Senate Republicans Introduce Real Ethics and Campaign Finance Reform Legislation

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Senate Republicans today introduced “The Legislative Reform and Transparency Act of 2014” to address ethics abuses by those serving in public office. The reforms respond to acts alleged to have been committed that led to the suspensions of three California State Senators: close campaign finance loopholes, prevent using campaign funds for criminal defense, toughen campaign reporting requirements, and increase penalties for lawmakers who accept bribes.

“These reforms get closer to the heart of the political corruption charges which the FBI alleges were committed by Senators Calderon and Yee,” said Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar).  "Californians deserve an honest government and shouldn’t have to question the ethics or integrity of their elected leaders.  We’re acting decisively in order to begin restoring the public’s trust. These are simple reforms and we call on Democrats to join us.”

Senate Bill 1379 is co-authored by Senate Republican Leader Huff, Senators Tom Berryhill (R-Twain Harte), Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield), Ted Gaines (R-Roseville), Steve Knight (R-Antelope Valley), Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga), Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), Andy Vidak (R-Hanford), Mimi Walters(R-Laguna Niguel) and Mark Wyland (R-San Diego.)   Highlights of the Senate Republican Ethics reform package are:

  • Doubles the sentence and restitution fines for criminal bribery by a legislator;
  • Prevents the use of campaign funds for criminal defense, which Senators Calderon, Wright and Yee are allowed to do under current law;
  • Prohibits payments to the spouse or immediate family member of a member of the Legislature for work associated with elections or service in the Legislature;
  • Eliminates unlimited contributions to candidate-controlled ballot measure committees;
  • Requires 72-hour campaign reporting

In addition, in order to further transparency, Republicans called for an up-or-down Floor vote on both Senate Constitutional Amendment 10 (Wolk D-Davis, Huff and Correa D-Santa Ana) and Assembly Constitutional Amendment 4 (Olsen R-Modesto.)   Both SCA 10 and ACA 4 require that all legislation be available in print and online for 72 hours before a final vote is taken.  Unfortunately, Democrat Leaders who control the Legislature have not allowed either measure to come up for a vote.

Quotes from Senate Republicans:

Senator Tom Berryhill (R-Twain Harte): “Serving the citizens of California is an honor. These reforms are a significant step in proving to the public that we are dead serious about creating an honest and open system.”

Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres):  “This package demonstrates we are serious about restoring trust in the Senate.  We have to take immediate action to increase transparency and close loopholes that allow bad actors to abuse the system.”

Senator Jean Fuller (R-Bakersfield): “These reforms will ensure more transparency in the political process, increase penalties for criminal bribery, and prevent the use of campaign funds for criminal defense.  While it is impossible to mandate ethical behavior, these measures are a step in the right direction.”

Senator Ted Gaines (R-Roseville): “Rather than enacting piecemeal changes that tinker around the edges, we think it’s time for permanent changes in state law.  Public officials must be held to the very highest moral and ethical principles. We were elected to represent the people and have a duty to uphold that trust. We want to make it crystal clear that breaking that trust by taking bribes or any other corrupt behavior will draw severe punishment.”

Senator Steve Knight (R-Antelope Valley): “If legislators should be held to a higher ethical standard, then the Senate needs to take swift and strong action against any Senator who violates the law and the public’s trust.  Californians expect and should receive better representation from their elected officials.”

Senator Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga): “This legislation is an effort to first and foremost protect the citizens of California as well as restore credibility to our body.  Elected officials should be held to higher standards when it comes to criminal acts like bribery or fraud. By doubling the penalties that are already on the books, we send a clear message that we have zero tolerance in these circumstances. Californians deserve more than just window dressing.”

Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber): "Public service is an honor. We must hold ourselves to the highest standards as public officials are entrusted to uphold the law and to represent our communities."

A detailed summary of SB 1379’s reforms will address acts alleged to have been committed by three Senators is attached.

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The Legislative Reform and Transparency Act of 2014

Allegation Reform
Senators Yee and Calderon are under federal indictment for conspiracy to commit bribery.

California Penal Code Section 86 reads “Every Member of either house of the Legislature, or any member of the legislative body of a city, county, city and county, school district, or other special district, who asks, receives, or agrees to receive any bribe…is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three or four years…”
Penalty Enhancement for Elected Officials: Doubles the sentence and restitution fines for criminal bribery. The new penalty would be four, six, or eight years in state prison and a fine of four to twenty thousand dollars.

Members of the Legislature should be held to a higher standard given the public trust that they hold.  
Nothing in law prevents Senators Wright, Yee and Calderon from using their regular campaign contributions for their criminal legal defense.
Campaign Funds Restrictions for Criminal Defense: Prohibits Members of the Legislature from using regular campaign funds to pay for attorneys’ fees, fines and penalties associated with criminal offenses.

Donors who contribute to a campaign account need to be aware of how it will be used, and should be asked before donating to a Members criminal defense.
 Nothing in current law prevents a Member of the Legislature from misappropriating their campaign funds by paying their spouses and children, nor is there anything in state law that specifically prohibits those who have business before the Legislature from also hiring the spouses and/or children of Members of the Legislature with implied or unspoken motives of influencing Legislation.

“The indictment specifically alleges that Ron Calderon agreed to support the new Film Tax Credit legislation in exchange for his daughter being paid $3,000 a month for a job he knew she simply did not perform… In addition to the nearly $40,000 paid to his daughter, Ron Calderon allegedly solicited from the undercover FBI agents payments that included $5,000 for his son’s college tuition and $25,000 to Californians for Diversity, a non-profit political organization operated by Tom Calderon.”
 Restrictions on Payments to Spouses and Children of Members of the Legislature:  Prohibits Members of the Legislature from using their campaign funds to pay a spouse or children, and prohibits lobbyists and their employers from influencing Members of the Legislature by providing imaginary jobs to their spouses and children related to election, campaign activity or services to the Legislature.

The law already forbids Members from enriching themselves with their campaign money. Members who pay their spouses and/or children from their campaign accounts are in essence enriching themselves.  Further, those who have business before the Legislature ought not to be able to influence legislation by hiring the spouses and/or children of Members of the Legislature for fake employment. 
Current law places restrictions on the amount of campaign contributions Members of the Legislature can receive from an individual. There are no such limits on ballot measure committee controlled by Members of the Legislature.

In the case of Senator Yee, the affidavit states: “When UCE 4773 asked if there was some way that he could contribute money “outside of this campaign”, and not have to be worried, SENATOR YEE said that UCE 4773 could contribute unlimited sums to a committee supporting a ballot measure for school funding that SENATOR YEE also supported.  SENATOR YEE explained that the ads for the measure would feature SENATOR YEE in a positive piece supporting schools and education.”
Applying Contribution Limitations to Controlled Ballot Measure Committees: Applies the existing candidate campaign contribution limits to candidate controlled ballot measure committees,and restricts expenditures from candidate controlled ballot measure committees to the ballot measure or measures for which the committee was established.

Existing donation limitations of $4100 ought to be applied to all types of campaign accounts controlled by Members.  Donors should expect that their contributions will only be used for the ballot measure in question, and not be used later for another purpose.  Otherwise, the spirit of the existing contribution limitations is undermined.  
Current law requires the 24 hour disclosure of a contribution of $1,000 or more beginning 90 days before an election.  It also requires the disclosure of contribution of $5,000 or more within 10 days during periods other than the 90 days before an election.

Without full transparency, Senators Calderon and Yee were able to hide the campaign contributions that were alleged to have been bribes.
72-hour campaign reporting:  Requires Members of the Legislature to report within three business days any campaign contribution of $1000 or more during periods other than the 90 days before an election.

The public ought to be aware of who is giving what and how much as soon a practically possible throughout the entire year and not just close to elections.
Current law allows the Legislature to write and pass bills in the dead of night without allowing the public’s knowledge.

Without full transparency, Senators Calderon and Yee were able to cast votes on legislation without the public knowing whether their vote was influenced by a bribe.
SCA 10 and ACA 4 require that all legislation be available in print and online for 72 hours before a final vote is taken.