Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Hawaii Five-Oh-No: California Politicians Fly "Free" to Pro Bowl, Seek to Weaken State Watchdog

this is an audio post - click to play

Taking a page from the playbook of Governor Schwarzenegger, who treats California's campaign finance laws as optional when he isn't filing lawsuits against them, or possibly from resigned-in-disgrace top elections official Kevin Shelley, whose campaign took in more than $200,000 in laundered contributions, California's leading legislators have apparently decided that democracy could use a little time off.

Temporarily filling the shoes of this popular form of government: Mammon.

Rigging the System:
First off, as Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman are pushing a bill (SB25) that would force the Fair Political Practices Commission, California's campaign finance watchdog agency, to rule that apples are oranges. The details from Christian Berthelsen and Linda Gledhill of the San Francisco Chronicle:

California voters passed contribution limits for candidates in 2000. Some candidates and elected officials had holdover accounts from the previous period, when there were no limits. For some strange reason (politicians love money), these accounts were permitted to remain open.

Of course, some folks (notoriously Lieut. Governor Cruz Bustamante and State Sen. Mike Machado) swapped cash back and forth between the limited accounts and unlimited accounts. Under SB25, even if a donor writes a check to Re-Elect Wigglesworth for Dogcatcher 2006!, the FPPC must presume that the check was actually intended for my still-operative 1998 Wigglesworth Catches Dogs! committee if I, candidate Wigglesworth, have sent you a letter asking for money for the Re-Elect account.

Wouldn't it be more simple to just require that all pre-limit accounts be terminated and the excess funds distributed back to the donors?

Hawaii Five-Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh:

As in $5,000,000, which is about what Ameriquest - everybody's favorite "high risk mortgage lender" - spent on California campaigns and the 2005 Inauguration in the last year.

Never one to shy away from giving money to the people who write legislation that affects "high risk mortgage lenders", Ameriquest flew Speaker of the Assembly Fabian Nuñez and four other Democratic lawmakers to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl, on Ameriquest's nickel-and-dime, as Nancy Vogel and Dan Morain of The Los Angeles Times report. Ameriquest also paid for the legislators' hotel rooms at the $400-500/night Hawaiian Village Hilton. And for their tickets to the game. And for a meal.

The limit on gifts to state officials, including legislators, is $360 per year. It looks like Ameriquest spent upwards of $1,000 on each of these representatives of the people if the amounts cited in the story are correct. If these gifts do not run afoul of the law limiting gifts to elected officials, they darn well oughtta. Now who can we get to fix that law . . . . ?

Oh, right. They're on vacation.

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