Month: March 2009

Freshman's Bills Would Connect Lobbying Dots

 PUBLIC INFORMATION — Assemblywoman Alyson Huber (D-El Dorado Hills), has introduced two bills she says would increase public access to campaign finance and lobbying records, reports the Stockton Record. One of the freshman lawmaker's bills, AB 1274, would require the California secretary of state to do a better job of linking reported lobbying activities to specific legislation. Detailed lobbying information, while already public record, is "not organized in a way that the average citizen can figure out the information they really want to know," Huber said. "If you want to find out who is spending money to influence a piece of legislation," she said, "you have to compile it yourself." Huber's other bill, AB 1181, would force anyone who files campaign finance disclosure forms to do so on the Internet. Most do, but some are exempt. Neither bill would change basic reporting requirements or deadlines. Under her proposed lobbying bill, state officials would be required periodically to publish an online list of lobbyists who fought for or against the same...

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House Passes Shield for Journalists' Sources

FREE PRESS — A federal shield bill that would give reporters a qualified privilege to refuse to identify their confidential sources was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives tonight, reports Larry Margasak for the Associated Press. The House bill allows a court to compel a journalist to reveal confidential sources in these circumstances: To prevent an act of terrorism against the United States or its allies, prevent significant harm to national security or to identify a perpetrator of a terrorist act. To stop an imminent death or significant bodily harm. To identify someone who disclosed a trade secret, health information on individuals, or financial information that is confidential under federal laws. To identify, in a criminal investigation, someone who disclosed properly classified information that caused or will cause significant harm to national security. Even if those requirements are met, the party seeking information must establish that the public interest in compelling disclosure outweighs the public interest in gathering or disseminating...

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S.F. City Attorney Has Stimulus Oversight Panel

OPEN GOVERNMENT — San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has announced the appointment of a City Attorney's Stimulus Spending Task Force "to coordinate legal compliance by city departments, and guarantee maximum transparency, efficiency and accountability for city investments made possible by the federal government's recently enacted $787 billion economic stimulus package."  The Task Force is meant to combine the office's expertise and experience in such areas contracts and grants; Sunshine and open government; construction and public works; land use and environment; federal funds compliance; and fraud investigations and litigation.  It's been charged with scrutinizing the entire lifecycle of projects funded by federal stimulus monies—from grant applications, through federal audit processes, to final "deliverables."  The following are Herrera's appointees to the City Attorney's Stimulus Spending Task Force: * Deputy City Attorney Robert Maerz leads Herrera's Airport Team, where he serves as general counsel to San Francisco International Airport, a public enterprise with annual revenue in excess of $650 million.  Maerz will chair Herrera's task force.  An acknowledged expert in public contracting, procurement, and regulatory matters, Maerz played a key role in successfully concluding Herrera's fraud litigation against Tutor-Saliba Corp., which the City settled in 2006 for $19 million.* Deputy City Attorney Sheryl Bregman serves on Herrera's Construction Team, where she provides transactional advice on public works, including professional design and construction procurement, contracts, and prevailing wage enforcement claims.  Since joining...

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Transparent Lobbying: Will California Follow Feds?

OPEN GOVERNMENT — The Sacramento Bee carried a revealing examination Sunday of the relationship between big political donations by highly organized lobbying groups in Sacramento and—let's call it insurance.  Not so much advancing as shielding one's interests from reform efforts. As Shane Goldmacher reports, "Special interests spent a record $553 million lobbying California state government in the past two years. For them, it was money well spent." Makers of chemical fire- retardants poured in more than $9 million to kill a ban on fire-proofing chemicals in furniture that consumer groups say cause cancer. The Morongo Band of Mission Indians used $4.39 million to muscle through a gambling deal to let the tribe add thousands of lucrative new slot machines to its casino. The oil industry spent more than $10.5 million to influence the Legislature and state agencies. A 2007 industry association report touted that even in a Democratic-controlled Legislature, "of the 52 bills identified as priorities (in 2007), only three that we opposed were approved by the Legislature." Of those three, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed two. A Bee analysis of this past two-year session found the 10 highest-spending employers of private lobbyists shelled out a total of more than $70 million working the halls of state government. They rarely lost. Newspapers are able to trace these patterns because of records kept public by law.  But the Obama Administration is...

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Contractors' Rep: Proposal Threatens 'Butchery'

PUBLIC INFORMATION — "Apparently, open warfare will break out among companies vying for city contracts if San Diego City Council hands them a potentially dangerous tool: the right to request the public records of their fellow contractors," writes Rani Gupta, reporting for VoiceOfSanDiego.org. Jim Ryan of the local chapter of the Associated General Contractors told a City Council committee on Wednesday that if the council were to require that contractors comply with the California Public Records Act, companies would "use this simply as a tool to butcher their competitors." "They all get along when they come to our cocktail parties," Ryan said, "but when they're bidding against each other, they're not so friendly with each other." A proposed ordinance drafted by former City Attorney Mike Aguirre would not have covered documents related to procure the contract, though they could become public if the contractor sought to amend the contract. Ryan detailed how he would use such a policy if he were a contractor by initially refraining from seeking a city contract. Then when the company that won the contract put in a relatively minor change order, Ryan said he would use the change as an excuse to use the city policy to request documents such as salaries, benefits and the schedule of the job. He would store that away in a file. The next time the contract came up...

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