Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Sacramento

Gov. Brown's tax-the-rich pitch looks like a winner

California Gov. Jerry Brown
Californians don’t actually hate taxes. They just don’t want to pay taxes.


No, that’s not a contradiction. As my colleague Anthony York reported in Sunday’s Times:

California voters strongly support Gov. Jerry Brown's new proposal to increase the sales tax and raise levies on upper incomes to help raise money for schools and balance the state's budget, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said they supported the governor's measure, which he hopes to place on the November ballot. It would hike the state sales tax by a quarter-cent per dollar for the next four years and create a graduated surcharge on incomes of more than $250,000 that would last seven years. A third of respondents opposed the measure.

Brown's new plan, rewritten recently amid pressure from liberal activist and union groups that had a competing proposal, relies on a larger share of revenue from upper-income earners than his original measure. Correspondingly, it leans less upon sales taxes, which are paid by all California consumers. The poll shows that taxing high earners is overwhelmingly popular.

You see: Californians aren’t opposed to tax increases — as long as it is someone else being taxed.

You want to raise my taxes?  Over my dead body!

You want to raise taxes on the rich?  As Oliver Twist might say, “More please.”

Or, as The Times story said:

"These poll results illustrate that Brown was very smart to put together this initiative the way he did," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

Well, yes. Go ahead with all those “Gov. Moonbeam” jokes if you want, but Brown is no dummy. The state needs money. Republicans in the Legislature act as if raising taxes violates one of the Ten Commandments. Californians believe, wrongly, that they are taxed to death (or rightly, that the Legislature needs to get a grip on how it spends tax dollars).

The solution?  Pick on the rich. Because here’s what that strategy buys you:

Shirley Karns, 74, an independent voter from the Northern California town of Lakeport who backs the governor's new plan, said the wealthy should pay more.

"Those who have an unbelievable amount more than those who do not should contribute more," she said. "And on the sales tax, the more you buy, the more you pay. It's pretty tough on low-income people who have to pay an extra nickel here and there, but we've got to get the money from somewhere."

Shirley, we can safely assume, does not qualify for membership in the California millionaires club. (Nor, apparently, does she buy a lot of big-ticket items.)

Of course, these are just poll results. Poll results don’t matter as much as what happens when people step into that private little place called a voting booth. (See: L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley, governor’s race, 1982.)

But with the state’s education system crumbling, its infrastructure eroding and its budget bathed in red ink, a tax increase certainly appears to be at least one part of the solution.

And here’s betting that most Californians will agree in November — especially if they’re not the ones who’ll feel the pain.


Dick Cheney's new heart awakens Times' letter writers

Justices take on healthcare reform law's 1st issue: What's a tax?

Mankind's great mysteries -- baldness and Amelia Earhart -- solved? 

— Paul Whitefield

Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at a news conference at a Boeing plant in Long Beach. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Jerry Brown and the ghost of Proposition 13

Prop. 13
The year is 2012, all right, but what Gov. Jerry Brown has managed to do by turning two potential tax ballot initiatives into one makes it feel like 1978 all over again.

Brown had his own tax ballot measure planned for November, one that would have added a half-cent to the sales tax statewide for four years and raised taxes on the wealthy. But the Courage Campaign, the California Federation of Teachers and some others had their own "millionaires tax" ballot measure heading for the same election.

The compromise cuts the sales tax hike to a quarter-cent over four years and tweaks the upper-income tax to apply graduated increases for seven years to some six- and seven-figure brackets. All this depends on getting enough signatures to get it onto the ballot. (A third measure, a millionaires tax for education promoted by L.A. civil rights attorney Molly Munger, is evidently going forward.)

So, why a compromise? Why not let both go to the ballot and duke it out with voters?

Because over decades, both the research and the political gut-checking show that the more similar measures appear on the same ballot, the smaller the chances that any one of them passes. 

If anyone knows this by hard example, it's Brown.

By 1978, some California homeowners' property taxes were going through the, well, roof. Assessments varied wildly, and the elderly -- some of whom were living in houses they'd already paid for -- worried they would lose them to taxes.

Enter Howard Jarvis, who worked for Proposition 13 in part as a lobbyist for a landlords' association.

Brown, then as now the governor of California, came way late to the game. So did the Legislature.  Incredibly, California had a nearly $5-billion surplus, most of it, paradoxically, from income tax, not property tax. (It would have one right after Proposition 13 passed too, but it had to give it to schools and cities to make up the difference after property tax revenue tanked.)

What they came up with -- Proposition 8 -- would have limited property tax increases  but only for owner-occupied homes. 

It seemed like a plausible option to Proposition 13. After all, it was ostensibly the concerns by homeowners that started the tax revolt in the first place. And a Times poll about a month before the election found that voters didn't know much about Proposition 8, but when they did, they preferred it to Proposition 13 by double digits. As my Sacramento colleague George Skelton wrote then, "In the minds of most voters, Proposition 8 still is a mystery."

On the heels of that poll, Brown and other Proposition 8 supporters launched a TV ad campaign to persuade voters to abandon Proposition 13 in favor of 8; otherwise, Brown warned, the effect would be "devastating" to state services.

It's worth noting that in the nearly 35 years since Proposition 13 passed, commercial property owners have generally fared better than homeowners because such property changes hands less often, which means that some business owners are paying taxes far below the market rate.  Homeowners now shoulder more than two-thirds of the state's property tax burden.

Proposition 8 was too little, too late.  People were already fired up over Proposition 13.  Yet even with all the voter fury, Proposition 13 paradoxically got 64.8% of the vote. If Proposition 13 had been subject to the very rules it would itself set in stone -- requiring a two-thirds supermajority vote for all future taxes, from the legislature to city hall to the state ballot -- it would not have passed.

Lesson very painfully learned, and remembered, 34 years later. 


Could Prop. 13 fall?

Why should Prop. 13 be sacrosanct?

The reply: Prop. 13 and the issue of Amador Valley

-- Patt Morrison

Photo: A 1978 photograph was snapped in Manhattan Beach. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Democrats need to get serious about pension reform [Blowback]

Republican state Sens. Bill Emmerson (Hemet), Tom Berryhill (Modesto), Anthony Cannella (Ceres) and Tom Harman (Huntington Beach) respond to George Skelton's Feb. 12 column, "Commit a crime, collect a pension." If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed and would like to participate in Blowback, here are our FAQs and submission policy.

George Skelton brought to light an important component of any legitimate reform to our public pension system. Prohibiting payment of pension benefits to those convicted of a felony related to their employment is good public policy, and we welcome any attention to this abuse.

In terms of driving the overall discussion of public employee pension reform, Skelton's column fell short. While acknowledging that the Democratic leadership in Sacramento will probably never let Assemblyman Cameron Smyth's (R-Santa Clarita) measure to deny pension benefits to felons see the light of day, Skelton seems to take such partisan gridlock as an acceptable outcome.

To that end, it was noteworthy that Skelton didn't reference our comprehensive pension reform measure, Senate Constitutional Amendment 13, which has been awaiting a hearing since last year. This measure resulted from last year's failed negotiations with Gov. Jerry Brown over the reforms we sought and that  California desperately needs -- including pension reform.

Having discussed pension reform with Brown last year, we knew there was much agreement between the governor and ourselves; SCA 13 reflects that agreement. It was clear to us that he supported virtually every tenet of our proposal. Regardless of the lost opportunity for Democrats to negotiate a meaningful budget, Brown assured Californians that he would bring his pension reform ideas forward.

When the governor finally introduced his pension reform language a few weeks ago, none of us were surprised that it virtually mirrored SCA 13. Unfortunately, legislative Democrats have refused to set either measure for a policy hearing, effectively shutting down discussion on real reforms.

As a group, we withstood a tremendous amount of pressure by some within our party simply because we engaged the governor. In fact, it didn't faze us when Brown's spokesman called legislative Republicans "basically moronic" on a radio show last year; rather, we kept our eyes focused on finding solutions to some of California's biggest issues.

To us, Skelton's column promulgates the dysfunction that has become the norm in Sacramento. Quoting Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) as having "no problem with" denying felons pensions is a good sign. But Steinberg's statement strikes us more as public relations than public policy; the saying "actions speak louder than words" comes to mind.

We think it's time to stop the charade. The majority party needs to take up public employee pension reform in a meaningful and responsible way by giving SCA 13 and the governor's pension reform proposal a true hearing.

SCA 13 seeks to address not only the "easy" fixes we all agree on, such as spiking and double dipping, but also addresses the underlying structural issues that contribute to the problems faced by state and local governments. Moreover, SCA 13 ends pension abuses, reduces our unfunded pension liabilities and controls costs to ensure the sustainability of our public employee pensions.

Specifically, SCA 13 offers new public employees a hybrid between the defined-benefit plans most public employees have and the defined-contribution plans most private sector companies offer. New employees would be required to contribute more toward their benefits and would have the additional opportunity to take advantage of a 401(k)-style plan they could manage themselves.

We also propose capping the pay used to determine pension levels, a simple, direct way to end the outrageous payouts some public employees have enjoyed, generating embarrassing headlines and draining precious state and local resources.

With regard to abuse, SCA 13 would end pension spiking practices by requiring that benefits be based on an employee's highest salary averaged over five years. Furthermore, pension benefits could be calculated based only on an employee's salary, not counting overtime, uniform allowances, car allowances and other perks. The proposal would also eliminate double dipping (in which beneficiaries collect both a salary and pension checks) and so-called airtime purchases that inflate payouts.

We think the governor's tougher increase of the retirement age also makes sense. 

Skelton is commonly referred to as the dean of the Capitol press corps, and we respect him a great deal. He does a solid job commenting on the issues of the day, and many in Sacramento and throughout the state look to his insight on the mess that has become state politics.

But accepting partisan gridlock as the status quo does nothing to fix California. We hope Skelton will use his columns to help end the dysfunction in Sacramento by calling on the Democrats to get serious about public employee pension reform.


Gov. Brown's vision

Big California, little fixes

Commit a crime, collect a pension

-- Bill Emmerson, Tom Berryhill, Anthony Cannella and Tom Harman

Photo: Former Bell City Administrator Robert Rizzo's annual pension was slashed from an expected $650,000 to $50,000. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Lawyers, labor, leaders rally for court funding

A campaign by attorneys and labor and business leaders to restore funding to state courts is beginning to get some attention, and it's about time. As The Times notes in an editorial Tuesday, courts stand apart because of their essential role in a society of law. Every part of California government has to take -- and has taken -- serious budget cuts, but the justice system must be first in line for restoration.

Instead, under Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal, courts are first in line for further "trigger" cuts if voters reject taxes and if other hoped-for revenue fails to materialize.

A committee known as the Open Courts Coalition, headed by Los Angeles attorney Paul R. Kiesel and Burlingame lawyer Niall McCarthy, is calling on the Legislature to keep the courthouse doors open in 58 Superior Courts around the state by keeping court funding intact and gradually restoring $350 million that has been cut in recent years. The group closed off a block of Grand Avenue between Disney Hall and the Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Jan. 18 for a rally to support the courts; speakers included former Gov. Gray Davis and former state Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno.

In a video prepared by the group and delivered to Sacramento lawmakers on Jan. 13, members of the legal, business and labor communities do their best to get the Legislature's attention. (See the video at the top of this post.)

"Courts strangely are much like fire and police," says Milo Brown, court employees business representative for AFSCME Council 36. "You never think about them, you're never concerned about them, until you need them."

"The work you do in the Legislature, what you bring to the governor to sign into law, is meaningless if there is no forum to enforce it," says California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.

Participation and cooperation of the Los Angeles Superior Court as well as statewide court leaders and representatives of court employees is significant, because they are sharply at odds on actual court expenditure and management issues. Here are some examples of participation by court supporters with a stake in keeping the courts functioning.

Cantil-Sakauye visited The Times' editorial board this month to discuss court funding and unhappiness expressed by many judges with centralized leadership -- the Judicial Council, which Cantil-Sakauye heads -- and with a costly case management computer system. Listen to her remarks here, here and here.

Stand Up for Justice


Gov. Brown's vision

Spare California's courts from cuts

Chief justice: 'We've become slower, thinner, smaller'

--Robert Greene

Photo: Court workers, attorneys, judges and business and labor leaders gather for a rally to restore court funding on Jan. 18 in downtown Los Angeles. Credit: Lance Rubin / Open Courts Coalition.

L.A.'s condom law hardly curtains for porn

Condoms Porn
The L.A. City Council seems able to easily pass resolutions about matters like corporate personhood and the boycott over Arizona's immigration laws. This one was much closer to home: It voted to require condom use in porn films within the city limits.

The porn industry is the Hollywood shadow, prospering to the tune of billions of dollars, principally in the San Fernando Valley. Of late, cases of HIV have shut down some shoots -- one consideration that led to the council's vote.

The argument against the condom law was the usual -- that the business will pick up and go elsewhere. But run away to where? Temecula? Vallejo? State law already requires condom use by porn performers; L.A., as the place where many of the productions are based, is putting its own teeth in the state law.

And the moralizing posses in other cities may not be as welcoming of this particular new business.

As for other states to take the porn trade to -- Arizona? Oregon? Anything-goes Nevada? As my colleague Ron Lin pointed out in his story, New Hampshire is the only other state where such shoots are legal -- and if porn producers don't like how condoms look in their movies, they really won't like goosebumps.

The porn industry already regularly lobbies Sacramento, to the amusing discomfiture of some politicians,  so if its advocates are unhappy about a state health and safety requirement that's being backstopped by L.A., they can hit the hallways of the state Capitol again.

The porn makers say condoms can ruin the fantasy for porn watchers, and that entertainment is all about fantasy. But even the fantasy factories have been drawing some lines, like the one about smoking onscreen.

Our Ted Rall had his own fantasies -- journalistic ones -- about where this regulation might lead: to the Realistic Plot Act (as if) or even the Morning-After Visualization Act.

I still have to get my mind around the idea that if you have sex for money without cameras rolling, it's prostitution, and with the cameras rolling, it's art -- just as a woman stomping defenseless little animals to death with high-heeled shoes is animal cruelty unless you make a video and call it free expression. Thankfully, President Obama signed a law sponsored by Republicans and Democrats to prohibit making, selling and distributing "crush videos" -- and making it a prison offense to do it.

This may be the only case on record in which Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. has agreed publicly with the president, in his dissent from a court ruling that found that an earlier law about animal cruelty videos -- in that case a Virginia man selling dogfighting videos -- was too broad. Alito dissented, noting the "excruciating pain" of living creatures, something contrary to the values of society.

Adult sex videos are about consenting adults, not unconsenting animals, but no one should have to put himself or herself at risk of AIDS, and the law is there to back that up -- even if the lawmakers themselves sometimes need a kick-start to remember that.


Safe sex in the porn industry

Condoms in porn: Moving industry out of state could be difficult

Condom rule: First step in porn master plan?

--Patt Morrison

Photo: An editor works on a video at porn firm Vivid's headquarters in 2007. Credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times

For jobs, look to Sacramento [Ted Rall cartoon]

Political expert Allan Hoffenblum believes several seats will soon open in the Assembly and state Senate and California's U.S. House delegation, reports PolitiCal's Jean Merl. Hoffenblum is predicting "one of the largest turnover of seats in California history."

What this says to cartoonist Ted Rall: Jobs, jobs, jobs. And not just jobs, but jobs with a great salary and a per diem as a perk. Of course, it would mean spending time in Sacramento and having to pay for your own lunch, but: jobs!


California's 'budgetmageddon'

Ted Rall's 10 most popular cartoons of 2011

Housing Authority's $1.2-million golden parachute

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Cartoon: Ted Rall / For The Times

The fate of the Twinkie -- financially, legally, deliciously

Could it be RIP for the Twinkie, that mainstay of cultural jokes and teen diets?

Hostess has filed for bankruptcy, again, and who knows whether the snack company's survival has a Sno-Ball's (cream-filled cake with pink frosting and coconut flakes)] chance in h-e-double-hockey-sticks, as Mitt Romney would say.

Hostess makes HoHos and Twinkies and "old school" cupcakes with ingredients that read like  Margaret Thatcher's homework; Thatcher studied chemistry and was a research chemist before going into politics, and she helped to develop emulsifiers for ice cream, though I don't expect Meryl Streep spent a lot of time at the soft-serve machine prepping for "The Iron Lady."

If Twinkies do vanish from the snack shelves, we should remember that they still have a place in California jurisprudence.

After former San Francisco Supervisor Dan White shot and killed Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978, he was convicted of manslaughter rather than murder, and faced less than eight months in prison rather than the death penalty, in part because of what became known as the "Twinkie defense."

Popular culture has wrongly reduced the Twinkie defense to the notion that eating Twinkies makes you go crazy and do things like shoot people. But in point of fact, the real Twinkie defense was the evidence that White -- a fitness buff and former athlete, a devotee of nutrition -- got so depressed that he'd stoop to pigging out on sugar, candy, sodas and junk food (Twinkies and their ilk), and that that exacerbated his depression.

It fit into his lawyers' case that all of that was evidence of mental illness, which meant that White couldn't have maliciously premeditated the killings –- and therefore could not  be prosecuted for murder, only for voluntary manslaughter. The jury agreed. (White committed suicide less than two years after he was released from prison.)

The Twinkie defense shorthand so outraged Californians that voters and legislators limited the "diminished capacity" courtroom arguments -- the range of psychiatric considerations under which White's case was defended -- and replaced it with the idea of "diminished actuality." In Sacramento, one unhappy legislator even reportedly waved a Twinkie in the air to illustrate his point.

The Twinkie defense even reached the U.S. Supreme Court --  not as a case but during an argument in a 2006 case, United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez, during which Justice Antonin Scalia, talking about the right to counsel, declared: "I don’t want a 'competent' lawyer. I want a lawyer to get me off. I want a lawyer to invent the Twinkie defense. I want to win."

Jurisprudence aside, whatever perils the cupcake genre poses to those who eat them, the TSA in Las Vegas found last month that a cupcake-in-a-jar might be a threat to national security: agents confiscated a containerized cupcake a woman was carrying onto her flight. The TSA pointed out that your standard-issue off-the-shelf cupcake was fine but that a cupcake sealed in a jar constituted a gel.

And that, I suppose, is its own kind of Twinkie defense.


The end of the Hostess Twinkie?

Twinkies maker Hostess seeks bankruptcy protection

Hostess Twinkies’ shelf life is forever, at least in ‘Ghostbusters’

-- Patt Morrison

Photo: A box of 10 Hostess Twinkies is seen in this photo taken on Jan. 11. Credit: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Juvenile offenders and lawmakers get another chance

Wally skalij California Youth Authority in Chino

We've said it before -- more than a dozen times. A child, even a bad one, should not be sent to prison for life without any chance at parole. It's a mark of societal fear and a lust for revenge. Some younger criminals may indeed be so incorrigible that they should never go free, but after he or she has been behind bars for a quarter of a century, a judge, and a parole board, should be able to consider release.

On Tuesday, the state Assembly is reconsidering SB 9, a bill to put California among the ranks of civilized societies by ending juvenile life without parole sentences. Finally, Assembly, put this matter to rest, pass the bill and send it to the governor.

Or, as we have said previously:

Jan. 16, 2008:

But of all the inequities of a dysfunctional penal system and harsh state laws, few can touch our predilection for discarding the lives of children who commit crimes before they're old enough to fully understand the consequences of their actions.

April 30, 2009:

Knowing they will live and die in prison, people who acted in the rashness of youth have no hope of returning to society, and therefore no reason to learn, or grow, or mature, or reform. But surely their example will dissuade other youth from crime? Nonsense. Kids who can't imagine next year can't imagine life in prison and can't be expected to make decisions based on something as obscure to them as parole.

Nov. 7, 2009:

Society can and should countenance a hopeless existence in prison for adult perpetrators. But not for juveniles. The U.S. is, for now, the only nation that has not banned life in prison without parole for juvenile offenders, and more than 2,000 are serving such terms behind bars.

Jan. 14, 2010:

The Times recognizes that some people who commit crimes before they have developed a resistance to peer pressure and an adult's brainpower, judgment and moral capacity may remain dangerous even after years of punishment and repentance. [State Sen. Leland] Yee's bill does not compel judges to grant parole when it's inappropriate. But it demonstrates California's faith that not every person whose life got off to a destructive start remains irredeemable. It offers a window of hope to imprisoned teenage offenders and gives them an incentive to learn, reform and aspire to a productive life.

May 18, 2010:

Thirty-seven states allow for such sentences, but [U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M.] Kennedy persuasively argued that a better indication of whether they are cruel or unusual — and thus a violation of the 8th Amendment — was the infrequency with which they are imposed. According to the court, only 129 prisoners are serving life without parole for non-homicide offenses committed as juveniles. (The number in California is two.) Kennedy also noted that "the United States is the only nation that imposes life without parole sentences on juvenile non-homicide offenders."

Aug. 19, 2010:

All this bill offers juveniles is the possibility of a future, a chance at a chance. An offender who has served 10 years could ask a judge to reexamine his case. Even if a judge does resentence the offender, he must serve 25 years total before he is eligible for a parole board hearing. And parole need not be granted.

Sept. 1, 2010:

By a 38-36 vote Monday night, the Assembly killed the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act authored by state Sen. Leland Yee (D- San Francisco), refusing to lead California out of the Dark Ages by banning sentences of life without the possibility of parole for juveniles. No other country sentences children to prison in this manner, and it is appalling, but not unexpected, that the Assembly could not muster enough political will to enact a law that in every way is beneficial to the public.

Dec. 8, 2010:

Not all juvenile criminals should receive parole, but if they turn themselves around as Kruzan did, they should be given the opportunity to put their cases before a court or parole board. That's why the Legislature should pass a bill that was reintroduced this week by state Sen. Leland Yee (D- San Francisco) after being rejected in August. The modest legislation would allow courts to review the cases of juveniles who were sentenced to life without parole after 10 years, possibly reducing their sentences to 25 years to life.

Aug. 11, 2011:

Assembly Democrats who have voted against earlier versions of this bill for fear of being labeled soft on crime should look at the facts. SB 9 would not automatically open prison doors for violent criminals. It would not eliminate life-without-parole sentences for any offender, adult or juvenile. It would merely give inmates serving life terms for crimes they committed before they turned 18 a limited opportunity to seek a 25-years-to-life sentence — and for the first time, a slim chance of parole before they die.

Nov. 9, 2011:

In fact, we in supposedly enlightened California come close to first place for cruel treatment of youth offenders. Year after year, California Democrats who live in fear of the county prosecutors' and victims' families' lobbies have voted down attempts to eliminate sentences of life in prison without parole for juveniles.

--Robert Greene

Photo: Juvenile offenders being moved at the California Youth Authority prison in Chino. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.

Council District 15: Who's donating to Buscaino, Furutani?


Most of City Council candidate Joe Buscaino's campaign donations have come from within the 15th District, where he's running, and of those, the vast majority have come from San Pedro. His opponent, Warren Furutani, has raised only a tiny fraction of his funds from within the district. A large segment of his money comes from Asian American donors elsewhere in Los Angeles, California and around the nation.

Of Buscaino's 980 contributions from individuals, businesses and organizations, 613, or 62.6%, come from the 15th District, according to an analysis of records filed with the City Ethics Commission for the election that took place Nov. 8, plus additional donations through Dec. 3 for the Jan. 17 runoff.

Those donations accounted for $162,031.60, or 56.8% of Buscaino's total $285,271.60. San Pedro accounted for 95% of the in-district money.That comes to $153,356.60, or 53.8% of Buscaino's total, from San Pedro.

The analysis classified donations by Zip Code. Some donors may have given twice: once, up to the $500 limit for the primary, followed by a second contribution up to the same amount for the runoff (more properly known as the general election). The reported value of in-kind donations was considered along with monetary contributions.

The next contribution report, covering most of December, is due Thursday.

The 15th District includes San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City, Harbor Gateway, Wattsand an adjacent portion of South Los Angeles. But for Buscaino, San Pedro is where the money is. Only 2.7% of his contributors, accounting for $8,675 or 3% of money raised, come from non-San Pedro portions of the district.

Buscaino has lived his entire life in San Pedro, and until the campaign patrolled that harbor-area community for the Los Angeles Police Department as a senior lead officer -- a sort of community liaison and trouble-shooter. All City Council District 15 representatives going back at least to World War II have been San Pedro residents.

San Pedro in particular and the district in general have been less generous to Furutani, who lives in Harbor Gateway, near Gardena. He took in 29 donations, amounting to $8,525, from the district in which he is running. That's a mere 2.6% of his total money raised so far. San Pedro accounts for 14 donations amounting to $4,325, or just $1.3% of his total.

Ninety-seven percent of Furutani's 1,056 donations, accounting for 97.4% of the money he has raised, comes from outside the 15th District.

Who are these contributors, and why are they giving? A scan of the names hints at one answer -- and serves as a reminder of the startling fact that Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest city and the home of a huge Asian population, has had only one Asian American elected official. And that official, Councilman Mike Woo, left office nearly 19 years ago (Woo was defeated in a 1993 run for mayor; he currently is a member of the city Planning Commission).

Los Angeles, which was home to the nation's largest community of Japanese immigrants and first-generation Japanese Americans before World War II, and which is well known for Little Tokyo and Nisei week and continues to have a large number of residents with Japanese ancestry, has never elected a Japanese American councilman. Small neighboring cities have, but not L.A. itself.

Asian Americans have mobilized to help Furutani become the first.

Of course, it's impossible to know for certain how many contributors are of Japanese descent, or how many are Asian at all. There is no race or ethnicity category for donation records. Scanning a list of contributors and picking out the Asian names is problematic. Are Lee, Young and Kim Asian names or English names? Birth names or married names? And of course, there is no way to know if a contributor gave money mostly because of racial identity or for any of the many other reasons that people donate to candidates. Some may have given because they are Furutani's colleagues in the Legislature or are candidates for other office, part of a phenomenon noted in a previous post.

Some readers might consider it inappropriate to even attempt to tally people by race or name. Yet it's an important part of Furutani's story. So I gave it a shot.

Of the 1,056 donors outside the 15th District, 557 have either Asian-sounding names or are businesses or organizations that directly express an Asian identity. That accounts for $147,119.80, or a huge 44.1% of the money Furutani has raised so far for the primary and the general elections. Of that, Japanese-sounding names account for $84,815.80, or 25.5% of his fundraising total.

Japanese American donors include high-ranking county officials, four Los Angeles Superior Court judges and one Fresno judge.

In addition to money they raise themselves, the candidates can use matching funds provided by the city and get the benefit of independent expenditure campaigns by outside groups. More on those in a future post.


Voting now underway

The Capitol contingent

Buscaino and the council cop bloc

 --Robert Greene

Photos: Joe Buscaino, left, and Warren Furutani. Credit: Robert Greene / Los Angeles Times

Lobbying ... for just pennies a day!

Leland-YeeFirst question: how do you feel about lobbyists?

[You can think expletives but not write them.]

Now, second question. How about doubling the fees California lobbyists have to pay to register as lobbyists?

[Okay, okay, not so loud.]

So, all in favor of Senator Leland Yee’s bill that would double those fees …

[Wild cheering erupts.]

Congratulations, Californians. If you were casting the votes, lobbyists would now have to pay 14 cents a day. Fourteen cents.

It’ll be up to the Legislature to double the fees from seven cents to 14. And there’s no guarantee that the measure, set to be introduced next year, will pass.

The San Jose Mercury News says California is laggardly in its lobbying fees. States like Alaska and Alabama charge $100 a year, Illinois lobbyists pay $300 and in Massachusetts it’s $1,000.

In California, until just last year, it was costing lobbying groups less than a nickel a day in fees to the state of California -- $12.50 a year. A buck and a few cents a month. They probably drop that much in pennies on the Capitol Park sidewalk over a year’s time.

Then, through the Secretary of State’s office, the fee "doubled" –- a useful word in the language of politics, which is to say, it went up [for the first time since the Watergate year 1974] to a staggering $25 a year.

This isn’t symbolic chump change; it’s real chump change. The money would support Cal-Access, a website that allows anyone to "follow the money" with a mouse click, tracking the dough that comes into politics and where it goes.

The website, officially called the California Automated Lobbying and Campaign Contribution and Expenditure Search System, was constructed in the techno-Dark Ages of 1999, and it can hardly be described as state of the art.

Now it has been on the fritz since around Thanksgiving, making it harder to track those figurative greenbacks.

The bill by Yee, a Bay Area Democrat, would put the money raised by the new ‘’doubled’’ fees, all $50,000 of it, toward getting Cal-Access up and running again. It's something, but it's a disgrace that this public service site isn't already funded in the public interest.

What are the odds of this passing -- this, or an even more solid way of funding Cal-Access? Would lobbyists really have the brass ones to reinforce their already unsavory image by defeating a bill over $25 a year?

 Maybe … but I suspect there may be a few elected officials sitting in the red-ink-crimson state Senate and in the House-of-Commons-green state Assembly chambers who secretly wouldn’t be altogether unhappy if the public had that much harder a time finding out where all that campaign money is coming from, and where it’s going…


Photos: Year in Cartoons

Photos: Ted Rall's 10 most popular cartoons

Calling all wonks: The year's biggest political stories?

 -- Patt Morrison

Photo: Leland Yee. Credit: Ben Margot / AP Photo



In Case You Missed It...



Recent Posts
Reading Supreme Court tea leaves on 'Obamacare' |  March 27, 2012, 5:47 pm »
Candidates go PG-13 on the press |  March 27, 2012, 5:45 am »
Santorum's faulty premise on healthcare reform |  March 26, 2012, 5:20 pm »


About the Bloggers
The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

In Case You Missed It...