Ravel talks about FPPC's plans for tracking political money
March 14, 2013
California Fair Political Practices Commission chairwoman Ann Ravel spoke to The Bee's editorial board Thursday about how she plans to use the remainder of her tenure tracking money in California politics.
The FPPC has its eye on a few bills that could bolster the 1974 Political Reform Act, which lays out the contours of the FPPC's authority. Ravel said it is focused in particular on bills by Assemblyman Roger Dicksinon, D-Sacramento, Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, and Assemblyman Richard Gordon, D-Menlo Park, that would tighten disclosure requirements.
The language in those bills is still developing, but Ravel said she is interested in measures that could require more information about "independent expenditures," the third-party dollars that have flooded into elections in the last few years, and more clearly define what it means to say those independent organizations are prohibited from "coordinating" with campaigns.
Conflict-of-interest laws are another area Ravel said she would like to work on, dubbing the area a "mess" given the often confusing and contradictory rules governing what constitutes a conflict.
"Some of the rules have been interpreted, because they're not so clear, by advice letters, and the advice letters are conflicting," Ravel said.
The FPPC has also reached out to attorneys general in several other states - including New York, Montana, Iowa, Idaho, Maine and Washington - about forming a consortium that could share data and ideas about campaign finance. The coalition could also function "as some sort of a pressure group on the federal government, potentially," Ravel said.
In the interest of better transparency, Ravel would like to implement a searchable online database that makes it easier to comb through campaign spending. She said the FPPC's current method of scanning paper forms is "a terrible, antiquated system," adding that her ambition is to have Form 700s filed by public officials online (700s require lawmakers to report gifts, investments and income).
Two new members are set to join the FPPC board, both of them with ties to Democratic politics: Patricia Wynne, who currently works for the California State Treasurer's Office and has also served in the Attorney General's office and the state Senate; and Oakland attorney Eric Casher.
A spokesman for Common Cause raised concerns to The Bee that Casher has raised money for President Obama and for California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Ravel dismissed those criticisms as "unfair and uncalled for," saying Casher is now obligated to abstain from political activity - including giving any donations to a candidate who appears on the ballot in California. She called his experience in the world of political campaigns a benefit for the FPPC.
"He may be a very thoughtful, analytical and totally unbiased individual. I don't think that you can presume, just because he was a supporter of Obama's and the attorney general's, that he's going to be otherwise," Ravel said.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has faced scrutiny for his donations to nonprofits that were seen as advancing his agenda. Johnson was subsequently fined by the FPPC for failing to report the donations. Ravel noted that the Political Reform Act does not prohibit those types of donations, although it does require disclosure.