California Fair Political Practices Commission head hails from Camarillo


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Source: Ventura County Star/Arlene Martinez

As a student at Camarillo High School in the early 1990s, Richard Miadich was on the mock trial team. He remembers competing at the Ventura County Government Center, the powerhouse La Reina team as good then as it is today.

Miadich (pronounce it as though it has no "i," he suggested) doesn’t remember beating La Reina, exactly, but “I think we held our own, let’s put it that way.”

He’s been holding his own ever since, first as a successful attorney arguing before the state’s highest court, and then as a member of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s transition team.

Richard C. Miadich, who graduated from Camarillo High, has just been appointed chair of the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

On May 1, Miadich, 43, became the chair of the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission. Newsom appointed the UC Davis law graduate to the four-year term.

Miadich was also co-author of Proposition 64, a voter-approved ballot initiative that legalized recreational marijuana in California. 

The FPPC oversees the Political Reform Act, which regulates "campaign financing, conflicts of interest, lobbying, and governmental ethics," its website states. It is there to ensure public officials are transparent about fundraising, what lobbyists are spending and to ensure taxpayer dollars aren't spent on promoting a particular interest. 

“It plays a vital interest in protecting the integrity of our political processes,” Miadich told The Star in an interview this week.

His goal in the new post is to ensure rules around campaigning are clear and easy to follow, and are set up to encourage newcomers to join the political process. 

Miadich said he'll also be looking at modernization. He said the FPPC needed to anticipate how new communication channels were being used in campaigns and proactively come up with ways to regulate them.

When the Political Reform Act passed in 1974, voters wanted to rein in special interests, learn who was receiving money and who was giving it. Social media, texts and other ways to communicate weren't anywhere on the radar.

A goal is to provide voters with, as much as possible, real-time information, he said.

Others who closely track campaign spending are also hoping the FPPC gets greater authority to go after those who violate campaign finance laws. Shortfalls in existing campaign finance rules.

Shortfalls in existing campaign finance rules

A bill making its way through the Legislature would do just that. Assembly Bill 1306 would allow the FPPC to fine any person up to $1,000 for each day he or she used public funds for a "campaign activity." 

It would also recover three times the value of the public money, which an agency's general fund would recoup. 

Both the California Taxpayers Association and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association support the bill. 

“Right now, one of the problems is, they’re limited in what they can do after they find someone guilty. The punishment is pretty lax,” CalTax spokesperson David Kline said.

The organization receives numerous complaints from taxpayers who say local agencies are using tax dollars to promote ballot measures, he said. 

“We have challenged this illegal spending and strive to increase public awareness, but in the absence of adequate enforcement mechanisms the practice has grown in popularity,” CalTax wrote in a letter  to the state Assembly supporting the bill.

Kline said the FPPC had gotten more vocal in enforcing the laws. It's the relatively minor fines that are the problem.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association had no opinion on Miadich's appointment but said it looked forward to continuing to work with FPPC.

"We wish we didn't have to advocate for FPPC having greater enforcement, but if district attorneys aren't going to step up and prosecute, some agency has to take the lead," said David Wolfe, HJTA's legislative director. 

Under the Political Reform Act, the FPPC can issue a fine for failure to disclose spending, but it's up to district attorneys to go after the crimes of using public dollars to, for example, promote sales taxes and bonds. San Francisco. 

In a high-profile case, the FPPC fined Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) $7,500 for using public money to promote a $3.5 billion bond. A state senator in the area called for the state attorney general to investigate the matter. 

Wolfe said the fine is a "slap on the wrist and won't curtail the activity." 

The Howard Jarvis association doesn't blame FPPC for that but does support it having more authority, he said. He said the bill was good bipartisan legislation. 

Miadich said returning the public's money was of high importance.

A fan of political process

After graduating from Camarillo High, Miadich followed his love for history to UCLA, where he graduated with bachelor's degrees in political science and history. After graduating from law school at UC Davis, he began practicing law related to elections, campaign finance and constitutional law, among other areas. 

At the time of his appointment, Miadich was managing partner at OIson Hagel & Fishburn, where he had worked since 2005. 

"Among other things, Miadich successfully litigated a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit which struck down several Illinois ballot access laws that unlawfully discriminated against independent candidates," a release from the FPPC states.   

He also helped agencies develop state and local ballot measures.

A developer wants to build 300 homes on part of what's now the Camarillo Springs golf course. Plans also call for keeping links open.

The firm's clients included both those accused of violating campaign finance laws and those accusing agencies of violating the laws.

Miadich is taking over a busy agency. In 2018, the FPPC received 1,352 complaints and 1,529 referrals, which could have come in from other agencies, city clerks, county clerks, the Secretary of State's Office and others, according to a spokesperson.

Though Miadich never returned to Camarillo after graduating high school, his parents are still there and a sister is also in the region. 

He said he enjoys visiting the close-knit community and hasn't ruled out one day returning. But for now, he said he plans to take things a day at a time in his new post.