Back when Governor Jerry Brown was Secretary of State, he helped create California’s Fair Political Practices Commission, which has strived to ensure politicians behave ethically; but now, three decades later, that safeguard may have lost its edge. In the last year since Governor Brown appointed Ann Ravel as Commission Chairwoman, the panel has relaxed restrictions on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers, scaled back its open meetings, and stopped notifying the public of imminent investigations. Brown’s spokesman, Gil Duran, has stated that the Governor is happy with Ravel’s performance, but some doubt her austerity. In the past, the FPPC has aggressively investigated several conflict-of-interest cases, some involving Brown, but under Ravel, who successfully lobbied against conflict-of-interest rules in Santa Clara County before becoming chairwoman, the commission has been criticized for allowing exemptions to gift-giving regulations on lobbyists.
How do you think the FPPC is doing? How closely should the FPPC be watching and regulating lawmakers? Brown has appointed many of the commission’s members during his time as attorney general and as governor, but is this ethical if they are responsible for the oversight of the governor’s internal affairs?
Bob Stern, president, Center for Governmental Studies; he was the principal co-author of the Political Reform Act, which established the Fair Political Practices Commission and was first general counsel for the Commission from 1975-1983
William Lenkeit, counsel for the California Fair Political Practices Commission