana laws, each wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney Eric Holder earlier this week to protest the policy.

“We’re reviewing the matter,” Lynda Gledhill, spokeswoman for California Attorney General Kamala Harris, said Friday; the office of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said the same thing. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and the National Rifle Association didn’t immediately respond to inquiries today.

Posted on Friday, October 7th, 2011
Under: Attorney General, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, gun control, Kamala Harris, marijuana, U.S. Senate | 8 Comments »

Gov. gets bill to take prohibited guns off streets

The Assembly today passed a Bay Area lawmaker’s bill that would provide more resources to find and confiscate guns belonging to convicted felons and the mentally ill.

SB 819 by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, passed on a 48-23 vote; the state Senate had approved it June 1 on a 22-16 vote, so it now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

SB 819 – sponsored by state Attorney General Kamala Harris – would let the state Justice Department use money from the $19 Dealer Record of Sale fee that’s collected on each firearm sale to enforce the existing Armed Prohibited Persons System program. APPS, launched in 2007, identifies prohibited persons so law enforcement can go collect the illegally possessed weapons.

The state Justice Department’s Bureau of Firearms has identified more than 18,000 Californians who illegally own tens of thousands of firearms, a list that grows by 15 to 20 per day. But state and local officials say they lack the resources to confiscate this enormous backlog of weapons, much less keep up with new additions to the list.

Leno calls that “a troubling blind spot in our current enforcement of firearms laws.”

“Thousands of gun owners who once obtained their weapons legally still possess firearms despite subsequent issues, including criminal activities, that disqualify them from owning weapons,” he said in a news release today. “Innocent lives have been lost because we allow guns to be in the hands of known criminals, gang members and people who have serious mental illnesses. SB 819 helps remedy this troubling threat to public safety.”

To be clear: It’s not raising any more money for the state, just authorizing another purpose for which the DROS fee money can be used. The Justice Department has estimated it wouyld draw about $1 million per year from the DROS fund for this; the fund currently holds about $5.5 million.

The California Association of Firearms Retailers has argued that the DROS fee is supposed to pay for the costs of a criminal and mental background check to determine a buyer’s eligibility to lawfully own a firearm, and so redirecting some of it to another, more general purpose effectively turns it into a tax.

Posted on Monday, August 29th, 2011
Under: Assembly, Attorney General, California State Senate, gun control, Kamala Harris, Mark Leno, Public safety | 6 Comments »

California again defends healthcare reform law

California Attorney General Kamala Harris – who already had joined friend-of-the-court briefs defending the constitutionality of last year’s federal healthcare reform law in the 6th, 4th and 11th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal – has now done so again in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

“Health care reform saves lives, and that is why I am determined to protect this law,” Harris said in her news release today, noting that the filing comes one week after the 6th Circuit became the first federal appeals court to uphold the law’s constitutionality.

Harris and nine other attorneys general argue in the new brief that the Constitution grants Congress broad powers to regulate interstate commerce, and that the decision to buy health insurance has a significant impact on interstate commerce because it allows the formation of risk pools, lowers health care costs nationally and reduces the cost of uncompensated care.

“The law strikes an appropriate, constitutional balance between federal and state authority over the health care system by creating federal requirements, backed by federal funding, to expand access to affordable coverage, while conferring considerable latitude to allow states to decide how best to design a system of federally-supported coverage that works well for their citizens,” the brief argues.

Joining California in this brief are Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, New York, Oregon and Vermont.

Posted on Thursday, July 7th, 2011
Under: Attorney General, healthcare reform, Kamala Harris | 7 Comments »

Kamala Harris names Justice Dept.’s new top cop

California Attorney General Kamala Harris today named a former Bay Area police officer as the first black director of the state Justice Department’s Division of Law Enforcement.

Larry Wallace will oversee the department’s $238 million budget, 437 special agents, 281 criminalists, and 693 non-sworn personnel. He most recently served as deputy chief of the bureau of investigations for the San Francisco District Attorney‘s office – Harris’ former domain – and also served for 10 years as a special agent with the state Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement in San Francisco. He began his law enforcement career serving from 1987 to 1994 with the Berkeley Police Department, where he was named Officer of the Year and awarded the Medal of Valor.

Harris also named Christopher Cunnie, a retired undersheriff of San Francisco, as a special advisor for labor and law enforcement. Cunnie for 17 years was a San Francisco Police Department patrol officer and from 1996 through 2004 served as president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association. Between that job and the undersheriff’s office, Cunnie was chief of investigations for the San Francisco District Attorney’s office and director of the San Francisco Emergency Communications Department.

In other appointments today, Harris named Wayne Quint, Jr., who retired from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department as a sergeant after 29 years of service, as Wallace’s assistant for external affairs. Quint for the past 12 years has served as president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs; he also was the longest-serving president in the history of the California Coalition of Law Enforcement Associations, which represents more than 40 public safety organizations and 80,000 peace officers statewide. The CCLEA, under Quint’s leadership, endorsed Harris’ Republican opponent, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, in last year’s election.

Jerry Szymanski, who spent 37 years with the Los Angeles Police Department and retired as a commander, will serve as Wallace’s assistant for evidence-based law enforcement. Szymanski led LAPD’s Narcotics, Commercial Crimes and Burglary-Auto Theft divisions, also served as second-in-command to deliver police services in the San Fernando Valley. He played a key role in LAPD’s implement measuring crime data and law enforcement results with COMPSTAT, an accountability process.

And Suzy Loftus, a prosecutor who specialized in domestic violence, elder abuse and firearms cases in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office and served on Harris’ executive staff there, is now a special assistant attorney general working on criminal law issues and public safety policy, as well as the office’s primary liaison to local, state and federal law enforcement offices.

Posted on Thursday, June 2nd, 2011
Under: Attorney General, Kamala Harris | No Comments »