Lawmakers ride out-of-district money wave

California lawmakers over the past three years raised 79 percent of campaign funds from outside their districts, according to a new study by the data-crunching wizards at Berekeley-based nonpartisan nonprofit MAPLight.org.

MAPLight.org (that’s “MAP” as in “Money In Politics”) found California legislators serving as of Aug. 31, 2009 – 79 Assembly members and 40 Senators – raised $97.9 million in campaign funds from January 2007 through March 2010, with $77.5 million coming from outside the district. About $11.9 (12 percent) came from in-district, while the remaining $8.6 million (9 percent) couldn’t be definitively located.

More than half of the lawmakers (68 out of 117 members, or 58 percent) raised 80 percent or more of their campaign funds from outside their districts; 19 lawmakers raised 90 percent or more of their funds from outside their districts.

“Not a single legislator in California raised the majority of their campaign funds from in-district, where their voters live.” MAPLight.org Executive Director Daniel Newman said in a news release. “Instead of a voter democracy, we have a donor democracy.”

“With out-of-district fundraising at a staggering 80 percent, the problem is not with a few bad apples, but with a rotten barrel,” he said. “This report shows that our campaign finance system is broken. This remote control system works well for wealthy interest groups, but not for voters.”

Here’s how the Bay Area delegation stacked up in percentage of contributions from out of district, and rank among the 119 lawmakers surveyed:

  • Assemblyman Joe Coto, D-San Jose – 94.0 percent (#5)
  • Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley – 92.7 percent (#10)
  • State Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro – 89.1 percent (#21)
  • Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, San Francisco – 87.8 percent (#29)
  • Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, D-Newark – 87.5 percent (#33)
  • State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco – 85.5 percent (#40)
  • State Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-San Jose – 85.4 percent (#43)
  • Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City – 83.2 percent (#54)
  • Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch – 82.9 percent (#56)
  • Assemblyman Jim Beall Jr., D-San Jose – 82.5 percent (#59)
  • Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda – 80.4 percent (#64)
  • Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino – 80.0 percent (#68)
  • Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo – 79.2 percent (#72)
  • Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis – 76.9 percent (#79)
  • Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa – 74.7 percent (#85)
  • State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord – 74.5 percent (#87)
  • Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael – 72.5 percent (#91)
  • Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley – 67.4 percent (#100)
  • State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto – 63.4 percent (#102)
  • Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco – 62.1 percent (#105)
  • Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo – 62.0 percent (#106)
  • State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco – 58.9 percent (#110)
  • State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berekeley – 57.9 percent (#112)
  • And, in case you’re wondering where the money comes from, the top 15 ZIP codes of contributions to legislators were:

    1 Sacramento, CA 95814 — $23,149,034 (23.66%)
    2 San Francisco, CA 94105 — $2,034,877 (2.08%)
    3 Sacramento, CA 95833 — $1,408,211 (1.44%)
    4 Los Angeles, CA 90020 — $1,395,635 (1.43%)
    5 Burlingame CA, 94010 — $1,280,137 (1.31%)
    6 Los Angeles, CA 90071 — $1,054,345 (1.08%)
    7 Newport Beach, CA 92660 –$972,717 (0.99%)
    8 Sacramento, CA 95811 — $843,928 (0.86%)
    9 Sacramento, CA 95816 — $839,730 (0.86%)
    10 Los Angeles, CA 90017 — $741,449 (0.76%)
    11 Oakland, CA 94612 — $698,200 (0.71%)
    12 Sacramento. CA 95834 — $669,150 (0.68%)
    13 Pasadena, CA 91101 — $625,373 (0.64%)
    14 Los Angeles, CA 90010 — $621,677 (0.64%)
    15 San Francisco, CA 94111 — $583,888 (0.60%)

    MAPLight.org is among supporters of Proposition 15, the California Fair Elections Act, which would try out a system of public financing of election campaigns in the 2014 and 2018 elections for Secretary of State, funded by an increase in lobbyist registration fees.


    Steinberg names state Senate committee chairs

    State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento – how weird not to be writing “Don Perata!” – rolled out his committee chair appointments today:

  • Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego: Appropriations Committee
  • Ron Calderon, D-Montebello: Banking & Finance Committee
  • Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego: Budget and Fiscal Review Committee
  • Gloria Negrete-McLeod, D-Chino: Business, Professions & Economic Development Committee
  • Gloria Romero, D-East Los Angeles: Education Committee
  • Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley: Elections, Reapportionment & Constitutional Amendments Committee
  • Alex Padilla, D-San Fernando Valley: Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee
  • Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto: Environmental Quality Committee
  • Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood: Governmental Organization Committee
  • Elaine Alquist, D-Santa Clara: Health Committee
  • Carol Liu, D-Pasadena: Human Services Committee
  • Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro: Judiciary Committee
  • Mark DeSaulnier, D-Martinez: Labor and Industrial Relations Committee
  • Patricia Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa: Local Government Committee
  • Fran Pavley, D-Augora Hills: Natural Resources & Water Committee
  • Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana: Public Employees and Retirement Committee
  • Mark Leno, D-San Francisco: Public Safety Committee
  • Lois Wolk, D-Davis: Revenue and Taxation Committee
  • Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach: Transportation and Housing Committee
  • Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, continues as assistant Pro Tem, and the Agriculture and Veterans Affairs committee chairs haven’t been named yet.

    Let’s take a spin through the Bay Area appointments, shall we?

    Although Hancock had chaired the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, it seems a natural fit for her to take the Senate Elections committee now because she has been a champion of campaign finance reform. Her AB 583, the California Clean Money and Fair Elections Act signed into law Sept. 30, creates a pilot project in which the 2014 and 2018 candidates for Secretary of State (SOS) will be eligible to have their campaigns funded mostly with public money if they agree not turn away most private contributions and if they collect a specified number of $5 contributions.

    Simitian already chaired the Environmental Quality Committee and Corbett already chaired Judiciary in the last session, so no changes there.

    Alquist takes over the health committee from the term-limited-out Sheila Kuehl, who had used that post to crusade for universal, single-payer health care, twice vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (SB 840 of 2005-06 and SB 840 of 2007-08). Alquist had co-authored Kuehl’s bills, and opposed the plan put forth by Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders last year. See where this is headed?

    DeSaulnier takes over Labor and Industrial Relations from the ousted Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, defeated in her primary by Mark Leno. It could be an interesting place to be if Senate Democrats again try – as Perata did in the last two sessions, meeting vetoes both times (SB 815 of 2005-06 and SB 1717 of 2007-08 – to restore permanently disabled workers’ workers compensation insurance benefits that were slashed in 2004.

    And Leno – who chaired Assembly Public Safety before running Assembly Appropriations – gets Senate Public Safety, formerly chaired by Romero. Will he use the post as a bully pulpit for pushing prison reform, as she did?


    Bad driving isn’t a civil liberty

    I like FlashReport.org, the news and commentary roundup maintained by Jon Fleischman, a vice chairman of the California Republican Party; I don’t always agree, but it’s a well-organized roundup of news and opinion, and I check it most days.

    Yet I think he went off the rails today in his diatribe against the law that took effect today requiring drivers to use hands-free devices for their cell phones.

    It is particularly disturbing that on the very week of America’s birthday, here in California the liberty of our drivers has now been eroded with the latest edict from our ever-growing Nanny State. Yes, politicians in Sacramento, intent to legislate on every aspect of the lives of their constituents have now banned the use of cell-phones by drivers of automobiles (unless we use the hands-free gizmo we always forget to have with us).
    Individual drivers should be deciding whether it is safe to use a phone while driving. This decision should not be made for them by Big Brother.

    Um, sorry, no. A nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California report issued in May estimated 300 fewer people will die each year in California traffic accidents as a result of the new law. Other drivers’ “rights” to engage in hazardous activity should end where they threaten the lives of me, my loved ones and everyone else on the road. Balancing individual rights with the common good is what good government and good legislation should be all about.

    It’s not just the basis of Fleischman’s argument that bugged me — it’s the petulance.

    Anyways, to commemorate the last day before the implementation of Simitian’s bill, I took the photo you see in this post. As you can see from the speedometer, I’m driving on the freeway as I use on hand to operate the camera in my cell phone, taking a photo of my other hand which is both navigating the car, and holding my container of ice cream. Guess what? If I took that photo today, I would be breaking the law. Then again, I am sure that some enterprising “nanny stater” will see this photo and author a bill to ban eating ice cream while driving.

    So an elected GOP officer does something he knows to be unsafe, just so he can take a mocking photo and prove a weak point? I’m underwhelmed by the maturity level here.


    The Don giveth and the Don taketh away

    Our MediaNews bureau in Sacramento offered this notable tidbit over the weekend:

    It looks like Sen. Joe Simitian‘s trip to the doghouse will be short.

    Last week, the Palo Alto Democrat was stripped of his prestigious chairmanship of the Senate environment committee. The discipline was meted out by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, after Simitian challenged fellow Democrats in a debate over looming budget cuts to public schools.

    But barely a week passed before the two smoothed things over — mostly, but not entirely. As of Friday afternoon, Perata’s office wasn’t commenting, but Simitian confirmed that the Senate leader had agreed to reinstate Simitian as committee chairman. The official decision is expected to be made public sometime this week.

    Still, Simitian isn’t entirely off the hook. Perata, he said, has removed him from the Senate budget committee – a slap on the wrist compared with losing the chairmanship, but punishment still.

    “It was my choice to speak my mind. Choices have consequences. I understand that,” Simitian said. He said he will now serve on six committees instead of seven.

    At issue was how much education funding to cut in the current fiscal year. Under Proposition 98 of the state constitution, schools are guaranteed minimum funding each year based on a complicated formula. Cuts made this year lower the base and therefore the guaranteed minimum for next year.

    Perata and fellow Democrats had agreed to a current-year cut of $506 million. Simitian argued that lawmakers should try to lower the benchmark for next year’s guaranteed funding by an additional $400 million – or at least leave flexibility to do so in the coming months. But some Democrats characterized his idea as an unacceptable cut to schools.

    Simitian said his proposal was designed to spare school districts even more pain next year and avoid having to suspend Proposition 98. He argued his case publicly with another Democratic senator for a half-hour, and after the hearing Perata stripped Simitian of his chairmanship.

    But given Simitian’s solid reputation within the Democratic caucus, some observers expected the punishment to be temporary.

    I just got off the phone with Senator Simitian myself, and he said it’s not as if he was thrilled about the prospect of cutting money for schools: “I was trying to avoid a Proposition 98 suspension, it’s as simple as that.”

    Is he comfortable with the idea that dissent can mean demotion in this Senate Democratic Caucus? “I think I’ll leave that to others to assess.”

    And does he feel he has patched things up with Perata sufficiently? “Oh, yes… We’ve always had a very good working relationship, as a matter of fact.”

    ‘Cept for when Don’s cracking the whip, of course.


    DON’T flush those old pills!

    SB 966, which would require large retail pharmacies to enact a system by July 1, 2008, to collect and dispose of unused prescription drugs dropped off by consumers, passed the state Senate today on a 21-13 vote, squeaking by and headed to an Assembly hearing in June or July.

    simitian.jpgState Senate Environmental Quality Committee Chairman Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, introduced the bill after the idea was among winning entries in his annual “There Oughta Be A Law” contest; Rebecca Kassel, a 17-year-old Aptos High School senior, and Mountain View resident Abe Binder thought it up, and Kassel testified before the Senate Business and Professions Committee last month.

    “Few consumers have the time or the inclination to carry through with American Pharmacists Association’s current guidelines for the safe disposal of pharmaceuticals, which involves crushing or dissolving the medication, mixing with kitty litter, sealing in a plastic bag then setting out with the trash,” Simitian said in a news release today, noting drugs usually are either flushed down the toilet or thrown in the garbage where they threaten the environment and contaminate waterways.

    A 2002 U.S. Geological Survey study of 139 streams across 30 states found that 80 percent had measurable concentrations of prescription and nonprescription drugs, steroids, and reproductive hormones. Exposure even to low levels of pharmaceuticals, has been shown to harm fish and other aquatic species and may threaten human health.

    But leaving unused pills in the medicine cabinet indefinitely isn’t good either, what with the growing problem of teenage pharmaceutical abuse.

    This isn’t Simitian’s first swipe at the issue. Two years ago, his SB 798 — another of his contest’s winners — created a program letting counties recover unused prescription drugs from skilled nursing facilities, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and wholesalers and re-distribute them for free to those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford them. So far, however, San Mateo County is the only California county to have implemented such a program.