Freshman's Bills Would Connect Lobbying Dots

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 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 bills.

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House Passes Shield for Journalists' Sources

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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 information.

S.F. City Attorney Has Stimulus Oversight Panel

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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 the office in 1995, she has represented the City in numerous litigation and administrative hearing matters, and has drafted legislation governing public works contracting, false claims and contractor debarment.
* Deputy City Attorney Ronald Flynn serves on Herrera's Complex and Special Litigation Team.  An experienced trial lawyer who has overseen complex litigation matters in federal and state courts, Flynn has worked on a number of large litigation matters involving allegations of public works fraud.  He also serves on Herrera's Affirmative Litigation Task Force, which investigates and files suit on matters involving consumer protection, public health and other important public policy priorities.
* Deputy City Attorney Andrew Shen serves on Herrera's Ethics Team.  A specialist in conflict of interest, government ethics and open government law, Shen serves as legal counsel to San Francisco's Ethics Commission, Elections Department and Elections Commission.  He has developed citywide training materials for the office's Sunshine and Ethics Training for city officials and employees, and is co-editor of the City Attorney's Good Government Guide.
* Policy and Grants Manager Cynthia Caporizzo serves on Herrera's Children and Family Services Team.  Caporizzo is an authority on federal and state grant programs, with expertise ranging from grant solicitation and implementation processes to audit and compliance issues.  She helped establish and oversee implementation of the Clinton Administration's $8 billion COPS program in the U.S. Department of Justice, and specialized in criminal justice grants under former Mayor Willie Brown.
* Assistant Chief Investigator George Cothran serves on Herrera's Investigations Team.  An accomplished investigative reporter prior to his career in public sector investigations, Cothran led the inquiry that uncovered an elaborate national scam to defraud the federal E-Rate program intended to benefit underserved school districts.  Both Cothran and Herrera testified before Congress on that investigation, which formed the basis for the City's groundbreaking federal whistleblower lawsuit.

Transparent Lobbying: Will California Follow Feds?

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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 hoping to enforce a more ambitious approach to transparency: requiring lobbyists to spell out what they want from the federal government—at least in the stimulus package—on the record.  As noted in an AP report, the President has decreed, "An executive department or agency official shall not consider the view of a lobbyist registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995
. . . concerning particular projects, applications, or applicants for
funding under the Recovery Act unless such views are in writing."

Comments trade consultant Richard D. Boltuck:

As the new administration institutionalizes its transparency policies, I continue to wonder to what extent advocates of open information are pressing or will press the executive authorities in various state governments to emulate, to the extent possible, the new Federal policies with respect to state public records?  States have often sought refuge in the argument that their laws and practices resemble the Federal Freedom of Information Act and Federal practices.  Shouldn't the relationship between state public records practices and Federal ones be a two-way street in an era when Federal practices appear to be changing to favor greater openness?

Contractors' Rep: Proposal Threatens 'Butchery'

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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 to bid, Ryan said he would use the information to figure out what his competitor would bid, then underbid the competitor by an incremental amount.

Councilwoman Donna Frye, who has advocated the measure to increase access to contractors' records, said she was "sort of shocked" by Ryan's deviousness, saying the proposal isn't meant to harass a competitor. "If that's how you guys operate, that's how you guys operate," Frye said. "You might not want to operate that way." Frye said she didn't understand why the public has a right to information when the government is performing a function, but not when taxpayer dollars are being sent to a private entity.

Transit Board Police Panel: No Notice Required?

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OPEN MEETINGS
  — San Francisco political blogger Melissa Griffin notes that "(a)fter the t
ragic shooting of Oscar Grant III at the hands of a BART
police officer on New Year’s Day, the public rightfully demanded
answers. 
The transit agency’s board of directors sprang into action and
created a committee made up of four board members."  But that committee has, she reports, stayed under the radar.

I called BART spokesman Linton Johnson to see if the Police Department Review Committee has held any public meetings.

“Plenty,” was his response. Really? I haven’t seen any meeting notices.

The law doesn’t require meeting notices for this committee, I was
told. Sure, but the law doesn’t prevent giving notice, either, I
pointed out.

Mr. Johnson explained that sometimes, at regular BART board
meetings, committee members will announce when the next committee
meeting will be held. You can learn when the next meeting is by
watching the previous board meeting on the Internet. (I checked, and
there’s no such announcement in any of the posted clips.)

I asked if it is it fair to expect members of the public to figure that out. Apparently, it is.

I tried to get some clarification: Committee meetings are open to
the public, but no one is going to tell us where and when they are held?

Well, we don’t want a crowd at every meeting — sometimes the
committee needs to meet in a more intimate setting, he replied. When
the committee reports to the full BART board, people can comment, plus
committee members talk to community leaders and organizations all the
time.

CalAware has posted a comment, correcting the mistaken impression that no public notice of these meetings is required.

Alert credit: Kimo Crossman, San Francisco

Courts Already Noting Obama A.G.'s FOIA Policy

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PUBLIC INFORMATION
— "A skeptical person might presume that the new Freedom of Information Act policy
announced by Attorney General Eric Holder on March 19 declaring that
agencies should “adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure” is a
rhetorical posture without much practical significance," comments Steven Aftergood in his Secrecy News blog.

After all, requesters who used FOIA during the Clinton era know that
agencies frequently withheld information even when it would have caused
no “foreseeable harm,” despite the policy
of Attorney General Reno that such information should be released. 
(Nor, for that matter, did agencies during the Bush Administration
always withhold information every time they were legally entitled to do
so, as the Ashcroft policy advised.)

But remarkably, federal courts are already considering the new
Holder policy in response to plaintiff requests and are modifying the
course of pending FOIA litigation as a result.

In one case, the Electronic Frontier Foundation
(EFF) asked a court to stay a proceeding and to order the Office of the
Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice to
reconsider their denial of requested records by employing the new
Holder guidelines.  Those agencies opposed the idea.  But in a March 23 opinion (pdf), Judge Jeffrey S. White of the Northern District of California granted the EFF motion.

Likewise, in another EFF FOIA lawsuit this week, Judge John D. Bates ordered
(pdf) the Department of Justice “to evaluate whether the new FOIA
guidelines affect the scope of its disclosures and claimed withholdings
in this case.”

Incidentally, in its case filed in the Northern California District, "EFF seeks the disclosure of records maintained by Defendants concerning the alleged efforts of the agencies and telecommunications companies to encourage changes in federal foreign intelligence law, particularly changes to immunize telecommunication companies from liability concerning their role in the government’s warrantless surveillance of Americans and other persons inside the United States following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001." 

The Congressional legislation last year to provide retroactive immunity for domestic American telecommunications companies' collaboration in warrantless wiretapping passed, getting but not needing then Senator Obama's vote, to the deep consternation of his civil liberties supporters, who regarded his abandoned opposition to the immunity as an unprincipled flip-flop.  And now his Justice Department is vigorously defending that immunity.