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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…
Continue Reading

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Campaign finance reform plan unveiled

California should move away from fewer larger donors and into small contributions and public campaign financing, says the state’s foremost expert on campaign finance.

Bob Stern, who wrote the 1974 California Political Reform Act, has released a new blueprint for reform through his nonpartisan think tank at the Center for Governmental Studies.

Click here to read the full report.

I have pasted the news release below. Continue Reading

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Term limits yield few ‘citizen’ lawmakers

Term limits was supposed to send average folks to California’s Capitol, a return to the old days when lawmakers periodically traveled to Sacramento,  passed a few laws and then returned to their farms and law firms where they earned an honest living.

But the popular restriction has utterly failed to produce these “citizen” lawmakers, according to a solid new study from the Center for Governmental Studies.

“Instead, the state has witnessed an enhanced form of political chairs, in which termed out state legislators simply move to other state or local political offices,” wrote CGS analyst Ava Alexandar. “Indeed, politicians are now moving faster and faster to the music, shifting their political offices to keep up with the pace of politics in California’s post term limits world and continue to serve in public office.”

Most legislators don’t return to their old jobs but instead run for another office, seek a political appointment or work as a lobbyist or other government-related position, Alexandar found.

Read “Citizen Legislators or Political Musical Chairs: Term Limits in California” here.

California voters like term limits and the issue has long been considered inviolate. They smacked down a 2008  measure that would have modified term limits but allowed incumbents to hang around a little longer.

A new measure has qualified for the ballot that would permit legislators to serve 12 years in either the Assembly or the Senate, compared with current restrictions that limit legislators to six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate. It contains no provisions for incumbents, which was the primary reason the 2008 bill failed.

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Political events roundup

Here is a roundup of political events and news:

Concord

Buchanan

Buchanan

Wilson

Wilson

The two candidates vying for California’s 15th Assembly District, Democratic Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan and GOP challenger and San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson, have agreed to debate on Sept. 10.

Organized by the Contra Costa Council, the candidates will answer questions from a moderator and the audience at a luncheon set for 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at Round Hill Country Club, 3169 Round Hill Road, in Alamo.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen, political columnist and reporter for the Contra Costa Times, will moderate the discussion.

Event co-hosts are the Engineering and Utility Contractors Association and IBEW Local 302, and the sponsor is AT&T.

The cost is $35 for members and $45 for nonmembers.

For reservations, call 925-246-1880 or fax 925-674-1654 by noon on Sept. 7. Visit www.contracostacouncil.com for more details.

The Contra Costa Council is a nonpartisan private sector, public policy organization with a membership that includes business, government, education and labor.

Livermore

Robert Rao

Robert Rao

GOP candidates invited to meet-up: All Republican Candidates for federal, state and local offices have invited to a Livermore ranch for a Sept. 25 meet-and-greet and fundraiser sponsored by the Alameda County Republican Party.

The 2010 Republican Roundup features a barbecue and live music on a working cattle ranch overlooking the Livermore hills. Invited candidates, who have not necessarily confirmed their attendance, include all GOP nominees from the U.S. Senate to governor and other statewide offices, along with Congress and the California Legislature.

The event will be held from noon to 4 p.m. at the Rao Ranch on Mines Road in Livermore. Owner Robert Rao ran for the Assembly in 2008.

To RSVP, contact the Alameda County Republican Party at 510-638-3414 or info@alamedagop.org.

Pleasanton

The office of Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, is accepting internship applications.

Students interested in public policy, civics and government are encouraged to apply for the unpaid positions in his Stockton, Pleasanton and Washington, D.C., offices. Interns may also be eligible for academic credits.

College and postgraduate students are eligible to apply for any of his three offices. Applications from high school students are considered on a case-by-case basis for internships in the Stockton and Pleasanton offices.

To apply for a position in either the Stockton or Pleasanton office, mail or fax a cover letter and resume to the respective office. Mail delivery to D.C. is delayed due to security, so applicants are encouraged to fax a cover letter and resume.

The addresses and telephone numbers are as follows:

Stockton Office, Attn: Staff Assistant, 2222 Grand Canal Blvd., No. 7, Stockton, CA 95207. Phone 209-476-8552 or fax 209-476-8587.

Pleasanton Office, Attn: Staff Assistant, 5776 Stoneridge Mall Road, No. 175, Pleasanton, CA 94588. Phone 925-737-0727 or 408-744-0727 and fax 925-737-0734.

Washington, D.C., Attn: Staff Assistant. Phone 202-225-1947 and fax 202-225-4060.

Richmond

Gioia

Gioia

Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioia, of Richmond, seeks volunteers for the 27th Annual California Coastal Cleanup at Richmond’s Marina Bay on Sept. 25.

Gioia has volunteered since 1990 and his office reports that in 2009, hundreds of volunteers helped pickup everything from tires to cigarette butts and plastic bottles along the shoreline and marsh areas.

Other event sponsors include The Watershed Project, city of Richmond, and Citizens Shoreline Response Team.

The cleanup starts at 9 a.m. and free lunch will be served to the volunteers at noon. Meet at the Shimada Friendship Park at the end of Marina Bay Parkway.

For more information, contact Kate Rauch at 510-374-3231 or kate.rauch@bos.cccounty.us.

California

September is National Voter Registration Month and voters are reminded to check their registrations or send in their applications and vote.

The registration deadline is Oct. 18 in order to vote in the Nov. 2 general election.

To be eligible to vote, a California resident must be a United States citizen, reside in California, at least 18 years old by Election Day, not in prison or on parole for a felony conviction, and have not been judged by a court to be mentally incompetent.

A voter must re-register to vote after changing names, permanent residence or political party choice.

To check registration status, take advantage of a new feature on the Secretary of State’s website at www.sos.ca.gov/elections/registration-status/index.htm for a list of county Web sites and phone numbers dedicated to registration verification.

People who would like to register to vote can download a form online at www.sos.ca.gov/nvrc/fedform/, print, sign and mail it. Californians can also pick up a voter registration form at any county elections office, public library or U.S. post office.

Voter registration forms, vote-by-mail applications and the Secretary of State’s “Guide to Voting” can be found in Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog and Vietnamese at www.sos.ca.gov/elections/elections_multi.htm.

The last day to request a vote-by-mail ballot is October 26. Use the application printed on the sample ballot booklet mailed by his or her county elections official or go to www.sos.ca.gov/elections/vote-by-mail/pdf/fill-in-vote-by-mail-app-instruct.pdf.

Sacramento

Bob Stern

Bob Stern

Center for Governmental Studies President Bob Stern, the former state political watchdog agency counsel who helped write the California Political Reform Act, will serve as co-chairman of a panel that will recommend changes to campaign finance laws.

Stern was appointed to the 25-member panel by the Fair Political Practices Commission to the Chairman’s Advisory Task Force.

He will lead in the panel with Republican political attorney Chuck Bell.

The panel has been asked to make the state’s complex 1974 Political Reform Act clearer and more accessible for candidates and the public, according to the FPPC.

Stern, who leads the nonpartisan Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, is the co-author of a number of campaign reform proposals, including the initiative that established the Fair Political Practices Commission. He was the commission’s first general counsel, from 1975 to 1983, and previously served as an attorney for the Assembly Elections and Reapportionment Committee and the Secretary of State’s office.

Co-chairman Chuck Bell is the senior partner of Bell, McAndrews and Hiltachk, LLP. He has practiced election and campaign law for over 30 years, and was the founding chairman of the California Political Attorneys Association.

The task force is scheduled to unveil its recommendations January and the commission hopes to place its suggested revisions on the 2012 ballot.

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New study shows pluses, minuses of open primaries

The nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles has released an excellent analysis of the impacts of Proposition 14, the open primary initiative on the June 8 ballot.

The authors’ chief conclusions support proponents’ arguments that open primaries could generate more competition, increase the number of moderates in elected office and boost the impact of nonpartisan, or decline to state voters.

But the experts also agree that it could hike the cost of campaigns and the role that money plays in elections.

Click here to read my news story.

Proposition 14, if voters pass it, will eliminate the party primary system in California. Voters could choose among all the candidates, regardless of party registration. The top two vote-getters would advance to the general election, also without regard for party affiliation.

A reluctant Legislature placed the measure on the ballot in exchange for then GOP state Sen. Abel Maldonado’s vote in favor of the 2009 California budget.

Predictably, the political parties hate it.

But proponents hail the measure as an essential governance reform that could lead to the election of more centrists and ease the political ideological polarization in Sacramento.

To read the 113-page report, visit www.cgs.org. The report contains a concise and very readable executive summary for the less wonky readers.

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Legislature source of most costly ballot measures

Legislators love to complain about how the ballot initiative process costs the state money and ties their hands on the budget.

But a new analysis from the nonprofit Center for Governmental Studies revealed today in Oakland shows that of the $11.85 billion worth of ballot measures voters approved between 1988 and 2009, 83 percent were placed on the ballot by the Legislature.

“Most of the ballot-box budgeting has come from you,” Center for Governmental Studies President Bob Stern told members today of the Senate and Assembly Select Committees on Improving State Government co-chaired by state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord.

The center found that of the 68 ballot measures requiring additional funding passed by voters between 1988-2009, 51 originated with the Legislature while 17 were placed on the ballot by proponents who successfully gathered the requisite number of signatures.

Of the 68 measures, 52 were bond measures.

The legislative measures required $9.8 billion in additional government funding, or 83 percent, while the balance totaled $2.05 billion.

The most expensive legislative measure came in 2004, when voters approved a $15 billion plan to close the budget deficit.

The highest price tag among the 17 initiatives that passed was the $500 million annual after-school program.