Know Your FPPC Target

Anthony Pignataro:

Dan Schnur has only been chairman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission since June but he’s already made huge changes in California’s campaign watchdog. Last month his special Political Reform Act Task Force met for the first time, and now he’s gone and done something rather naughty: posting the details of all new campaign investigations online.

“A headline in October is a much greater deterrent to unlawful behavior than a fine in March,” Schnur said in this FPPC press release. “I hope candidates of both parties will instruct their constituents to err on the side of caution rather than engaging in borderline illegal behavior, so they can avoid the prospect of the public and media focusing their attention on an investigation into possible violations of the state’s campaign laws.”

Before, anyone had to file a written request under the California Public Records Act to get anything at all on an FPPC investigation. Now, anyone can just go to the FPPC website and look at the documents without any hassle.

What’s more, the press release states that FPPC staff will now “make enforcement decisions while the campaign in question is still in progress, rathern than months or years aftern an election.”

Of course, the real-time posting of investigation data (none of the candidates or committees on the FPPC investigations site have been convicted of anything) could be misused by candidates wishing a free opportunity to smear opponents. Schnur, aware of this, promises “to publicly castigate” any complaints (written under the penalty of perjury, remember) that are filed without merit. “In particularly egregious cases,” the FPPC release says, “the matter would be referred to the District Attorney for possible criminal charges.”

Schnur has promised to return to his old job as director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC  in January, regardless of who wins the governor’s office. Given his actions so far as FPPC chairman, it’ll be a sad day when he leaves.

Posted Sept. 13, 2010

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