Past Bay Area ethics probes pale beside Honda’s

The allegations leveled against Rep. Mike Honda in an Office of Congressional Ethics report and made public by the House Ethics Committee on Thursday are arguably the most significant allegations any Bay Area House member has faced in decades.

The OCE in 2009 began investigating then-Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, and four other lawmakers to see whether they had violated Maryland criminal tax law and House ethics rules by intentionally filing false applications for a Maryland homeowner’s tax credit. But the Ethics Committee in 2010 cleared Stark of any wrongdoing, and blasted the OCE for conducting “an inadequate review, the result of which was to subject Representative Stark to unfounded criminal allegations.”

In 2011, the OCE investigated whether support for the wine industry by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, had benefited his campaign donors or a vineyard he owns, as described in a New York Times article. But the OCE eventually decided unanimously against further review, Thompson’s spokesman later said; because the matter was never referred to the Ethics Committee, the OCE made no announcement.

Way back in 1983, the Ethics Committee probed whether then-Rep. Ron Dellums, D-Oakland, and one of his aides had used cocaine and marijuana. A special counsel investigated and found no basis for charges, so the committee took no further action.


Lee, progressives hold hearing on drone policy

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, including the caucus’ Peace and Security Task Force Chair Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, held a hearing Wednesday on U.S. drone policy.

Predator droneAt issue were lethal drones operations abroad, questions of due process, implications for executive and congressional war-making authority, and the precedent being set as other nations rapidly adopt drone technology.

“I’m proud to stand with my colleagues in the Progressive Caucus on this issue, and am especially grateful for their efforts in calling this hearing,” Lee said in a news release. “We need to ensure that both chambers publically debate the implications of drones and drone warfare. We cannot retreat from our Congressional duties of oversight and accountability, especially on issues like this where the stakes are so high.”

Caucus members heard testimony from former House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ron Dellums, D-Oakland; Zeke Johnson, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security with Human Rights Campaign; international human rights lawyer and New York University Professor Sarah Knuckey; Chris Rogers, program officer of the Regional Policy Initiative at the Open Society Foundation; counterterrorism and human rights lawyer Professor Naureen Shah; and journalist Adam Baron. The hearing also includied video testimony from Baraa Shiban, a youth representative in Yemen’s National Dialogue and Reprieve Project.

Caucus co-chairs Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Keith Ellison, D-Minn., recently wrote a letter to President Barack Obama asking the administration to explain the legal basis for drone strikes. “It is far past time that the White House openly discuss the drones program,” the letter said. “The President has full reign to protect the United States as Commander in Chief, but Congress has a vital oversight role in this issue, and we cannot shy away from those responsibilities.”


Dellums a Democratic sellout? Not really.

There’s no denying Ron Dellums ended his Oakland mayoral term last year under a cloud, his long legislative legacy having lost some of its luster, but new criticism that he has “sold his soul” by working for a former GOP congressman’s company seems like a stretch.

KTVU reported that Dellums, 75, a lifelong Democrat and a liberal lion during his decades in the House, has gone to work for Watts Partners, a lobbying and consulting firm co-founded and chaired by former Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla.

“It feels that he’s betrayed the party. He’s betrayed the public. He’s betrayed his ideals,” KTVU quoted Democratic activist and former Oakland City Council candidate Nancy Sidebotham as saying. “The bottom line with the economy the way it is today you’ve got to look for where the dollars going to come in and he’s hurting for money and that’s why he sold his soul.”

But while Watts and Elroy Sailor, the firm’s co-founder and CEO clearly are Republicans – Sailor worked for Republicans including Michigan Gov. John Engler and U.S. Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich. – there were Democrats on the firm’s senior staff long before Dellums joined up, bolstering the firm’s home page’s boast of “over 100 years of bipartisan experience.”

For example, managing partner Steve Pruitt previously worked as a senior aide and committee staff director for House Budget Committee Chairman and Majority Whip William Gray III, D-Pa. Senior advisor Tammy Boyd worked for Democrats including Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. And senior associate Jaimon Jackson formerly worked for Democrats including Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Md., and Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening.

Considering that Dellums went stumping for President Obama in 2008 (albeit only after having endorsed Hillary Clinton in the primary), hiring him seems like a strategically sound choice for further beefing up Watts’ firm’s Democratic connections.


Ron Dellums to sit for live TV interview Monday

Outgoing Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums will sit down Monday evening with Bay Area journalism icon Belva Davis for a live conversation about his term of office, and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the city.

The interview will be broadcast live at 7 p.m. Monday on KTOP-TV Channel 10, Oakland’s government-access television station; it’s available to all Comcast Cable and AT&T U-verse subscribers. It can also be viewed as a live stream on the City’s web site.

The interview will then be rebroadcast at 3:30 p.m. next Thursday, Dec. 9; 8 p.m. next Friday, Dec. 10; and 5:30 p.m. next Saturday, Dec. 11.


Prop. 8, Ron Dellums and Prop. 209 on ‘TWINC’

I was on KQED’s “This Week in Northern California” on Friday night to discuss the big court decision on the constitutionality of Proposition 8’s ban on same-sex marriage; other topics included Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums’ decision not to seek re-election, and the California Supreme Court’s ruling on San Francisco’s challenge to Proposition 209’s ban on affirmative action in public institutions.


Oakland’s Budget Crisis: The Movie

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, whose seeming lack of public engagement in the city’s budget crisis and impending police layoffs has left some nonplussed, last week uploaded these videos in which he’s being briefed on the crisis by his staff:

What do you think – is this a mayor who’s adequately on top of the problem? Are these videos an appropriate and adequate way to communicate the problem’s parameters to the public, and to guide the process of solving the problem?

KTVU Channel 2’s Randy Shandobil aired a piece on Dellums’ apparent lack of engagement last night, and it sounds as if the often-prickly mayor had his dander up. It’ll be interesting to see what he has to say at today’s news conference; watch for our report from city hall reporter Kelly Rayburn…