The Brown Dog Affair

The Brown Dog Affair


Jennifer FearingIn the dog-eat-dog world of Sacramento politics, no one is off limits. Not even man’s best friend.

Last Friday, the San Francisco Chronicle featured a front-page story by newshound Carla Marinucci about an arrangement between the governor and an influential lobbyist. Jennifer Fearing, the Humane Society’s top dog in Sacramento, regularly walks Sutter, a loveable corgi with a massive Twitter following under the care of Gov. Jerry Brown.

This is hardly a “man bites dog” story.

Two weeks ago,’s Katy Grimes, who is like a dog with a bone when it comes to rooting out the Capitol’s nefarious activities, first reported on the arrangement. Critics are barking that, because Fearing is a lobbyist, her volunteer dog-walking should be classified as a gift that is subject to the state’s gift limits.

“Is there a conflict of interest with such a close relationship between a lobbyist and a governor?” asked Jennifer Kerns, the publicity hound for Free California, a gun-rights group that routinely gets into a dogfight with the Humane Society. “There are services being provided, and those services have monetary value.”

The San Francisco Chronicle story unleashed thousands of comments from online attack dogs. This morning, the dog and pony show continued with another biting piece from the Washington Times, which reported that a formal ethics complaint could be in the works.

“Gun-rights and hunting groups are considering filing a complaint over the pro bono dog exercising with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission,” the Times noted.

Exempt as “Act of Neighborliness”

Fearing’s ankle-biters will likely prove to be the barking dog that never bites. That’s because the Fair Political Practices Commission, which is responsible for bringing lobbyists to heel, has exempted “acts of neighborliness” from the state’s gift limits. Regulation§ 18942, which identifies exceptions to the gift limits, includes:

Acts of Neighborliness. A service performed, such as a loan of an item, an occasional needed ride, personal assistance in making a repair, bringing in the mail or feeding the cat while the official is away, and other similar acts of ordinary assistance consistent with polite behavior in a civilized society that would not normally be part of an economic transaction between like participants under similar circumstances.

Maybe the dog ate their regulatory homework.

Campaign watchdogs say that critics haven’t a dog’s chance of proving that the arrangement violates this “act of neighborliness” exemption.

“This activity would fall under the FPPC’s new ‘act of neighborliness’ exemption, so there doesn’t appear to be any violation of ethics,” said Phillip Ung, a policy advocate for California Common Cause. “I doubt they will lay down the hammer on dog walkers.”

There’s also the fact that the dog isn’t even the governor’s.

Sutter was left in the governor’s care when Kathleen Brown, the governor’s sister, moved to Chicago in 2010. “The dog is happily situated,” the former state treasurer told the Sacramento Bee, “and I wouldn’t presume to disintermediate his celebrity status and special relationship with the first lady and the governor.”

If anything, Fearing’s dog-walking constitutes a gift to Kathleen, who is no longer a public official.

Fearing: An animal’s best friend

Fearing, who has always been open about her gubernatorial dog-walking, says that she’s a friend to all animals.

“I do occasionally watch Sutter — a neighborly activity that I enjoy,” Fearing told “Ask any dog, I’m pretty fun. And yes, he sleeps on the bed.”

Never one to let sleeping dogs lie, hounded one of Fearing’s friends to confirm that she, in fact, helps other less-politically connected animals.

“Whenever I need a hand with dog walking, feeding when I can’t make it home on time, or even hen bathing — I kid you not, it has happened!– Jennifer has always volunteered to help out if she’s available,” Kayte Fisher, one of Fearing’s animal-loving friends, told “I have only ever repaid her with soup delivery when she’s sick or invitations for dinner at my house.”

If her critics in the political opposition hadn’t been as lazy as a dog, they’d know that Fearing’s neighborliness extends to everyone.

So what’s the real motivation behind this Brown Dog Affair?

“Fearing scored a perfect 6-for-6 record this legislative season in getting bills signed by Brown, placing her in the ranks of Sacramento’s most effective lobbyists,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.  “Among the coups for the Humane Society was legislation banning lead ammunition that Fearing said endangered as many as 130 species in California.”

This session, Fearing and hunting groups fought like cats and dogs over a bill to ban lead ammunition. AB711 was opposed by, among others, the Sacramento sheriff, game wardens and hunters. Opponents contended that the lead ban wouldn’t help endangered species, but would kill thousands of jobs associated with the hunting profession.

Even if you don’t have a dog in this fight, there are plenty of reasons to object to putting Fearing in the doghouse. While reporters are busy barking up the wrong tree, they’re not sniffing out genuine conflicts of interest in Sacramento.

“State politics is a billion dollar business with millions more spent at the local level,” said Ung, whose organization tracks special interest spending in Sacramento. “I think voters would want us to focus on those who plot in the shadows not dog walkers in Capitol Park.”

Time to call off the dogs.


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  1. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth 28 October, 2013, 19:49

    9Things You Didn’t Know About HSUS
    1. The Humane Society of the United States scams Americans out of millions of dollars through manipulative and deceptive advertising. An analysis of HSUS’s TV fundraising appeals that ran between January 2009 and September 2011 determined that more than 85 percent of the animals shown were cats and dogs. However, HSUS doesn’t run a single pet shelter and only gives 1 percent of the money it raises to pet shelters, and it has spent millions on anti-farming and anti-hunting political campaigns.
    2. HSUS receives poor charity-evaluation marks. CharityWatch (formerly the American Institute of Philanthropy) reissued HSUS’s “D” rating in December 2011, finding that HSUS spends as little as 49 percent of its budget on its programs. Additionally, the 2011 Animal People News Watchdog Report discovered that HSUS spends about 43 percent of its budget on overhead costs.
    3. Six Members of Congress have called for a federal investigation of HSUS. In April 2011, six Congressmen wrote the IRS Inspector General showing concerns over HSUS’s attempts to influence public policy, which they believe has “brought into question [HSUS’s] tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status.”
    4. HSUS regularly contributes more to its own pension plan than it does to pet shelters. An analysis of HSUS’s tax returns determined that HSUS funneled $16.3 million to its executive pension plan between 1998 and 2009—over $1 million more than HSUS gave to pet shelters during that period.
    5. The pet sheltering community believes HSUS misleads Americans. According to a nationally representative poll of 400 animal shelters, rescues, and animal control agencies, 71 percent agree that “HSUS misleads people into thinking it is associated with local animal shelters.” Additionally, 79 percent agree that HSUS is “a good source of confusion for a lot of our donors.”
    6. While it raises money with pictures of cats and dogs, HSUS has an anti-meat vegan agenda. Speaking to an animal rights conference in 2006, HSUS’s then vice president for farm animal issues stated that HSUS’s goal is to “get rid of the entire [animal agriculture] industry” and that “we don’t want any of these animals to be raised and killed.”
    7. Given the massive size of its budget, HSUS does relatively little hands-on care for animals. While HSUS claims it provides direct care to more animals than any other animal protection group in the US, most of the “care” HSUS provides is in the form of spay-neuter assistance. In fact, local groups that operate on considerably slimmer budgets, such as the Houston SPCA, provide direct care to just as many or more animals than HSUS does.
    8. HSUS’s CEO has said that convicted dogfighting kingpin Michael Vick “would do a good job as a pet owner.” Following Vick’s release from prison, HSUS has helped “rehabilitate” Michael Vick’s public image. Of course, a $50,000 “grant” from the Philadelphia Eagles didn’t hurt.
    9. HSUS’s senior management includes a former spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), a criminal group designated as “terrorists” by the FBI. HSUS president Wayne Pacelle hired John “J.P.” Goodwin in 1997, the same year Goodwin described himself as “spokesperson for the ALF” while he fielded media calls in the wake of an ALF arson attack at a California meat processing plant. In 1997, when asked by reporters for a reaction to an ALF arson fire at a farmer’s feed co-op in Utah (which nearly killed a family sleeping on the premises), Goodwin replied, “We’re ecstatic.”
    Want evidence? Vist: * *
    Revised February 2012. Complete sources and documentation available upon request.__._,

    Reply this comment
  2. Queeg
    Queeg 28 October, 2013, 21:11

    Get real. Sutter needs stimulation and companionship too!

    It is tough keeping up with the top dogs…huh…doomers?

    Reply this comment
  3. Dyspetic
    Dyspetic 29 October, 2013, 10:37

    Have you ever seen the annoying infomercials run by the InHumane Society on late night TV? They prominently feature a man in a police costume, wearing an LEO badge and with a pistol strapped to his side. Think about that.

    The InHumane Society has so much political muscle in this messed up state that they have become a private law enforcement agency whose “officers” have legal authority to use deadly force against the public if they don’t like the way you treat your poodle. That’s why I call this place Crazyfornia.

    Reply this comment
  4. doug williams
    doug williams 29 October, 2013, 18:50

    Fearing is overstepping the line..plain and simple.. her picture with Sutter just proves the point.. where are the pictures of other lobbyists with the dog.. dog sitter and dog walkers are plentiful in Sac and they need the work and the $$ Fearing does not.. in fact if she were really caring she would insist the Gov find a person who needs the $$ to do the job but when you can get the ear through the tail I guess that works..

    Reply this comment
  5. Dog lover
    Dog lover 29 October, 2013, 21:38

    What Elizabeth said. The incorrectly named “Humane Society of the United States” is not Humane or a society and does nothing but raise money for their executives who are PETAphiles in a suit. Fearing is the worst wolf in dog lover’s clothing.

    Reply this comment
  6. doug williams
    doug williams 30 October, 2013, 11:21

    regular or routine dog walking is a SERVICE.. not just “for fun”..for fun is when I walk my neighbors dog a few times a year.. a service is when I walk the dog almost everyday or board the dog at my home and get something in return.. anyone else think she “gets something in return”??.. Gov Brown.. HIRE A DOG WALKER and avoid all of the controversy.. where is the problem with that.. you as an elected official should not be cosying up to ANY lobbyist and should be proud to pay a dog walker out of your salary and keep CA working..“Fearing scored a perfect 6-for-6 record this legislative season in getting bills signed by Brown, – .this alone should tell the public something about your relationship with Fearing and the HSUS ( who donate regularly to your causes and your supporters and were seen writing checks in a restaurant trying to buy off legislators during one of the times Fearing was pushing a bill) They can bought it seems.. and it seems so can you. Show the public this does not happen.. HIRE A DOG WALKER

    Reply this comment

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Jerry BrownJohn HrabeJennifer FearingPhillip Ung

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