Our Common Good

gilmoure:

== California’s three-part citizen rebellion ==

The stunning event was a triple whammy that swept California a few years ago, when voters rose up and voted-in a trio of constitutional changes that would:

(1) end gerrymandering and require impartial redistricting

(2) turn the general election into a run-off between the top two vote-getting candidates in the primaries, regardless of parties

(3) make those primaries open, so that all voters could pick among all candidates, choosing the pair in each race who would run-off in the fall.

2012 was the first year with clear results, which were unexpected and epochal because of how the three reforms interplay.

With the Bera-Lungren race called, five House races — in Arizona, California, Florida, North Carolina and Utah — remain unresolved. The Democratic candidate leads in each race.

An $11-million campaign donation that was secretly routed through an obscure Arizona group might have hurt the conservative effort in California on election day more than it helped, Republican operatives say.

The money went to oppose Gov. Jerry Brown's tax hikes, Proposition 30, and push a ballot measure to curb unions' political fundraising, Proposition 32. Voters approved the governor's tax plan and rejected the proposal to reduce labor's influence in California politics.

Some people behind the conservative campaigns now have second thoughts about the money’s effect.

"At the end of the day, it was a significant distraction that took us off our campaign message," said Beth Miller, a spokeswoman for the Small Business Action Committee, which received the controversial $11 million.

Brown attacked the donation during many of his stump speeches, accusing “shadowy forces” of trying to undermine California’s schools. If his tax plan failed, nearly $6 billion would have been cut from the budget, mostly from public schools.

[…]

The furor over the money became one of the most closely watched sideshows in the final days before the Nov. 6 election.

State authorities sued the Arizona group, Americans for Responsible Leadership. The nonprofit group eventually named its contributors, but the mystery only deepened — the contributors were identified only as other nonprofits, which keep their donors secret.

Aaron McLear, a Republican strategist who worked against the tax plan, said Brown was successful in turning the controversy into a campaign issue.

[…]

Americans for Responsible Leadership did not admit any wrongdoing when it disclosed its contributors as other nonprofits. One of them, also located in Arizona, has been tied to Charles and David Koch, billionaire energy executives and Republican donors.

California officials are pushing forward with an investigation into who gave the money and are considering civil and criminal penalties for what they called “campaign money laundering.”

"It ain’t over," state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris said in a recent speech. “It wasn’t over on election day and we’re going to keep pushing it through.”

If the future happens first in California, the Republican Party has a problem.

The nation’s most populous state — home to 1 in 8 Americans — has entered a period of Democratic political control so far-reaching that the dwindling number of Republicans in the Legislature are in danger of becoming mere spectators at the statehouse.

Democrats hold the governorship and every other statewide office. They gained even more ground in Tuesday’s elections, picking up at least three congressional seats while votes continue to be counted in two other tight races — in one upset, Democrat Raul Ruiz, a Harvard-educated physician who mobilized a district’s growing swath of Hispanic voters, pushed out longtime Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack.

The party also secured a supermajority in one, and possibly both, chambers in the Legislature.

"Republican leaders should look at California and shudder,” says Steve Schmidt, who managed John McCain’s 2008 campaign and anchored former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s re-election team in 2006. “The two-party system has collapsed.”

Another loss for Karl Rove’s American Crossroads GPS.

The race in California’s 36th congressional district shouldn’t have been close. Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack hung onto the seat for six terms (after gaining it in a special election when her husband Sonny Bono, who had previously held the seat, died). Her Democratic opponent, emergency room physician Raul Ruiz, is a political neophyte; plus he was recently confronted with a politically unsavory bit of his past: a tape of him reading a letter of support of Leonard Peltier, a Native American convicted of murdering two FBI agents in 1977.

But Ruiz won, by three percentage points, after counting went into overtime last night and today.

[…]

Ruiz supports the Affordable Care Act, and Obama’s plan to cut Medicare costs, not by voucherizing, but by allowing the program to negotiate for lower drug prices and cutting fraud. He wants federal dollars to help underwater homeowners, and to promote new industries like health care research and green energy. Like Obama, Ruiz calls for a 30 percent tax on millionaires.

Ruiz’s campaign withstood some brutal attacks by Bono Mack. Her campaign leaked information to The Desert Sun on Ruiz’s arrest during in his med school days—on a disorderly conduct charges during a “Day of Mourning” protest of Thanksgiving (the charges were dropped). Then came that tape in support of Peltier.

But the attacks didn’t work. Neither did the money. Mack had about a quarter more cash than Ruiz, not factoring in outside spending from groups like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads GPS. Ruiz received more than twice as much as Bono Mack from small contributors.

As the son of farmers from Coachella Valley, Ruiz’s personal story jibes with that of many of his constituents. “I’m not a politician,” he told the Press-Enterprise in October. “I’m a citizen candidate who really listens and respects this district. The momentum is definitely on our side.”

Arizona-based Americans for Responsible Leadership, having lost in California courts all the way to the Supreme Court, abandoned its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and revealed the true source of its $11 million contribution to a California initiative campaign.

The source of the money was the Koch-backed Americans for Responsible Leadership. It passed the money through another PAC, Center to Protect Patient Rights, based in Arizona. This is a 501(c)(4) non-profit “social welfare organization,” whose principal concern is the welfare of billionaires. Eventually, the money passed to Americans for Job Security. The money has been used to oppose Proposition 30 (education funding) and to promote Proposition 32 (hobbles union political spending).

California FPPC News Release

Sacramento - Americans for Responsible Leadership, the Arizona non-profit corporation that made an anonymous $11 million donation to a California campaign committee, today sent a letter declaring itself to be the intermediary and not the true source of the contribution. It identified the true source of the contribution as Americans for Job Security, through a second intermediary, The Center to Protect Patient Rights. Under California law, the failure to disclose this initially was campaign money laundering. At $11 million, this is the largest contribution ever disclosed as campaign money laundering in California history.

"The persistence and hard work of the FPPC has won a significant and lasting victory for transparency in the political process," said Ann Ravel, Chair of the FPPC. "We will continue in this matter and all others to ensure that the people of California know who is funding political activity in this State."

California’s Political Reform Act requires disclosure to the people of California of the true source of campaign donations. This information is required in most cases before the election, when it matters. The Act requires those who serve as intermediaries, or middlemen, for contributions to disclose their true source to the recipient of the contribution.

Americans for Job Security has ties to many GOP noteworthies, including Rove’s Crossroads GPS.

More coverage of this:

Road map of contributions in Arizona nonprofit case

The actual donors behind the $11 million that landed in California’s initiative battles last month remain a mystery, but two more layers became known Monday when the Arizona nonprofit in question revealed two other opaque nonprofits that routed the money its way.

Based on letters and campaign finance records, the money trail went like this:

On or before Oct. 15: Alexandria, Va.-based Americans for Job Security gave $11 million to Phoenix-based The Center to Protect Patient Rights.

Oct. 12 and Oct. 15: The Center to Protect Patient Rights served as an “intermediary” and gave $11 million to Phoenix-based Americans for Responsible Leadership.

Oct. 15: Americans for Responsible Leadership gave $11 million to the Small Business Action Committee PAC No on 30/Yes on 32.

California officials consider civil, criminal action in mystery donation case

California regulators and attorneys said today they are seriously weighing next steps - including criminal charges - against parties involved in the $11 million contribution whose known trail leads through three different out-of-state nonprofits.

A lawyer for Americans for Responsible Leadership, the Arizona-based donor at the center of the controversy, appeared to acknowledge the possibility of future legal action in a letter he filed this morning with the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

Attorney Michael D. Bopp wrote that while new disclosures from Americans for Responsible Leadership and The Center to Protect Patient Rights may relate to state codes banning hidden intermediary contributions, the groups do not admit wrongdoing.

California’s Biggest “Campaign Money Laundering” Scheme, Revealed—Kinda

California’s elections watchdog has been fighting for weeks to unmask a secretive group that gave $11 million to defeat Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s temporary tax increase to fund schools, and to pass Proposition 32, which would kneecap state labor unions. That battle ended Tuesday morning in something of a stalemate.

Americans for Responsible Leadership, the Arizona nonprofit that made the $11 million donation, had refused demands by California’s Fair Political Practices Commission to name its donors. So the state watchdog sued ARL, and judges agreed that ARL needed to fess up. ARL relented Tuesday, but its response is far from satisfying: ARL’s $11 million originally came from…another shadowy group called Americans for Job Security, which is run out of an office in Alexandria, Virginia. To complicate matters more, Americans for Job Security had funneled the $11 million through a third nonprofit, the Center to Protect Patient Rights, before it finally landed in ARL’s coffers.

Think of it as a daisy chain of secret money. The Fair Political Practices Commission described the scheme as the largest case of “campaign money laundering” in California’s history. Money laundering is a misdemeanor in California, according to FPPC’s chair Ann Ravel. (The state attorney general has the power to take action against ARL.) But the real source of the money, the individuals or corporations that first gave it, remains a mystery. Disclosure, in other words, is not transparency.

Here’s what we know about Americans for Job Security and the Center to Protect Patient Rights. Founded in 1997, AJS is a nonprofit currently run by a little-known Republican operative named Stephen DeMaura. The group runs ads backing GOP candidates and does not disclose its donors. In 2008, staff attorneys at the Federal Election Commission found "reason to believe" that AJS violated the law by not registering as a political committee, but the FEC’s three GOP commissioners blocked any action against the group.

The Center to Protect Patient Rights, as first revealed by the Center for Responsive Politics, is an ATM for conservative nonprofit groups backing Republican candidates at the state and federal levels. The group doled out $44 million in 2010 to the likes of Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the Club for Growth, and Americans for Prosperity. Those recipients all went on to slam Democrats and boost GOPers in the 2010 elections.

Who funds the Center to Protect Patient Rights is a mystery: As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, the group does not name its donors. CPPR raked in $13.7 million in 2009, according to tax filings, but said in those same filings that it did not spend any money on fundraising in 2009.

CPPR is said to have ties to billionaires Charles and David Koch and their network of conservative donors. Sean Noble, who runs the group, spoke at a 2010 Koch donor conference; Politico has called Noble a “Koch operative” and the Los Angeles Times described him as a “key operative in the Kochs’ political activities.” However, no direct connection between CPPR, the Kochs, or their donor network has been established.

Even as it hailed forcing Americans for Responsible Leadership to reveal the trail of secrecy behind its $11 million donation, California’s Fair Political Practices Commission admitted the victory was bittersweet. “This case also demonstrates the need for reform to make sure true donors are disclosed and can’t hide behind innocuous committee names,” said Ann Ravel, the FPPC’s chair. “The people of California deserve better.”

After contacting more than 350 voters sampled at random, a California newspaper says it found 30 people in a single county whose party affiliation was switched to Republican without their consent.

Reporters with The Press-Enterpriseexplained on Sunday that they began interviewing voters after noting a huge surge of Republican voter registrations, including about 4,800 people who’d changed their affiliation to Republican.

“But voter interviews suggest that the per-registration bounty program, bankrolled by wealthy activists and large business interests, encouraged some signature gatherers to cut corners,” they wrote.

Voters told the paper they they never consented to being registered Republican, and some of them claimed they didn’t even know they were registering to vote. Some claimed their information was taken after they were asked to sign a petition, while others said they believed the forms were to sign up for doing poll work on Election Day. One person even said that they were promised a job in exchange for personal information, only to have a Republican voter registration arrive in the mail weeks later.

The story seems to confirm claims by California Democrats in Riverside County, who say that a Republican voter registration operation is wrongly adding voters to the Republican rolls to build the appearance of an advantage. That group, The Golden State Voter Participation Project, was targeted last month by the Riverside County Progressive Political Action Committee, which filed an official complaint with the county’s registrar of voters.

That complaint contained affidavits from 133 more Democratic voters who say their affiliation was flipped — including two top aides to retired Air Force Major General Jeff Miller, a Democrat running for the California state senate. Many of those voters shared stories similar to what was relayed to The Press-Enterprise, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting’s California Watch. Voters claim they were offered free cigarettes, or even a job, in exchange for signing some quick paperwork.

Discussing this with an acquaintance last night, he asked why it mattered since the voter can still vote Democrat once in the polling booth.  He thought it might actually help with the narrative that more Republicans were voting Democratic.

The narrative part might be true, but it only works after the election and only  if the people actually vote.  Before then, a different narrative is out that Republican registrations are up and that Democrats are switching to the Republican Party.  That one helps the Republicans when it counts - before the vote.

Maybe more importantly, the parties put a good deal of effort into contacting registered voters  -  urging them to vote, asking them to help GOTV and offering things like rides to the polls if needed.  Democrats won’t be contacting Democrats accidentally or purposefully registered as Republicans.  So it is a big deal.

latimes:

Sons of farmworkers vie for seats in Congress: Congressional campaigns by the children of farmworkers point to Latinos’ growing political clout in California’s rural areas.

Sunburned, muddy and aching, Jose Hernandez was flopped in the back seat of the family’s old Mercury with his brothers and sister when his father asked about their day in the fields, picking cucumbers.
“Tiring,” Hernandez, just a boy at the time, recalled answering. “My father said, ‘Good! I’m not going to force you to go to school or get good grades or go to college. But if you don’t, you know what your life is going to be like.’”

Photo: Jose Hernandez was raised in the Central Valley farm fields and grew up to become an astronaut. He’s running for Congress as a Democrat. Credit: Jim Grossmann / NASA

Remember when the California Republican Party sued to try and keep Hernandez from describing himself as an “astronaut/scientist/engineer” on the ballot?  Luckily they lost that one.  Here is the link to his website in case you are in the area and want to donate or volunteer.

latimes:

Sons of farmworkers vie for seats in Congress: Congressional campaigns by the children of farmworkers point to Latinos’ growing political clout in California’s rural areas.

Sunburned, muddy and aching, Jose Hernandez was flopped in the back seat of the family’s old Mercury with his brothers and sister when his father asked about their day in the fields, picking cucumbers.

“Tiring,” Hernandez, just a boy at the time, recalled answering. “My father said, ‘Good! I’m not going to force you to go to school or get good grades or go to college. But if you don’t, you know what your life is going to be like.’”

Photo: Jose Hernandez was raised in the Central Valley farm fields and grew up to become an astronaut. He’s running for Congress as a Democrat. Credit: Jim Grossmann / NASA

Remember when the California Republican Party sued to try and keep Hernandez from describing himself as an “astronaut/scientist/engineer” on the ballot?  Luckily they lost that one.  Here is the link to his website in case you are in the area and want to donate or volunteer.

The Religious Right is vowing to sue the State of California, claiming their First Amendment religious liberties are being attacked, in response to a California law Governor Jerry Brown over the weekend finally signed banning so-called “ex-gay,” “conversion,” or “reparative” therapy on LGBTQ children to try to turn them straight. The Liberty Counsel, which since 2006 has supported s program of ex-gay therapy, along with NARTH, the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, and the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) are all claiming they will sue the state of California, in separate lawsuits.

Formal complaints filed with the state by at least 133 residents of a state Senate district there say they were added to GOP rolls without their knowledge, calling into question the party’s boast that Republican membership has rocketed 23% in the battleground area.

More than 27,700 residents of the legislative district have become Republicans since January, according to the California secretary of state’s office — erasing a registration edge long held by Democrats.

The complaints have also shined a light on the political committee behind the registration drive, Golden State Voter Participation Project, and its biggest donor, wealthy GOP activist Charles Munger Jr. Other donors include the California Apartment Assn., Farmers Group Inc. and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing of America.

The problem has also raised anew the question of whether the state should ban firms that pay workers for each voter they register or signature they secure on a petition rather than paying them an hourly rate. Workers have an incentive to cut corners under such arrangements, according to Assemblyman Richard Pan (D-Natomas), who has proposed barring the practice in a bill that is on the governor’s desk.

Democrats say bogus registrations are more than just an issue of workers trying to make an extra buck — that they’re a trick to prevent the Democratic party from getting supporters to the polls as well as to draw more money to the area’s Republican races. A statewide Democratic group gathered the complaints and filed them with the secretary of state’s investigators.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney came to the Golden State for a two-day series of high-profile fundraisers and reportedly took a shot at California in front of a $25,000 a ticket crowd in Del Mar.

Romney “took a pretty big shot at California,” according to a pool reporter.

“He said that under President Obama we’re becoming a lot more European and that the state of California was something he didn’t want to see the rest of the U.S. look like in a few years,” a pool reporter related.

breakingnews:

California wildfire prompts evacuation of Angeles national forest
AP: A wildfire that broke out in the Angeles national forest has cut short the Labor Day holiday weekend for thousands of visitors to the park.
The fire broke out near a campground Sunday afternoon and quickly grew to 3,600 acres, or about five and a half square miles. It sent a huge cloud of smoke that could be seen from the coast to the desert inland.
Photo: A sky crane helicopter flies past a plume of thick smoke rising from the hills above San Gabriel mountains in the Angeles National Forest, California. (REUTERS / Gene Blevins)

breakingnews:

California wildfire prompts evacuation of Angeles national forest

AP: A wildfire that broke out in the Angeles national forest has cut short the Labor Day holiday weekend for thousands of visitors to the park.

The fire broke out near a campground Sunday afternoon and quickly grew to 3,600 acres, or about five and a half square miles. It sent a huge cloud of smoke that could be seen from the coast to the desert inland.

Photo: A sky crane helicopter flies past a plume of thick smoke rising from the hills above San Gabriel mountains in the Angeles National Forest, California. (REUTERS / Gene Blevins)

Caleb Douglas Hesse, a teacher for the Morongo Unified School District since 1987 (most recently, he was teaching first grade at Friendly Hills Elementary School in Joshua Tree) and a longtime youth volunteer with the virulently homophobic Evangelical Free Church of Yucca Valley, has confessed to sexually abusing “numerous underage boys,” with authorities believe the crimes occurred between the early 1980’s and as recently as a week ago.” Investigators say Hesse met the majority of the victims during overnight outings with a youth group at the Evangelical Free Church

The Sun Belt remains an economic, political and cultural force. But the 40th Republican National Convention is a sign that the Republicans’ grip on it is loosening. The nominations of Mitt Romney and Paul D. Ryan could mark the end of an era.