By Laura-Lynne Powell and Gianna Cruet
Jodi Remke, chair of the Fair Political Practices Commission, addressed the Sacramento Press Club on Monday and described the system that monitors money and its influence in California politics as in need of serious update.
“It’s time to hit the refresh button,” she said about the Political Reform Act, a 1974 initiative championed by Gov. Brown who was then Secretary of State. Calling it “justly hailed as landmark,” Remke said subsequent legislative changes, ballot initiatives and other influences have made the law “cumbersome, complex and…inefficient.”
Inconsistencies in the rules are often used to justify violations, she said.
The commission has begun a process to streamline and simplify the Act by partnering with the non-profit California Forward, which is working with teams from the law schools of UC Berkeley and UC Davis. They hope a rewrite will make it easier to understand and follow without weakening its disclosure requirements, Remke said.
Remke was relaxed while addressing the club’s members gathered at the Capitol Plaza ballroom, yet, she remained focused on promoting and achieving the three goals she set for herself when Gov. Brown appointed her as chair in 2014: 1) strict enforcement of serious violations; 2) improving transparency and agency efficiency through technology; 3) increasing compliance with the law. She said the commission has made progress on all three.
Among headline-making cases the FPPC has prosecuted, for example, was the state’s first foreign money violation. It resulted in a $61,500 fine against the porn industry for accepting donations from sources in Cyprus and Luxembourg to fight a Los Angeles County ballot measure to require adult film actors to wear condoms.
The number of prosecutions approved by the commission in 2015 matched the number in 2014, which was a record high year. “We’re sending a message,” Remke said, and that’s what the commission intends to keep doing with stricter disclosure rules. The FPPC plans to enact a new rule that requires lobbyists and their employers to more thoroughly describe payments that typically fall into the “Other Payments” category. For example, Remke said “90 percent” of Western States Petroleum Assn.’s lobbying payments, which exceeded $9 million in 2015, were categorized as “other payments to influence” and not further detailed.
The timing of Remke’s talk to the Press Club during an election year allowed her to stress that transparency and disclosure matter most before votes are cast. Referencing this year’s races that are underway, she said, “Our enforcement division is fully staffed and ready.”