March 26th, 2012, 11:14 am
Posted by BRIAN JOSEPH, Sacramento Correspondent

Four years ago, the Enforcement Division of the state Fair Political Practices Commission had a sizable backlog of investigations.

The division, which enforces political ethics rules in areas like campaign finance and conflicts of interest, had 263 open cases that were more than two years old in 2008.

No wonder Capitol insiders dismissed the state’s top political watchdog as ineffective.

But things are changing at the FPPC. The Enforcement Division recently announced in its 2011 end-of-the-year report that the backlog of cases older than two years has been reduced to just 10 cases – virtually nothing.

The division eliminated its backlog through simple changes. Officials worked to standardize processes involving low-level cases, they stopped having investigators spend days transcribing their own interviews and they created a law clerk program, where minor cases are handled by clerks, not investigators.

The report also documents an increased focus by the Enforcement Division on more serious cases as well as a trend by the division of concluding cases faster. The commission recently resolved a money laundering case connected with the November 2011 San Francisco mayor’s race.

In the past, such a case would have taken the commission years to resolve. This time, the Enforcement Division did it in months.

The Enforcement Division also has made news for its involvement in the Kinde Durkee case. Durkee once was a high-profile treasurer for California Democrats, but was accused last year of taking money from her clients, a long list that included U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, State Sen. Lou Correa and Assemblyman Jose Solorio. The Enforcement Division worked with the FBI on the case.

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