Discrepancies found in Brown aides’ FPPC reporting

Discrepancies found in Brown aides’ FPPC reporting

UnknownSeveral recent CalWatchdog.com stories about some of Gov. Jerry Brown’s appointees have looked at reports filed on conflicts of interest and financial disclosure.

Specifically, Form 700 is a Statement of Economic Interests required of “designated” government employees, meaning the governor’s top aides and consultants. Some, but not all, of Brown’s “designated” appointees have filed Form 700s with the Fair Political Practices Commission.

As CalWatchdog.com detailed, the FPPC included in its files Form 700 from Fish and Game Commissioner Mike Sutton.

But for new Labor Secretary David Lanier, the FPPC did not comply with CalWatchdog.com’s request for copies of his Form 700.

Because of the discrepancy, CalWatchdog.com asked Brown’s press secretary, Evan Westrup, “What is the Brown administration policy on Form 700s, gifts, travel expense claims, and conflicts of interest?”

Westrup replied:

“Pursuant to the Political Reform Act (Government Code section 81000 et seq.), the Governor’s Office maintains a Conflict of Interest Code, which lists the designated employees that are required to file statements of economic interest. A copy of the Conflict of Interest Code is attached. All employees of the Governor’s Office maintain strict adherence to the requirements of the Political Reform Act.”

The code requires Brown administration employees first to file their statements of economic interest with the governor’s office. The governor’s office then sends only some of the statements to the FPPC, and retains others. Government Code Section 81000 et seq. can be found here.

Schwarzenegger administration

A March 2009 Los Angeles Times story found that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger banned nonessential travel in his administration. But records showed members of his administration ran up significant commuting travel expenses that were paid at the taxpayers’ expense.

In the story, Michael Josephson, president of the nonprofit Josephson Institute of Ethics in Los Angeles, accused the Schwarzenegger administration of lackadaisical oversight of its required reporting.

“Is anybody at the wheel here?” asked Josephson. “The best possible case for this, which is still not a good case, is [that] nobody is providing oversight. . . . The worst case is that you have some people who are knowingly taking advantage.”

Transparency: word du jour

When Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor 2003-2011, his administration created a transparency website that Brown shut down upon taking office in 2011.

aschwarzenegger

The Schwarzenegger policy was formalized in April of 2009 with the transparency website launch. On June 4, 2009, Schwarzenegger issued Executive Order S-08-09, directing state agencies and departments to post audits of their operations performed by outside entities dating back to January 1, 2008, and financial and programmatic audits, as well as audits that they have performed on other government entities.

The order said:

“WHEREAS the technical definition of ‘audits’ is too narrow and there is a need to increase transparency in government by posting other types of reports and similar documents on the Reporting Government Transparency web site.”

A 2009 press release said:

“Continuing his commitment to making government more transparent to the people of California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today launched www.reportingtransparency.ca.gov. This Web site makes publicly available the Statement of Economic Interests, Form 700, and the Travel Expense claims for the Governor’s Office Senior Staff and Deputies, Agency Secretaries, Agency Undersecretaries and Department Directors.”

The press release is no longer available on the state’s website. And the transparency site has been reduced to announcing Brown pulling the plug, plus other resources that might be tried to find the information.

The press release, which only remains in a Sacramento Bee story, is pictured below.

Additionally, travel expense claims and Form 700s from the senior staff and deputies in the governor’s office were posted on the Governor’s Office Web site before it was taken down.

Schwarzenegger himself said:

“Since taking office I have taken steps to make government more accountable and responsive to the people. By making the economic, gift and travel information of the senior members of my administration easily available online, we are taking unprecedented steps to open up our government to the people — yet another critical step toward more government transparency.”

Website taken down

After the Brown administration took down the website, a Los Angeles Times story reported:

“‘The website eliminated more than four months ago was poorly maintained, underutilized and had not been regularly updated by the previous administration,’ Westrup said. He noted that Sunshine Review, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to government transparency, gave California an A grade in its annual report this week, praising the state for posting budgets, contracts and audits on its websites.”

CalWatchdog.com asked Westrup why the Brown administration didn’t just bring the website up-to-date?

He replied with wording similar to what he gave the Times:

“The website, eliminated more than two years ago was poorly maintained, underutilized and had not been regularly updated by the previous administration. The information that was previously posted on that website remains available to the public.”

CalWatchdog.com suggested to Westrup that, while the Sunshine Review gave California an “A” grade in its annual report, posting budgets and contracts is not in the same as reporting conflicts of interest and financial disclosures.

Westrup then forwarded CalWatchdog.com a copy of the Brown administration’s two-page Conflict of interest Code (reproduced below). And he wrote:

“Pursuant to the Political Reform Act (Government Code section 81000 et seq.), the Governor’s Office maintains a Conflict of Interest Code, which lists the designated employees that are required to file statements of economic interest. All employees of the Governor’s Office maintain strict adherence to the requirements of the Political Reform Act.

“Regarding travel, the Governor’s Office follows DGS and CalHR state travel policies (you can read more here, here and here). Regarding: the ‘transparency website,’ the statement you cite below still applies.”

He was referring to his statement about the Schwarzenegger transparency website being poorly maintained.

Meanwhile, Controller John Chiang, using no money above that already allocated to his office, was putting up a widely praised, comprehensive website listing state and local government employees’ compensation. Brown’s notice on the dismantled transparency website even pointed to Chiang’s website as a place to dig for the compensation information no longer easily available on the governor’s site.

References: The Conflict of Interest Code

The FPPC website explains:

“Assets and income of public officials which may be materially affected by their official actions should be disclosed and in appropriate circumstances the officials should be disqualified from acting in order that conflicts of interest may be avoided. No public official at any level of state or local government shall make, participate in making or in any way attempt to use his official position to influence a governmental decision in which he knows or has reason to know he has a financial interest.”

“The Political Reform Act prevents conflicts of interest in two ways — financial disclosure and disqualification. (See Gov. Code Sections 8710087350.)

“Disclosure: The purpose of financial disclosure is to alert public officials to personal interests that might be affected while they are performing their official duties, i.e., making governmental decisions. Disclosure also helps inform the public about potential conflicts of interest.

“Disqualification: If a public official has a conflict of interest, the official may be required to disqualify himself or herself from making or participating in a governmental decision, or using his or her official position to influence or attempt to influence a governmental decision.”

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