Dan Morain

By Dan Morain
August 1, 2015

  • California’s Fair Political Practices Commission seems to be in a lull
  • Chairwoman Jodi Remke says the FPPC will bring major enforcement actions soon
  • Gov. Jerry Brown, who appointed Remke, seems less enamored of political ‘reform’

The watchdog seems to be taking a little nap. Or perhaps the politicians, lobbyists and consultants suddenly are on their best behavior.

In recent months, the Fair Political Practices Commission hasn’t been barking much. Its backlog has grown and enforcement actions and fines have fallen. Maybe the lull is temporary, an aberration that is the result of a changing of the guard.

Having solidified her team, FPPC Chairwoman Jodi Remke, appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in April 2014, promises there will be large numbers of significant cases by the end of the year. They will involve money laundering, earmarking of contributions, and illegal coordination between candidates and supposedly independent campaign committees.

“You just wait. You’re going to be on the edge of your seat,” Remke said.

Great to hear. I can’t wait to see the results. But the bar is high.

Under Remke’s predecessors, California’s Fair Political Practices Commission became perhaps the most important watchdog agency in state government, and one of the most aggressive agencies of its type in the nation.

The commission smacked what former FPPC chairwoman Ann Ravel called the billionaire Koch brothers network for laundering $15 million in campaign money in 2012. The fine: $1 million.

The commission confronted one of the highest end consulting firms in town, California Strategies, and three partners who regularly contacted lawmakers but failed to register as lobbyists. The fine: $40,500.

It nailed one of the top lobbyists, Kevin Sloat, for hosting fundraisers at his home and skirting gift laws. Fine: $133,500. Along the way, the commission slapped numerous politicians with fines of thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars.

The momentum, at least that which is public, had slowed since the resignations early this year of the general counsel and veteran director of enforcement.

As of June, the enforcement division reported a backlog of 604 unresolved cases, up from a 430-case backlog in January and 372 cases in January 2013.

More disconcerting, in four meetings between March and June, the commission took 43 enforcement actions and imposed fines of $93,000. Compare that to the four prior meetings when the commission took 188 enforcement actions accounting for fines of $425,000.

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