Guilty Plea in Orange County

Melahat Rafiei has pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud related to the corruption investigations in the cities of Irvine and Anaheim, including the proposed sale of Angel Stadium, per the Orange County Register.  Rafiei, a political consultant, held various leadership positions with the Democratic Party of Orange County, the California Democratic Party, and served as a representative to the Democratic National Committee.  Calpeek has previously discussed the investigations into corruption and the “cabal” that led to the resignation of Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu and impacted others.  According to the Voice of Orange County, the FBI was still investigating as of last month.  


Not Filing May Say a Lot

Embattled L.A. City Council Member Kevin De Leon has not yet filed to run for re-election next year.  As Calpeek readers know, De Leon was one of four L.A. leaders caught on tape making racist and other derogatory remarks last year.  Despite repeated calls to resign, De Leon has refused.  This month he also avoided a recall attempt (the fourth attempt).  De Leon is a former Assembly Member and State Senate Pro Tem.  Four other candidates have opened committees to raise funds for a potential run for Council District 14 including Assembly Member Miguel Santiago  and former Council Member Nick Pacheco.  De Leon still has months to file, but his opponents are picking up endorsements and cash while he sits on the sidelines. 


The Most Significant Political Reform of the Last 50 Years

Are the folks standing around the water cooler spending too much time chatting and not enough time reading?  We missed SB 1429.  Per CalMatters, the bill’s author, Senator Steve Glazer, declared it “the most significant political reform of the last 50 years.”  SB 1429 became law on January 1.  It requires local elected officials who have received a donation of $250 or more to recuse themselves or return the contribution if the contributor has business before them within a year of making the contribution.  That sounds good, but solving one problem (pay-to-play) may cause other problems.  First, tracking donations and how they might relate to tens or hundreds of votes a local elected official might cast in a year’s time is daunting.  There is also a legitimate concern that the harder it is for candidates to raise money, the more time they will have to spend raising money instead of engaging with voters.  And then there’s the impact of outside money, special interests, and independent expenditure operations.  Arguably, the more challenges placed on a candidate’s ability to raise funds empowers moneyed interests who have their own agenda.  There is now a lawsuit challenging SB 1429.  Maybe a better focus would be to help fund local, community-based candidates with programs such as public matching funds.  The matching funds programs in Los Angeles and Long Beach are credited with helping elect candidates who are not tied to money interests.  L.A. Times columnist George Skelton provides some insight here.  


The Latest Report on Political Musical Chairs

Yesterday’s Sacramento Bee reports on which elected leaders are filling out which job applications.  Longtime elected officials Toni Atkins (current Senate Speaker pro Tem) and Anthony Rendon (current Assembly Speaker) will be termed out of office next year.  Although neither commented on the Bee story, nor have they started campaigning in public, based on campaign finance reports, it appears that Atkins is running for the open Lieutenant Governor’s seat in 2026.  Rendon appears to be running for the open State Treasurer seat in 2026. (note: links are for “electronic filings” which is where the recent contributions can be seen.)  Candidates can open committees and raise money even if they don’t fully intend to run for that seat.  Funds from a state committee can be transferred to another state committee and for some local races – 26 candidates have committees open to raise funds for Lt. Governor.  11 have committees to raise funds for State Treasurer.  Sounds like a complicated game of political musical chairs.


Schiff Comes on Strong In Fundraising

Early money reports are showing Adam Schiff holds a significant lead with $24.7 million cash on hand to Katie Porter’s $9.5 million.  Schiff came to the raise with a significant war chest of $21 million so his lead isn’t surprising.  In the first quarter of 2023 Schiff raised $6.5 million, Porter raised $4.5 million, with Barbara Lee raising $1.1 million.  While candidates will continue to send out fundraising emails and attempt to show their viability with dollar signs, perhaps the bigger factor in this race could be the influence of the super PACs supporting each of the top three candidates and their ability to raise (and spend) unlimited funds.   


Like the Sands Through the Hourglass…

Los Angeles City Hall must be a riveting place to work. With all the scandals, arrests, resignations, and questionable decisions being made there is never a dull moment.  Last week Calpeek shared the story of the L.A. City Attorney’s office suing Knock LA reporter Ben Camacho for publishing photos that the city itself provided him as a public information request.  Now, L.A. City Controller Kenneth Mejia made the L.A. Times.  Mejia, who came under scrutiny in his run for Controller for anti-Biden twitter posts, is now being called out by two young staffers for comments he made during his campaign about their sex lives, being a “toxic” boss, and for the demands of having to work every day during the workweek (the nerve!).  But what’s drawn the most question is whether or not there were any city ethics violations made by Mejia for collecting a referral fee when he may have encouraged his staff to move into his apartment building.  Although there seems not to be a specific conflict, it has raised questions about the use of authority (encouraging staff to move into his building) for personal gain (the $1,000 referral fee).  For those of us at the watercooler, what’s more concerning is any desire to have work colleagues live so close.


Sacramento to Put An End to Hidden Fees

Are you sick of those pesky hidden fees that you’re charged at the end of a transaction?  The ones that turn that great $20 concert ticket to $75 or that cheap hotel room that suddenly seems like you’re being charged for the Four Seasons?  As reported by Grace Gedye of CalMatters, fear no more.  California legislators are pushing a series of bills that would bring more transparency to the purchasing process.  One such bill, brought to the floor by Democratic Senators Bill Dodd and Nancy Skinner, would stop companies from advertising one price and then tacking on fees (taxes excluded, of course).  Other bills take aim at specific industries, including ticket sellers, hotels, rental cars, and landlords.


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