Political Law Update

Political Law Update

Public policy and election law developments

Supreme Court Invalidates Federal Aggregate Limit on Campaign Contributions

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key portion of federal campaign contribution laws this morning in McCutcheon v. Fed. Election Commission (No. 12-536). The Court’s 5-4 decision held that federal aggregate limits on contributions to candidates and controlled committees violate the First Amendment. The decision marks a second major blow by the Roberts Court to post-Watergate campaign finance laws, following the Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Fed. Election Commissionto invalidate all limits on contributions to independent committees. 

McCutcheon partnered with the Republican National Committee in his First Amendment challenge to limits on aggregate contributions to candidates and parties in the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (the “campaign contribution laws”). McCutcheon did not challenge the campaign contribution laws’ base contribution limit ($2,600 per candidate, $32,400 per year to a national party committee, etc.), which the Court had upheld in Buckley v. Valeo. Instead, he challenged the $123,200 aggregate limit on contributions during each two-year election cycle. Chief Justice Roberts authored the opinion for four justices finding that (1) the aggregate limits did not prevent circumvention of the base limits in any meaningful way, and (2) the limits were not “closely drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgement of [First Amendment] freedoms.” Justice Thomas, who would have overruled Buckley in its entirety, provided the fifth vote for the majority. 

The Federal Election Commission had defended aggregate limits by arguing that they operate hand-in-hand with base limits to prevent individuals from making base contributions to multiple candidates who, in turn, can re-contribute the money to other candidates, thus enabling money to flow from contributors to ultimate recipients in contravention of the base limits. The Court held that the aggregate limits were “poorly tailored” to this concern because (1) post-Buckley laws now provide “an intricate regulatory scheme” to track and monitor the source and destination of base contributions, and (2) recipients of contributions have “scant interest” in paying them forward. In short, the scenario of base limit circumvention the Government offered to support the laws constituted either illegal or implausible behavior. The Court reasoned that Congress could have addressed the core concern and minimized the laws’ impacts on free speech through greater restrictions on transfers, stricter disclosure requirements, or tighter control of earmarking.

 

Weekly Recap – Election News and Trends March 3, 2014

Weekly Recap - Election News and Trends from Political Law Update Blog

Below is a recap of the last two weeks’ election law news and hot topics.  The big news, which has been expected for several months now, is that Governor Jerry Brown will seek re-election.

California Gov. Jerry Brown Will Seek Re-Election by ABC News

February 27 – Governor Jerry Brown formally announces that he will seek re-election.

California Gov. Jerry Brown formally launched his re-election campaign Thursday, stepping into a contest that the former three-time presidential candidate is expected to dominate.

“At this stage of my life, I can say without any hesitation that I am prepared and excited to tackle these challenges,” said Brown, already the longest-serving governor in California history. “There is nothing I would rather do.”

…and in federal news: 

Democrats pushing IRS to probe conservatives by WND

March 4 – New proposed IRS rule changes are being criticized as targeting conservative nonprofits.

A former Federal Elections Commission chairman says there’s “strong evidence” the IRS is pushing for more scrutiny of nonprofits – and especially conservative groups – because of “partisan pressure” put on the agency by Democrats in Congress.

Clintons Provide Firepower Behind DNC ‘Voter Expansion Project’ by NPR

February 27 – Democratic National Committee has proposed a new initiative to increase voter turnout, backed by 2016 Democratic presidential nomination front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Democrats believe they’ve discovered a way to play more offense against Republican efforts that have had the effect of making it harder for many voters — especially young, senior and minority citizens — to cast their ballots. Their answer: a new initiative, announced by the Democratic National Committee at its winter meeting in Washington, aimed at countering voter ID and other laws and practices that can dampen voting.

San Diego’s next big election battle by U-T San Diego

February 22 – Congressional seat for San Diego is anticipated to be a close race and is drawing national attention from both political parties.

San Diego’s next major election is gaining a growing national profile as incumbent Democratic Rep. Scott Peters tries to hold off a well-financed challenge from Republican former City Councilman and 2012 mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio.

…and in California news:

Ethics agency releases warning letter to Gov. Brown

February 25 – The California FPPC sent warning letters to 37 politicians, including Governor Jerry Brown, that expenses covered at fundraisers at lobbyist Kevi Sloat’s house violated the ban on contributions from lobbyists.

The state ethics agency on Tuesday made public a warning letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, 10 days after it was provided to the chief executive as a caution for accepting improper contributions from a lobbyist. The state Fair Political Practices Commission sent warning letters to 37 politicians indicating the expenses covered at fundraisers by lobbyist Kevin Sloat violated the ban on contributions from lobbyists.

California lawmaker accused of corruption on leave

March 2 – California Senator Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) has taken a leave of absence from the Legislature after facing charges of accepting bribes totaling $100,000.  By taking leave rather than resigning, he will continue to receive his annual salary.  Senator Calderon is the second senator this week to take leave following Senator Roderick Wright (D-Los Angeles) leave after his conviction of perjury and voter fraud.

A California state lawmaker facing federal corruption charges alleging he took kickbacks while in office said Sunday evening he has taken an indefinite leave of absence from the Legislature while he awaits trial. The departure of Sen. Ron Calderon deprives Senate Democrats of the two-thirds margin they need in the 40-member chamber to raise taxes, pass emergency legislation, override gubernatorial vetoes and put constitutional amendments before voters without Republican cooperation.

(Double) Weekly Recap – Election News and Trends February 17 and 24, 2014

Weekly Recap - Election News and Trends from Political Law Update BlogBelow is a recap of the last two weeks’ election law news and hot topics. With Friday, February 21, 2014 being the last day to introduce legislation the trend for the last two weeks has been a flurry of new bills:

California campaign finance reporting bills on verge of governor’s desk by Merced Sun-Star

February 20 – A campaign finance reform bill has pass the State legislature and is awaiting Governor Brown’s determination.  If approved, SB 27 would require politically active nonprofits to reveal donors when they spend more than $50,000 in California elections.

A pair of bills requiring greater transparency from electioneering nonprofits are one step away from Gov. Jerry Brown. Lawmakers have sought to fortify campaign spending rules since out-of-state nonprofit groups poured $11 million into the 2012 election cycle, a flexing of financial muscle that eventually earned the entities a $1 million California Fair Political Practices Commission fine. Both the Senate and the Assembly on Thursday approved bills that would implement new rules in time for this year’s election.

Calif. Voters Could Get Shot at Restoring Bilingual Education by Education Week

February 21 – State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Los Angeles) introduced a bill that would repeal the restrictions placed on bilingual education approved by voters 16 years ago under Proposition 227.

New legislation unveiled this week in California would ask voters to revisit the controversial ballot measure that has required the state’s public schools to provide classroom instruction in English. State Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Los Angeles-area Democrat, introduced a bill that would repeal the restrictions placed on bilingual education that was approved by voters 16 years ago with the passage of Proposition 227.

Legislative proposal could change voter options by The Daily Journal

February 21 – State Assemblyman Kevin Mullin (D-South San Francisco) proposed new legislation that would allow special elections to be conducted by all-mail ballot in an attempt to encourage higher voter turnout.

Encouraging higher voter turnout during special elections and saving money is the goal of legislation introduced this week by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco. “As turnout rates in special elections reach all-time lows, I think we are overdue for a fresh look at our state’s election procedures,” Mullin wrote in a press release.

Bill would mandate council districts by Daily Pilot

February 20 – State Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina) has stated that he intends to propose new legislation (which he was required to do by Feb. 21, 2014) to require general law cities with populations of more than 100,000 to switch from citywide elections to district elections.

Legislation that could force Costa Mesa and other Orange County cities to implement geographic district-based city council elections is expected to be introduced in the state Assembly on Friday, according to a spokesman for Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina). The bill would require general law cities — meaning they are not governed by charters — with populations of more than 100,000 to switch from citywide council elections to districts.

Sen. Padilla seeks blackout period on fundraising by state lawmakers by Los Angeles Times

February 20 – State Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoma) proposed 4 new bills to prohibit campaign fundraising during the 100 days before the end of each legislative session.

State lawmakers would be prohibited from raising campaign funds for more than three months at the end of each legislative session under legislation proposed Thursday by state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima).

California bill would ban lobbyists from hosting fundraisers by The Sacramento Bee

February 12 – State Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) proposed new legislation to prohibit lobbyists from hosting fundraisers.

Reacting to this week’s announcement that a Sacramento lobbyist is paying a six-figure fine for making illegal campaign contributions by hosting lavish political fundraisers at his home, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia introduced a bill Wednesday to ban the practice.

…in addition to new legislation, State government may go through significant changes in 2014:

California Senate panel to come up with new ethics, campaign laws by Los Angeles Times

February 10 – In the wake of recent scandals including State Senator Roderick Wright’s conviction, the State Senate has created the Senate Ethics Working Group to “examine legislative and campaign finance rules in California and other states, with a view to formulating a package of reforms this session.”

With the state Legislature being rocked by scandal after scandal, the leader of the Senate has assembled a group of lawmakers to come up with recommended changes in state ethics and campaign laws, officials announced Monday.

Top-two system could force voters to work by Los Angeles Times

February 9 – Voting reforms started in 2012 will greatly impact 2014 election races that have traditionally been a Democrat versus a Republican.  Under the new top-two open primary, the top two candidates for a seat may be from the same party.  It is anticipated that nearly 1/5 of the 100 legislative contests could turn into a one-party runoff.

Voters’ brains in state general elections are programmed to choose between a Democrat and a Republican. Therefore, many Californians may be befuddled in November. They may have to work harder at their decision — not just be guided by the party label.

Why more voters are going independent in California by The Christian Science Monitor

February 20 – Since 1997, the California Democratic and Republican parties have been losing voters, with the Democratic Party dropping by 3.2 percentage points and the Republican Party dropping by 7.5 percentage points.

Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are losing ground in voter registration in America’s most populous state – following a nationwide trend. Though still reliably “blue,” California has adopted some political reforms designed to moderate partisanship in the state’s political system, and some suggest that over time those changes will make the major political parties less relevant.

Dan Walters: California’s legislative supermajorities at risk in 2014 election by San Jose Mercury News

February 12 – The State legislature’s supermajorities have been reluctant to use their power to push through liberal agendas.

Two years ago, as a collateral effect of President Barack Obama’s landslide re-election win in California, Democrats gained two-thirds “supermajorities” in both legislative houses. It sparked a torrent of private and public speculation over potential impact on legislative issues, such as tax increases and constitutional amendments, that the controlling party might pursue.

Gov. Brown, Lt. Gov. Newsom Among Lawmakers Warned Of Ethics Violations by CBS SF Bay Area

February 11 – Several state politicians, including the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, received improper donations from a Sacramento lobbyist.

Governor Jerry Brown and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom are among 40 California lawmakers being investigated over potential ethics violations, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

…the debate over the voting rights of ex-felons has triggered national attention:

Holder Endorses Voting Rights for Returning Citizens by Los Angeles Sentinel

February 20 – US Attorney General Eric Holder has joined the national debate regarding the voting rights of ex-felons by stating that prohibiting these persons from voting is wrong.  The NAACP and other civil rights organizations are working in 11 states to end this prohibition.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that laws prohibiting returning citizens from voting even after they serve their sentences are wrong. “By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes,” Holder said Tuesday at the Georgetown University Law Center in Northwest during a symposium sponsored by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

…and in local news, first-time voters, particularly Latinos, are being targeted:

Talk targets voter suppression in S.J. by Recordnet.com

February 21 – Signs have been placed around the Stockton area to discourage voters, stating in Spanish “In every election, if you vote, it is a crime.  Jail.  Fine!!! Deportation.”

It was a crudely made sign, using a mishmash of upper and lowercase letters written with a black marker with a vague threat in Spanish that could make a legally registered voter think twice before casting a ballot. At least three signs like that turned up in south Stockton during elections, according to Latino political activists who called them an attempt to discourage voters.

Weekly Recap – Election News and Trends February 10, 2014

Weekly Recap - Election News and Trends from Political Law Update BlogBelow is a recap of last week’s election law news and hot topics:

Republican Party wing creates 18 fake websites for Democrats by Los Angeles Times

February 7 – In anticipation of the 2014 election cycle, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) obtained hundreds of web addresses that appear to support democrats, and even provide donation forms, but contain fine print indicating that the website is hosted by the NRCC and is actually opposed to the named democrat.

If you support Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick’s bid for reelection, stay away from annkirkpatrick.com. The site might greet visitors with a welcoming photo of the Arizona congresswoman and a screaming “Kirkpatrick for Congress” logo, but that design belies its true agenda.

Democrats feud over California pension reform measure by Global Post

February 2 – California democrats feuding over the ballot title and summary written by California’s Attorney General (a democrat) for a pension reform initiative proposed by San Jose’s mayor (another democrat), who is arguing that the title and summary is bias and union-friendly.  The initiative would allow cities to renegotiate future benefits for current workers.  If the initiative succeeds it’s likely other states may follow its formula.

A campaign for a ballot initiative that would cut California’s public pension benefits and could become a model for other states has stalled as Democrats battle each other in America’s largest state.

More campaigns pit one political party against itself by Los Angeles Times

February 3 – Legislative races are beginning to pit the same party against each other.  Because districts are becoming increasingly partisan, the chance of knocking off an incumbent is more likely from someone in the same party rather than the opposing party.

The race to succeed Rep. Henry A. Waxman is emblematic of a fresh wave sweeping across California’s politics and, increasingly, the national landscape: intraparty fratricide as a means of upward political mobility.

Competitive California congressional races attract millions by Los Angeles Times

February 1 – California congressional campaigns are already generating millions of dollars in fundraising.

Highly competitive congressional races in California, attracting interest across the nation, were already drawing many millions of dollars in donations even before the election year began, according to new campaign reports. From the Bay Area to San Diego, at least nine candidates for the House of Representatives reported raising more than $1 million in 2013, reflecting the tight nature of the races.

California’s Democracy: Should Low-Level Felons Be Provided The Right To Vote?

Image Source: Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, nearly six million U.S. citizens are unable to vote because of a past criminal conviction. The rules regarding the rights of ex-felons to vote vary across the nation as noted on this graph by the Brennan Center. In California, every person entitled to register to vote must be a U.S. citizen, a California resident, not in prison or on parole for the conviction of a felony, and at least 18 years of age at the time of the next election. (Cal. Const. Art. II, § 4; Elections Code 2101.)

Whether low-level felons should be entitled to vote should be seen as more than a hot button issue. How fundamental is the right to vote in this country? Whose voice is entitled to be heard? Advocates for restoring the right to vote for ex-felons argue that felon disenfranchisement laws disproportionately impact the poor and minority groups. For example, 13 percent of African-American men in this nation have lost their right to vote, which is seven times the national average. In many states, millions continue to be permanently disenfranchised despite completing their sentences. Since the 1970s, this nation has vastly expanded the types of felony crimes and imposed longer and harsher sentences that result in imprisonment in our state prisons.

As further discussed in last month’s The Atlantic article by Daniel Weeks, felons can find themselves, and sometimes indirectly their families, barred from a variety of public services for the remainder of their life—food stamps, public housing, and educational benefits to name just a few.

In 2011, the California Legislature passed, and Governor Brown signed the Criminal Justice Realignment Act (CJRA) which in part created new categories of criminal justice supervision, considered as alternatives to parole. Under Penal Code section 1170(h), low-level felons are sentenced to county jail and/or supervision by the county probation department instead of state prison. Realignment also created two new legal categories of legal supervision for people convicted of low-level felonies after their release from local or state custody: (1) mandatory supervision, and (2) post-release community supervision.

As mentioned in a recent Sacramento Bee article by Christopher Cadelago, the American Civil Liberties Union and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, on behalf of the League of Women Voters and other groups, sued California Secretary of State Debra Bowen alleging voter disenfranchisement. The primary argument advanced by plaintiffs is that tens of thousands of Californians were denied their right to vote because the Secretary of State unlawfully expanded the groups not permitted to vote. Bowen had previously issued a memorandum clarifying the voting status of felons sentenced under CJRA and had made subsequent changes to voter registration forms and informational materials.

It may take a number of years to fully determine whether alignment has been a good or bad thing for our local communities. Regardless, our communities are left to address the realities and difficulties of successful re-entry and reintegration of those leaving our prisons. In America, our laws and treatment of ex-felons is creating a permanent underclass and it is those working at the local level who are left to pick up the pieces.

Perhaps it is time that more of our local officials and communities are heard on this issue and asked to join this conversation.

Weekly Recap – Election News and Trends February 3, 2014

Weekly Recap - Election News and Trends from Political Law Update BlogBelow is a recap of last week’s election law news and hot topics:

Voting-rights activists sue Debra Bowen claiming mass exclusions by The Sacramento Bee

February 4 – Voting-rights advocates sued Secretary of State Debra Bowen for voter disenfranchisement on Tuesday, claiming she blocked from the polls tens of thousands of Californians who fall under new categories of criminal-justice supervision.

California Democrats Make Minimum Wage Defining Issue In Election Year by The Huffington Post

February 4 – Democrats will focus on increasing the minimum wage during this election year.

Democrats presenting a populist economic platform have settled on a reliable and potentially potent issue heading into the elections: raising the minimum wage. With Republicans assailing their opponents over the federal health care overhaul, Democrats are tapping income inequality to roust their most fervent supporters and corral the support of middle-class voters who fret about the growing gap between the rich and poor.

2014 California Marijuana Legalization Initiative Cleared for Signature Gathering by Digital Journal

January 31 – Polls indicate that a majority of voters in California favor marijuana legalization.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris released her summary of the final version of the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act (MCLR). The first of its kind grassroots, open source, community-based document is now approved and cleared for signature gathering. MCLR can now attempt to qualify for the November 2014 California ballot.

Has California cured its political dysfunction? Not so fast by The Washington Post

January 30 – Changes to the electoral process in California, including re-drawing district lines and changes to the primary election process, have not made as big an impact as anticipated.

The federal government has been something of a train wreck lately. The shutdown was just the latest in a seemingly endless parade of partisan bickering and dysfunction.

National Commission on Voting Rights Hearing – San Francisco, California by Targeted News Service

January 28 – The National Commission on Voting Rights, whose reports have been relied on in the past by Congress to revamp sections of the Federal Voting Rights Act, is holding a hearing in San Francisco to collect testimony on current voting practices and elections.

The National Commission on Voting Rights, organized by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, is holding a hearing in San Francisco for voters, activists, elections officials and all with a stake in California’s elections. The San Francisco event is part of a series of nationwide hearings being held to collect testimony on the current landscape of voting and elections in the U.S. Over the past few years, numerous states have enacted restrictive voting laws, while many others continue to grapple with recurring election administration and electoral reform challenges.

Rep. Henry Waxman to retire from Congress by Los Angeles Times

January 30 – Congressional Representative Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) announces retirement after 4 decades in Congress.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman, whose legislative record has made him one of the country’s most influential liberal lawmakers for four decades, announced Thursday that he will retire from his Westside seat, the latest in a wave of departures that is remaking the state’s long-stable congressional delegation.

Sacramento City Clerk Rejects Petition to Put Arena Subsidy to a Public Vote by PublicCEO

January 27 – The City of Sacramento’s City Clerk rejected a submitted petition for a ballot measure on the proposed multi-million dollar public subsidy for a new Sacramento Kings area on the basis that the petition versions did not comply with the elections code.

In another twist in Sacramento’s arena derangement syndrome, a petition drive to put a public subsidy for the proposed Sacramento basketball arena project to a public vote, has been rejected by the Sacramento City Clerk.

Senator Wright Convicted of Perjury and Voter Fraud

On Tuesday, a jury convicted Senator Roderick Wright of eight felony counts for perjury and election fraud related to election residency requirements. The jury considered whether Senator Wright lied on his candidacy papers when he said he resided in Inglewood and whether he voted fraudulently. (See Los Angeles Times articles: 1/28/14 11:16 a.m. and 1/28/14 7:38 p.m.)

State law requires a candidate for the Legislature to live in the district they represent. Senator Wright completed candidacy papers in 2007 to run in the 25th Senate District, listing his residence as Inglewood, within the 25th District. But the Los Angeles County District Attorney accused Senator Wright of actually living in a home in upscale Baldwin Hills, not in the district,  while pretending to move into the Inglewood residence.

A candidate may only have one “domicile,” the candidate’s permanent principal home to which he or she returns or intends to return. In addition to lying on his candidacy papers for the office, the jury convicted Wright of voter registration fraud and voting fraudulently in five elections.

Senator Wright testified during the trial that he thought he followed the law in 2007 when he initially completed his candidacy papers and registered to vote, and that he did not intend to deceive anyone. He also testified that he moved clothes and personal items into the Inglewood home. At the time, Senator Wright was not a novice to the political process, having served in the California Assembly from 1996 to 2002 and working as an aide to other elected officials prior to his election.

The trial began on January 8th. The nine-woman, three-man jury began its deliberations on Friday, January 24th and returned a verdict on Tuesday, January 28th. Judge Kathleen Kennedy set sentencing for March 12th. Senator Wright’s attorney said that he intends to appeal.

Senator Wright could face up to eight years in prison. He remains in office now (serving in the redrawn 35th Senate District) but may be removed from the Legislature by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. Some newspapers and commentators have called on him to resign.

View the video by Sarah Hashim-Waris @sarahHwaris on Los Angeles Times

Weekly Recap – Election News and Trends January 27, 2014

Weekly Recap - Election News and Trends from Political Law Update Blog

Below is a recap of last week’s election law news and hot topics:

Press Release: Presidential Elector Initiative Enters Circulation by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen

January 22 – A new initiative has been approved for circulation which would divide California’s electoral vote for U.S. President based on each candidate’s share of the popular vote, rather than the current “winner takes all” method.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen today announced the proponent of a new initiative may begin collecting petition signatures for his measure. The Attorney General’s official title and summary for the measure is as follows:

ELECTORAL VOTES. PRESIDENTIAL AND VICE-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES. INITIATIVE STATUTE. Changes existing law which awards all of the State’s electoral votes to the presidential and vice-presidential winners of the popular vote within California, and instead divides and assigns electoral votes to the candidates according to their share of the popular vote. Requires each presidential elector to live in California. Requires Secretary of State to determine the percentage of the popular vote received by each candidate and certify to each candidate and political party the number of electoral votes won by each candidate. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: No direct fiscal effect on state or local governments. (13-0045.)

Ballot Initiatives Gone Wild by The Huffington Post

January 22 – An interesting analysis of California’s initiative process and some potential solutions for reigning in, or clarifying, new initiatives.

Here a ballot initiative, there a ballot initiative, everywhere in California a ballot initiative. How did we get here? About a hundred years ago the processes of direct democracy spread across the country. States gave their citizens the ability to directly enact laws (via the ballot initiative), to directly repeal laws (via the referendum) and to oust elected officials (via the recall). The purpose of direct democracy is to empower average citizens and decrease the power than moneyed interests may have over elected officials. Sounds quaint, doesn’t it?

Number of women dropping in California Legislature, stirring concern as election year begins by The Republic

January 26 – California has slipped from 6th in the nation in percentage of women serving in the state legislature (in 2004) to its current rank of 19th, with this rank expected to continue to decrease with each election cycle.

The California Legislature is generally regarded as a fairly progressive institution, with a sizable gay and lesbian caucus and lawmakers representing an array of racial and ethnic groups. But one group has been dropping steadily in representation for nearly a decade — women.

Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Struck Down as Judge Cites Burden on Citizens by The New York Times

January 17 – A Pennsylvania judge struck down the State’s voter ID law, ruling that the law restricted the ability of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians to vote and specifically impacting elderly, disabled and low-income residents, with the state’s argument that the law is needed to combat voter fraud not being supported by the facts.

In a strongly worded decision, a state judge on Friday struck down Pennsylvania’s 2012 law requiring voters to produce a state-approved photo ID at the polls, setting up a potential Supreme Court confrontation that could have implications for other such laws across the country.

Political corruption case grows by U-T San Diego

January 22 – Several people, including a city lobbyist, an owner of a campaign-services firm, and a former San Diego police detective, have been arrested on suspicion of helping a foreign national fund election campaigns, which is prohibited by federal law.

View the video below from U-T San Diego:

State Sen. Wright says he believed he was following election law by Los Angeles Times

January 21 – State Senator Wright took the stand last week, claiming that a modest Inglewood property located in his district was his “domicile” and an upscale home outside his district, where neighbors testified he was regularly seen, was merely for conducting business unrelated to his duties as state senator.

State Sen. Roderick D. Wright told jurors Tuesday that he thought he was doing what the law required and did not intend to deceive voters when he switched his official address to run for office.

Also see Best Best & Krieger’s BBKnowledge weekly roundup of ethics news >>

Weekly Recap – Election News and Trends January 20, 2014

Weekly Recap - Election News and Trends from Political Law Update Blog

Below is a recap of last week’s election law news and hot topics. The hot topic this week is a new bill to amend the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which is in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial ruling in Shelby Cnty. V. Holder (2013) 133 S.Ct. 2612. This bill would, among other things, amend the Voting Rights Act to require states to submit voting changes prior to implementation if five or more voting-rights violations have occurred within the last 15 years statewide, or locally within the state:

Bill offered in U.S. Congress to modernize Voting Rights Act by Reuters

January 16 – The Voting Rights Act of 1965 would be modernized under a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. Congress on Thursday in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that gutted a core part of the landmark law.

New Voting Rights Act Rewrite Would Revive Federal Oversight for Only 4 States by National Journal

January 16 – Seven months after the Supreme Court invalidated key sections of the Voting Rights Act for relying on outdated standards of racial discrimination, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday reasserting federal oversight of voting in some states. The bill, sponsored by Democrats Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. John Conyers and by Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, would amend Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act to require states to undergo preclearance changes if five or more voting-rights violations have occurred within the last 15 years in the state, or a locality within the state, with at least one violation being committed by the state itself.

…and in California Voting Rights Act news:

Visalia faces California Voting Rights Act lawsuit by ABC 30 KFSN-TV FRESNO, CA

January 16 – The City of Visalia is facing a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit to require it to switch from at-large to by-district elections.  Visalia’s population is 46% Latino but has only ever elected one Latino council member.

The City of Visalia is facing legal action from a group of people who claim the city is violating the California Voting Rights Act and doesn’t have enough Latinos on the city council.

…and with a declaration of drought state of emergency by Governor Jerry Brown, California federal, state and local politicians are looking for solutions:

January 17 – With California facing water shortfalls in the driest year in recorded state history, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today proclaimed a State of Emergency and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for these drought conditions.

As California drought looms, political division could slow solutions to a trickle by Bradenton Herald

January 16 – State and Federal legislators anticipate the introduction of several significant water bills.

A California drought will soon test lawmakers’ ability to legislate. It’s a test they haven’t always passed. But as an official California drought declaration draws closer, members of the state’s often fractious congressional delegation are maneuvering once more. A freshman House Republican from the San Joaquin Valley has been quietly trying to write water legislation. The California Republican who leads the House water and power panel will be holding hearings. Democrats have formed a new water caucus, meeting for the first time this week.

Fresno Mayor Obstructs Initiative Process to Save Water Rate Hike by PublicCEO

January 16 – The City of Fresno refused to issue a ballot title and summary for a ballot measure to stop the City’s water rate increase, and then filed a lawsuit against petitioners, and thereafter an appeal to stay the trial court’s order to issue a ballot title and summary, alleging that a core public service cannot be subject to referendum.

Fresno residents could see their water rates double, and in the process, all Californians could see their petition powers diminished, if a state appellate court doesn’t act quickly on a lawsuit to stop strong-arm tactics by the city of Fresno.

…and new candidates and initiatives continue to emerge for the 2014 election year:

Rep. George Miller’s retirement could set off musical chairs by Los Angeles Times

January 13 – Congressman George Miller (D-Calif.) has announced that he will not run for re-election after 4 decades in Congress, setting off announcements for his seat from current California legislators.

The decision of Rep. George Miller to retire when his term ends could affect the political dynamic in the state Capitol. State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) said Monday he will run for Miller’s 11th Congressional District seat. If he wins, that is likely to trigger Assembly members from the area to run for his state Senate seat, including Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord).

Garamendi rules out a run in Miller’s district by The Hill

January 15 – Congressman John Garamendi (D-Calif.) will run for re-election in his current 3rd Congressional District, rather than switching to retiring Congressman George Miller’s district, which Garamendi partially represented prior to redistricting.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) poured cold water on speculation he could switch districts to compete for retiring Rep. George Miller’s (D-Calif.) safely Democratic seat.

“I will run for reelection in the 3rd Congressional District, and I will be honored to continue representing the people of this district for as long as I am able,” Garamendi said in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday.

Proposed initiative would ban voter-passed bonds for Calif. high speed rail by News 10 ABC

January 13 – A proposed initiative seeks to ban the sale of previously approved bonds for the California bullet train project, as a recent Field Poll shows 56 percent of likely voters oppose the project.

An initiative process is underway that may put a red light on California’s high speed rail project. The measure seeks to ban the sale of voter-approved bonds for the bullet train system. Any unspent money would have to be used to pay off the debt.

Also see Best Best & Krieger’s BBKnowledge weekly roundup of ethics news >>

Weekly Recap – Election News and Trends January 13, 2014

Weekly Recap - Election News and Trends from Political Law Update BlogBelow is a recap of last week’s election law news and hot topics. The hot trend right now, which should continue for the next couple months, is the qualification of state initiatives for circulation. With only 150 days for circulation, state initiatives are streaming in to the Secretary of State’s office in order to have sufficient time to qualify for the November 2014 ballot:

Press Release: Healthcare Pricing Initiative Enters Circulation by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen

January 6, 2014 – A new initiative has been approved for circulation that would prohibit hospitals from charging more than 25 percent above the estimated cost of goods and services provided to patients.

SACRAMENTO – Secretary of State Debra Bowen today announced the proponents of a new initiative may begin collecting petition signatures for their measure. The Attorney General prepares the legal title and summary that is required to appear on initiative petitions. When the official language is complete, the Attorney General forwards it to the proponents and to the Secretary of State, and the initiative may be circulated for signatures. The Secretary of State then provides calendar deadlines to the proponents and to county elections officials.

Press Release: Term Limits Initiative Enters Circulation by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen

January 6, 2014 – A new initiative has been approved for circulation that would establish 4-year terms for county assessors, district attorneys and sheriffs, with these officers being barred from serving more than three terms.

SACRAMENTO – Secretary of State Debra Bowen today announced the proponent of a new initiative may begin collecting petition signatures. The Attorney General prepares the legal title and summary that is required to appear on initiative petitions. When the official language is complete, the Attorney General forwards it to the proponent and to the Secretary of State, and the initiative may be circulated for signatures.

Mayors cleared to get pension reform signatures by Times-Standard State News

January 8, 2014 – A new initiative has been approved for circulation that would allow California cities to renegotiate public workers’ future pensions and retirement benefits.

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and three other California mayors were cleared Tuesday to start gathering signatures to get their proposed statewide pension reform initiative on voter ballots in November. The move comes a day after Attorney General Kamala Harris issued a summary for the initiative, which would allow cities across the state to renegotiate public workers’ future pension and retirement benefits, the San Jose Mercury News reported (http://bit.ly/1fdbpXv).

Transgender rights referendum reaches next step by U-T San Diego

January 8, 2013 – Initial sampling of signatures submitted for a referendum on the transgender rights bill show enough valid signatures to proceed to the next step – a full review of all 619,244 signatures submitted.  The secretary of state’s office anticipates that this process will take approximately a month to complete.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Opponents of a new California law that spells out the rights of transgender students in public schools have cleared the next hurdle in their effort to repeal the law at the ballot box, state elections officials said Wednesday.

…and in state and campaign finances:

Brown’s Election-Year Surplus Aims at California Voters by Bloomberg L.P.

January 9, 2014 – Governor Jerry Brown’s budget seeks to satisfying his democratic constituents by increasing general-fund spending by 8.5 percent, with an increase in spending for schools, welfare and health care for the poor, while paying down $11 billing in previous deficits and setting aside $1.6 billion in reserves.

California Governor Jerry Brown, offering an election-year budget stuffed with the biggest surplus in more than a decade, has a simple message for his fellow Democrats who control the Legislature.

“A lot of Democrats want it to be Christmas,” said Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. “And Jerry Brown is telling them it’s still Lent.”

Dems target ‘stealth cash’ rules by Capitol Weekly

January 9, 2014 – Legislation is being proposed this year that would provide greater authority to the FPPC to regulate campaign finance by authorizing it to perform pre-election audits, examine campaign’ books before disclosure documents are filed and seek pre-election injunctions, among other things.

An effort to beef up campaign disclosure rules prompted by the dramatic, multimillion-dollar infusion of stealth cash into the November 2012 elections could be on the governor’s desk by the end of the month – in time for this year’s races.

“The measure comes largely in response to an $11 million flood of Republican-linked money, funneled through nonprofits, that went into the November 2012 elections some three weeks before Election Day.”

…and some interesting election litigation is concluding:

Anaheim relents, will hold election on council districts by Los Angeles Times

January 7, 2014 – The City of Anaheim settled a nearly 2 year lawsuit by agreeing to place a measure on the November 2014 ballot asking city voters whether to establish electoral districts, and whether to increase the number of council members from 4 to 6.  If approved, these changes would take effect in the 2016 City Council elections.

The city of Anaheim will ask voters to decide in November whether to create electoral districts in order to settle a voting rights lawsuit that claimed Latinos were politically disadvantaged in the city’s at-large elections. The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2012 on behalf of three residents who accused the city of violating the California Voting Rights Act. It came at a time when turbulent protests over the police shootings of two Latino men had roiled the city and exposed deep divisions between the city’s affluent communities and its less-prosperous Latino neighborhoods.

Opening statements made in Sen. Rod Wright’s voter fraud trial by Los Angeles Times

January 9, 2014 – Prosecutors made opening statements in a case against State Senator Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood), who owns a modest five-unit Inglewood apartment complex that he has owned since 1977, which he has claimed as his address since 2007 when he ran for office and from which he votes, and a single-family home in Baldwin Hills that he purchased in 2000 that the prosecution alleges is his true home.

State Sen. Roderick D. Wright (D-Inglewood) deliberately misled voters and broke the law when he took steps to run for an Inglewood-area seat several years ago, a Los Angeles County prosecutor said Thursday during opening statements in Wright’s perjury and voter fraud trial.

…and new public policy and ethics issues:

Inglewood Flouts the Law: Locked Doors, Elevators Keep Citizens from Council Meeting by CityWatch

January 7, 2014 – Members of the public were allegedly denied access to a scheduled City Council meeting in Inglewood.

The City Council Meeting slated for 10 a.m. today was held in a city hall behind locked doors and with elevators accessible only to city employees with an RFID card.