Spotlighting suspended senators’ money & votes

You might have a harder time finding their legislative histories now, but three state senators who are in trouble with the law are being spotlighted by a Berkeley-based nonprofit that tracks money in politics.

MapLight.org reminded the public Monday that their site makes it easy to find the industries and individuals who have given the most (at least, those who’ve given the most through legal channels) to embattled state senators Leland Yee, D-San Francisco; Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, and Rod Wright, D-Inglewood.

Yee was indicted Friday on six counts of bribery, one county of conspiring to take bribes and one count of conspiring to traffic guns. Calderon was indicted in February on bribery charges. Wright was convicted in January of voter fraud and perjury related to not living in the district he represents.

Here’s a taste of MapLight’s data – lists of the top 10 interests that have given the most to those three senators from 2009 through 2012:

Leland Yee
Public Sector Unions — $81,800
Health Professionals — $54,720
General Trade Unions — $45,103
Insurance — $42,000
Pharmaceuticals & Health Products — $23,528
Gambling & Casinos — $20,100
Telecom Services & Equipment — $18,300
Accountants — $18,100
Real Estate — $16,820
Poultry & Eggs — $15,600

Ron Calderon
Insurance — $92,200
General Trade Unions — $57,600
Pharmaceuticals & Health Products — $38,900
Public Sector Unions — $38,250
Telecom Services & Equipment — $28,747
Health Professionals — $26,600
Real Estate — $24,200
Oil & Gas — $21,950
Electric Utilities — $20,500
Tribal Governments — $17,100

Rod Wright
Insurance — $99,707
General Trade Unions — $81,050
Public Sector Unions — $76,400
Telecom Services & Equipment — $62,989
Tribal Governments — $61,500
Beer, Wine & Liquor — $56,440
Gambling & Casinos — $56,191
Oil & Gas — $54,050
Pharmaceuticals & Health Products — $46,650
Real Estate — $42,900

The state Senate voted 28-1 on March 28 to suspend the three senators, and their official websites were “wiped” over the weekend of their legislative histories, biographies, news releases and so on.

But you can still find a list of bills each has introduced by visiting the state’s legislative information page and typing in their names. And their campaign finance histories are still available through the Secretary of State’s database: Follow these links to Yee, Calderon and Wright.


Report: Redistricting panel did well, can do better

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission generally succeeded in its task of drawing fair new legislative lines, according to a new review of its work – but the state can do even better in the future.

The report, “When the People Draw the Lines,” by Cal State Los Angeles researcher Raphael Sonenshein, was commissioned by the League of Women Voters of California in partnership with the James Irvine Foundation. It praises the 14-member panel’s work, but says that in the future, such commissions should start much earlier and have better structural support for their work in order to assure success.

“Given the newness and the difficulty of this process, the redistricting process as designed was surprisingly successful,” Sonenshein, who directs the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs, said this morning on a conference call with reporters.

He said there was great public interest in selecting the commissioners, which led to a balanced and capable panel that took more public input “than anyone could’ve possibly imagined” in order to produce maps that survived court challenges and ended up well-regarded by the public.

“Clearly the California commission can be a model for other states interested in reforming their redistricting,” said Chris Carson, the League’s program director for campaign finance and redistricting.

But Sonenshein’s report makes some suggestions for California’s next go-round, or for other states that choose to adopt similar systems, including:

  • Starting at least five months earlier so there’s more time for the commission to do its work
  • Spending more time and money on training the commissioners, and for their information-gathering and deliberations.
  • Collecting demographic and geographic data earlier, before public input begins
  • Including in the commission’s budget funding for a consultant whose main task is to collect and analyze the massive amounts of public input.
  • Reducing commissioner travel costs by conducting some hearings using distance technology, and in some cases, not requiring all commissioners to attend.
  • Commission members Michelle DiGuilio and Stanley Forbes were on the conference call, too.

    “We were all true believers in what we were doing,” Forbes said. “We had no idea that we would get the level of public participation that we did, which was very gratifying.”

    But Forbes agreed the commission should start its work earlier, have more information earlier in the process, and remain vigilant of stepped-up partisan efforts to manipulate the process. “We saw some effort this time, I don’t think it had much success.”


    Ellen Tauscher, New Dems meet with Obama

    The centrist New Democrat Coalition and its chairwoman, Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, met at 3:30 EDT today with President Barack Obama in the White House’s State Dining Room to discuss the coming year’s legislative strategy.

    “We appreciate that the President took the time to meet with us today to discuss our shared values and shared priorities on issues ranging from the economy to health care,” Tauscher said in a statement released afterward. “It was a very productive meeting and we told the president that if he’s looking for a group of pragmatic members to work with, he can call us and call often.”

    The news release said President Obama asked the 68-member Coalition to keep playing a leading role financial regulatory reform, which he has made a major component of his economic plan. Also, the Coalition pledged to keep advocating for use of state-of-the-art information technology in the nation’s health-care system, and pledged “to work with the Administration to forge a new trade agenda that maintains U.S. engagement and a competitive edge in global commerce. The New Democrat Coalition’s advocacy and support has been key to approval of past trade agreements.”

    Financial regulatory reform… health-care reform… trade agenda: All of the high points the NDC reportedly had been scheduled to discuss with President Obama, except his budget priorities. The White House clearly has concerns about keeping congressional Democrats in line on the budget; it seems odd that the Coalition wouldn’t mention this at all after the meeting. I guess time will tell where Tauscher and the NDC stand on this.


    Groups sue state for legislative records

    Berkeley-based MAPLight.org — a nonpartisan nonprofit that illuminates connections between Money And Politics with its database of campaign contributions and legislative outcomes — and the San Rafael-based California First Amendment Coalition filed a lawsuit today in Sacramento County Superior Court against the state Office of Legislative Counsel demanding California’s legislative voting records in electronic format.

    “The Office of Legislative Counsel is obviously afraid that release of the legislative database to MAPLight.org will make it too easy for voters to connect financial contributions by special interests to specific votes and other accommodating actions by legislators,” said Peter Scheer, executive director of CFAC, which is dedicated to free speech and government transparency. “And, legislators should be worried. But fear of embarrassment is hardly a basis for withholding government records from public view. Just the opposite.”

    “In the age of the Internet, there is no justification for government to maintain monopoly control over online access to public records,” said Scheer. “This is especially true when the records — bills, amendments, votes and the like — are the public roadmap for the laws that govern us all. It’s frankly hard to imagine any public records that could be more ‘public’ than these.”

    MAPLight.org already gives the public a fantastic, free online window onto Congress, tabulating data to show links between campaign contributions and how lawmakers vote. It wants to do the same for California.

    “It’s not as if we’re asking them to do additional work,” MAPLight.org executive director Dan Newman said. “This database already exists. It has already been paid for by the taxpayers of California. The Office of Legislative Counsel is required by law to share this information in whatever format they have in their possession. What the Legislature is giving the public now is the equivalent of a 10,000 page printout — they’re refusing to share the one simple spreadsheet on which it was created. This makes searching and analysis nearly impossible.”

    “It will be a brighter day for all of us when government sees itself as working for the public who pays the bills,” he said.

    MAPLight.org says it asked for the database July 1 under the state’s Legislative Open Records Act, the California Public Records Act and California Government Code 10248, which says the Legislative Counsel’s office must make available, for each current legislative session, certain bill information in electronic format; the request was denied July 16. Scheer asked for the same data Aug. 5, and received a denial Aug. 18. Their attorneys contacted state officials in October asking them to reconsider, but again were eventually denied.

    I’ve e-mailed Legislative Counsel Diane Boyer-Vine as well as one of her deputies, J. Christopher Dawson, who issued the letters denying MAPLight.org’s and CFAC’s requests; I’ll update this if I hear back from them.

    UPDATE @ 2:47 P.M.: Chief Deputy Legislative Counsel Jeffrey DeLand just called back: “At this point we don’t have a comment in part because we haven’t seen the paperwork, we haven’t been served.”


    This week in big-time campaign cash

    I knew it was coming, but it still hurts my head: The number of $25,000-and-up contributions to California campaigns and committees suddenly went through the roof this past week as Election Day neared and polls tightened. Given the sudden, enormous jump in notable contributions, I must resort to a more stripped-down format this week. The highlights in brief:

    The campaign to defeat Proposition 8 raked in at least about $2.5 million this past week; I’m quite sure many of the big-ticket donations gathered at high-profile Southern California fundraisers this week have not yet been logged in as of this posting.

    Chesapeake Energy doubled down on Proposition 10, putting another $1 million into the alternative fuels intiative from which it stands to make a bundle (though its ante is still chump change next to the $15.75 million put up by Prop. 10 proponent T. Boone Pickens‘ Clean Energy Fuels Corp.)

    A bunch of Florida Republicans anted up for California’s proposed legislative redistricting reform.

    And labor unions (especially the SEIU) and safe Democratic officeholders with money to burn tithed their cash to the Democratic Party, which seems to smell GOP blood in the water in districts up and down the state.

    Details — so many details — after the jump… Continue Reading


    Prop. 11 gets GOP $$$, but is it a ‘power grab?’

    While starting to compile my “This week in big-time campaign cash” roundup for tomorrow, I noticed a sudden burst of donations to support Proposition 11, the legislative redistricting reform measure, came in Saturday from far, far away:

  • $250,000 — Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
  • $75,000 — Fourth Quarter Properties XII LLC; Newnan, Ga.
  • $50,000 — Ashbritt Inc.; Pompano Beach, Fla.
  • $50,000 — Ashbritt CEO Randal R. Perkins; Parkland, Fla.
  • $50,000 — The GEO Group Inc. PAC; Boca Raton, Fla.
  • $25,000 — AutoNation Inc.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
  • $25,000 — lobbyist/attorney Ronald Book; Aventura, Fla.
  • $25,000 — Eastern Waste Systems Inc.; Pompano Beach, Fla.
  • So, who are these folks taking such an interest in California redistricting?

    Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler partner/founder Scott W. Rothstein has raised at least $500,000 for John McCain. He and his wife have given McCain $113,100; partner Stuart A. Rosenfeldt and his wife have given McCain $135,600; and partner Russell Adler and his wife have given McCain $80,000.

    Fourth Quarter Properties owner Stanley Thomas is a significant Republican donor who was involved in a controversial land deal with Republican Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue a few years ago.

    Ashbritt CEO Randal R. Perkins has raised at least $100,000 for John McCain, and his firm was in the middle of a flap over big companies getting small-business contracts for the Hurricane Katrina clean-up; he and his wife have given McCain $78,600.

    GEO Group founder, chairman and CEO George C. Zoley was a Bush Pioneer, having raised at least $100,000 for the president’s re-election in 2004.

    Autonation founder H. Wayne Huizenga bundled contributions for Mitt Romney but later gave $47,025 to John McCain this year.

    Ronald Book has given $35,000 to John McCain.

    Eastern Waste Systems owner Angelo Marzano is the only one on this list who gave more money to Democrats than to Republicans in this election cycle.

    So by and large, these donations are Republican money coming in from afar.

    And even so, I still don’t see how Proposition 11 is a “Republican power grab,” as some foes claim.

    First of all, it’s telling that Prop. 11’s supporters include not only nonpartisan groups well-versed in fair elections — such as California Common Cause and the League of Women Voters — but also prominent Democrats including former state Controller Steve Westly, former Gov. Gray Davis, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg and a slew of Democratic state and local officials and candidates who’ve bucked their party’s opposition to the measure.

    But second, and perhaps more important, the way Proposition 11 would work seems to belie any party advantage.

    The measure would take responsibility for redistricting the Assembly, state Senate and Board of Equalization away from the Legislature and give it to a 14-person commission.

    Applicants to serve on this commission, or their immediate relatives, could not in the past decade have been a political candidate for state or federal office; been a lobbyist; or contributed $2,000 or more in any year to a political candidate. The nonpartisan State Auditor‘s office would create a panel of three auditors to narrow the applicant pool to 60 — 20 Democrats, 20 Republicans, 20 of neither party — and then the two Democratic and two Republican leaders of the Legislature each would be able to strike two applicants from each of the three subsets, thus reducing the pool by a maximum of 24, from 60 to 36.

    From those remaining names, the State Auditor would then randomly draw the first eight commissioners, and those eight would pick the remaining six. But the panel would have to end up with five Democrats, five Republicans and four of neither party, and no redistricting plan could be approved without the consent of at least three Democrats, three Republicans and three of neither party.

    So how is that a Republican power grab? Sure, it takes redistricting authority away from a Legislature likely to have a Democratic majority for the foreseeable future, but it doesn’t seem to put that authority in any particular party’s hands. And just because you have a majority doesn’t mean you get to fix the game.

    UPDATE @ 3:14 P.M.: The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Alert is now reporting that the Democratic-backed campaign against Proposition 11 has paid $30,000 for a spot on a Republican slate mailer accusing the redistricting measure of having a “hidden agenda to give liberal Democrats lifetime control of Congress” even after months of arguing it’s a Republican power grab. Hypocrisy, thy name is electoral politics.