Political Law Update

Political Law Update

Public policy and election law developments

FPPC Revises Regulations Regarding Conflicts of Interest Involving Real Property

The Fair Political Practices Commission recently changed its conflict of interest regulation concerning real property owned or leased by public officials. The old rule was that if an official owned (or had a long-term lease for) property within 500 feet of a proposed decision, the official was presumed to have a rebuttable conflict of interest. Public officials could rebut the presumption by obtaining an appraiser’s or realtor’s opinion that the decision would have no financial impact on the official’s property. This was referred to as the “one penny rule,” since an official could have a conflict if the decision would have even a penny’s worth of financial impact on the official’s property.

While 500 feet is still an important standard, it is no longer a bright line test. The FPPC has eliminated the “one penny rule.” Under the new rule, an official who owns real property within 500 feet of a property that is the subject of a government decision is presumed to have a disqualifying conflict of interest and may not participate in the decision unless the official obtains a favorable FPPC advice letter stating the official does not have a conflict of interest. The FPPC has stated it expects to provide these advice letters in a timely manner.

Importantly, officials with properties beyond 500 feet are no longer presumed not to have a conflict. Officials may now have a conflict if the property is more than 500 feet away if the property is impacted by the following qualitative factors:

  1. development potential
  2. income producing potential
  3. highest and best use or
  4. the character of the parcel of real property by substantially altering traffic levels or intensity of use, view, privacy, noise levels, air quality, or any other factors that would affect market value

This new rule also includes a catchall reasonably prudent person standard, meaning that, if a governmental decision would cause a reasonably prudent person to believe that the decision would affect the market value of the official’s property, the official has a conflict. This standard applies even if the official’s property is beyond 500 feet of the proposed decision.

Finally, the new rule now treats business properties and rental properties differently from residential properties and requires an analysis as to how the decision will affect the business (rather than the real property).

The FPPC believes these revisions will provide a more realistic standard that relies more on actual analysis rather than an arbitrary circle. While this may be true, it is now more difficult and time-consuming considering the increased uncertainty regarding the inclusion of new qualitative factors to determine whether an official has a conflict of interest. In some cases, an official will require FPPC guidance before he or she knows whether a conflict of interest exists on a project.

Click here to see the FPPC’s staff memo “Determining the Material Financial Effect of a Decision on a Real Property Interest.”

Ninth Circuit Strikes Down Initiative Disclosure Requirement

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a decision with significant implications for local and statewide ballot initiative processes. In Chula Vista Citizens v. Norris, the court upheld a Chula Vista Municipal Code provision requiring official initiative proponents be “electors” (individuals) because associations do not have a Local Ballots Must Identify Whether Measures Are Proposed By Public AgencyFirst Amendment right to serve as official proponents for local ballot initiatives. On the other hand, the court struck down key provisions of the California Elections Code requiring official initiative proponents to identify themselves on the face of initiative petitions.

The court upheld the City’s Municipal Code provision requiring petition-proponent’s be “electors.” The elector requirement excludes non-natural persons, and thereby the petitioners’ association, from serving as official proponents. The court reasoned that, because serving as an official proponent is essentially a legislative act, and prior U.S. Supreme Court precedent establishes that the legal authority attaching to a legislative office is not an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment, it follows that “serving as an official proponent is not an aspect of speech within the meaning of the First Amendment.” As a result, the City could limit to individuals the ability to act as an initiative proponent.

The court invalidated the provisions of state law prohibiting anonymous circulators. Two sections of the Elections Code were at issue in this case. Section 9202(a) required initiative proponents to file and sign a notice of intent to circulate an initiative petition. In addition, section 9207 required each section of the petition to “bear a copy of the notice.” As a result, these two provisions required official proponents to disclose their identity to would-be signatories.

In striking down section 9207, the court noted that, to survive First Amendment scrutiny, the State of California must show a “substantial relation between the disclosure requirement and a sufficiently important governmental interest.” California asserted two main arguments in support of the disclosure requirement: (1) informing electors of an official proponent’s identity, and (2) “preserving the integrity of the electoral process.” The court rejected both arguments because California could not demonstrate that its asserted interests bore a “substantial relation” to the disclosure requirement. Rather, the court noted, there was no need for disclosure on the face of the petition because initiative proponents must also disclose their identities under section 9202(a) before a petition can be circulated, and any member of the public can access that information.  As a result, even if California was concerned about fraud in the initiative process, disclosure under section 9202(a) provides an effective means for addressing it.

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 >>