FPPC and Measure K

by Lou Binninger

There is an uptick in news about sales tax measures and bonds being promoted by government to bail-out politicians and budgets. These efforts are temporary fixes to overspending since the real problems are a corrupt state pension system and unaffordable government-run healthcare. Another seldom noted nemesis is a Calizuela state government that is adding mandates while bleeding tax money from poorer rural counties.

Read the informative article by Jon Coupal, President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association in this paper and a Cal Matters Dan Walter’s piece “Finally, a crackdown on misuse of taxpayer money” in the Appeal Democrat.

Both articles address the fact that though there are laws to prevent an abuse of power by government usurping the Constitutional rights of its citizens, if there is no enforcement of the law then the law is impotent and rights are lost.

The FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission) recently voted unanimously to impose a $7,500 fine on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) for not reporting its spending on a bond issue as a campaign contribution. The violation involves the pitching of a $3.5 billion bond issue to voters. The fine is chump change to BART and an encouragement to ignore the law once again.

The FPPC asked the State Attorney General and Bay Area district attorneys to prosecute BART for violating the law prohibiting the use of public funds for political campaigns. Earlier, Los Angeles County was also cited by the FPPC for misuse of taxpayer funds in an election campaign.

Locally, numerous Yuba County citizens filed complaints with the FPPC accusing County Supervisors of inappropriate use of public funds for the Measure K campaign to raise sales taxes to 8.25%. The initial FPPC response was to request evidence to support accusations of those residents filing complaints. That information has now been submitted.

If the FPPC finds Yuba County at fault in its advocacy of Measure K then who will enforce and prosecute this violation - the FPPC, The Attorney General (AG), the Yuba County District Attorney (DA)?

The FPPC can fine but in Yuba County’s case will taxpayers’ funds be used to pay the amount? That public loses again. In LA County there is a request to prosecute supervisors individually. Per capita, Yuba County spent more money on its measure than did LA.

The AG’s office has not been a factor in helping when requested in our rural counties. Would the DA’s office pursue Yuba County for misuse of public funds? Not likely, since DA Pat McGrath (now retired) was a spokesperson for Measure K.

Some have confused the lawsuit filed against the county to stop Measure K with the FPPC’s role in legally critiquing the campaign. The legal action by Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk questions the legality of the content of the Measure K ordinance. The FPPC will evaluate the “free speech” violation where government is forbidden from using public funds in a political campaign to raise taxes.

Counties, cities and jurisdictions up and down the state have been violating election laws to financially save their mismanaged ship. Will they be held accountable or will the public lose again?

Prop 218 and Prop 13 requirements on how taxes are raised may go the way of the Brown Act, being useless unless they are sincerely and honestly enforced along with deterrent- level penalties. The Ralph M. Brown Act was passed in 1953 to ensure the public’s right to openness in government and to keep politicians from avoiding public scrutiny. Since the Act has no enforcement powers it has had little to no impact.