Transparency activists seek CA sunshine


California Flag 3National Sunshine Week — an effort to increase and encourage government transparency — has come and gone in California while multiple types of state secrecy continue to draw fire from lawmakers and citizens.

Budgeting has topped the list of recent complaints. “The state of California spends nearly a quarter trillion dollars annually, but taxpayers aren’t allowed to see where that money goes,” warned, which has demanded state officials release its line-by-line state vendor payments. “This information should be available through California’s open records law, but the last two controllers, John Chiang and currently Betty Yee, told us: stop asking because the records aren’t accessible,” the organization’s founder and CEO claimed.

“The Controllers of California – John Chiang and Betty Yee – aren’t arguing against the law. Instead, they’re ignoring the law and a transparency revolution that is sweeping this country at all levels of government. The Controllers don’t cite a single provision of the California Open Records Act or a legal exemption to justify their behavior, and they aren’t fulfilling their fiduciary duty under the law to ‘assist us’ in gathering the public records.”

Chiang has tried to build a reputation as a relatively pro-transparency reformer. He proposed a law, introduced as Assembly Bill 2833 by Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, “that would require alternative investments such as hedge funds to publicly disclose their fees to public pension plans,” as the San Francisco Chronicle reported. “The state has committed to contribute $96 million this year toward the university [of California]’s unfunded pension liability. Yet, last year alone, UC’s pension plan paid out $97 million in fees to the hedge fund managers who are delivering mediocre returns for the plan, according to our analysis.”

String of controversies

But in recent months, transparency and accountability have become watchwords for reform across a host of flashpoint issues in California politics and policy.

In education, trouble with the state’s community college system has led its governing board to “begin searching for a replacement for the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges,” as the Sacramento Bee reported. “The organization, which regulates two-year schools in California, Hawaii and American territories in the Pacific, has been under fire for an inconsistent, oblique and overly punitive accreditation process.”

In criminal justice, discord has erupted over the appropriate degree of public disclosure that law enforcement officials should be required to apply to video collected by cops on the job. “Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, a former Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy, is proposing to exempt video involving police shootings and serious use-of-force incidents from the California Public Records Act until after a case is adjudicated,” as the Los Angeles Times observed, “which could be months or even years after the event.”

Sacramento squabbles

And in lobbying, Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, has taken heat for a bill, AB1200, that would “require individuals or entities to register as a lobbyist if they have been hired to influence how California awards state contracts,” as Government Technology explained. “The goal is to give the public more information about the $11 billion the state spends every year on goods and services, including lobbying activity before contracts are put out to bid.”

The state Fair Political Practices Commission has told lawmakers that it has no business tracking state procurement as a lobbying activity,” added the site. “In a March 22 letter, FPPC chair Jodi Remke wrote that AB1200 would expand the commission’s oversight to ‘a highly specialized area that is best regulated by the Department of General Services’ and other state agencies. She also questioned whether the bill would bring about the type of disclosure its backers seek.”

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