( – promoted by Robert in Monterey)
By Frank D. Russo
A bitter fight for the endorsement by the California Democratic Party between incumbent State Senator Carole Migden and challenger Assemblymember Mark Leno is shaping up to be the biggest battle at the state party convention being held in San Jose. The picture above is typical of what delegates and other other observers have seen over the last two days as they exit the convention floor.
The Democratic Senate leadership has pulled out all the stops to get Migden endorsed as dozens of Senate staffers, along with other supporters of hers, have been holding signs in meetings and the hallways urging that the party endorse her. Unfortunately, this is one of those incumbent protection moves, where challenges to an incumbent must be fought at all costs. Delegates appointed by Senators who would have supported Leno, the challenger, have been replaced by those loyal to Senator Migden.
Tempers flared last night at a dinner for Take Back Red California outside the convention center, and a Migden supporter grabbed a Leno supporter’s arm and blocked the doorway in an attempt to prevent her from gathering signatures needed to get a floor vote to overturn the packed endorsing caucus. Migden suporters were out in force to prevent signature gathering by those seeking to force a vote by the full convention.
Over the flip…
It all comes to a head today when the full convention will vote on whether to ratify an earlier decision made by an endorsing caucus yesterday evening to support Migden. That vote and debate will take place after former President Bill Clinton is scheduled to address the convention at 9:30 a.m. and San Francisco District Attorney, a supporter of Barack Obama speak.
Supporters of the move to overturn the caucus decision turned in 600 signatures of delegates, double the 300 required, despite the lengthy time it took to count the votes from the caucus. The results were not announced until after 7 p.m. and the rules of the party required signatures be turned in by no later than 11 p.m.-a daunting task as weary delegates who had been attending the session since 9 a.m. left the convention center for food and drink in restaurants, hotels, and bars in the area. For blocks in any direction, hastily printed petitions were being circulated. Restaurants were crowded with delegates-without reservations my party had to go to three locations, and at each of them signature gatherers were there with clipboards.
In the endorsement caucus, Migden received 150 votes to Leno’s 115, with one lone vote for former Assemblymember Joe Nation, who is challenging her also.
Earlier this month, we reported on a David Binder poll
from February that showed Migden trailing not one, but two challengers. Binder, arguably San Francisco’s leading pollster found that Nation led Leno 27-24% on the initial ask, with Migden trailing at 17%. When pro and con statements about the candidates were read, the Leno-Nation numbers reversed, with Migden remaining at 17%. Joe Alioto Veronese, who has since dropped out and endorsed Leno was at 7 and 10%, and nearly a quarter of the electorate was undecided.
Matters have only worsened since then as Migden agreed to pay a $350,000 fine-the largest in state history-to the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), a state agency since it was created in the wake of the Watergate scandal in the 1970’s. Migden agreed that she had violated 89 provisions of the Political Reform Act. She even filed suit against the FPPC for enforcing laws that she had supported when they were enacted, arguing that they were an unconstitutional infringement of her First Amendment rights after she was advised of legal problems spending $647,000 she had raised while in the state Assembly.
That last action of Migden’s brought a countersuit by the FPPC for $9 million in damages, which issued this statement, five days ago accusing her of a consistent and deliberate failure to follow California campaign laws:
“The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), the independent state agency charged with investigating violations of campaign finance laws, today filed a counterclaim in Sacramento federal court against Sen. Carole Migden seeking more than $9 million in damages for her consistent and deliberate failure to follow California’s campaign laws.
“The commission’s filings indicated that Migden’s actions hid the true nature of her campaign accounts from state regulators, potential opponents, the media and the public generally. She failed to report a number of large transactions entirely, while reporting other large transactions which simply never occurred.
“For years, Senator Migden has been deceiving the voters of California by filing inaccurate campaign statements, fabricating the elimination of committees and concealing campaign funds,” said FPPC Chairman Ross Johnson. “The sophisticated and pervasive pattern of deception by her various controlled committees has been ongoing for more than five years.”
“Earlier this month, Migden was fined $350,000 by the commission and admitted to 89 violations of the Political Reform Act. During the months-long investigation that resulted in that record fine, the enforcement division also uncovered multiple illegal transfers of approximately $1 million of surplus campaign funds that occurred over several years and were funneled through multiple committee accounts controlled by the senator. Additionally, the investigation found the filing of untrue campaign statements and a pattern of concealment through consistent misreporting of campaign information.
“The commission maintains that nearly $1 million in Migden’s 2000 Assembly re-election committee became surplus by operation of law when she left the lower house in December of 2002 and are not legally available for her to use in her current Senate re-election campaign. The surplus funds law has been on the books for nearly 30 years; however, Migden sued the FPPC arguing she should be allowed to use $647,000 of those funds that remain.
“Nothing absolves Senator Migden from her legal requirements to accurately report all of her transactions,” Johnson concluded.
“The commission’s counterclaim and the full list of violations can be found on the FPPC website at: http://www.fppc.ca.gov/index.html?ID=507“
It would be ironic if this convention on the same morning as it approves a platform supporting “clean money” and campaign contribution reform, endorses Migden. This move could make her eligible for funding from the Democratic Party as such in the primary race, which she sorely needs in light of her problems with the state’s political watchdog agency. Propping her up and keeping her in the race with this funding can only help the chances of the more moderate Joe Nation who is running for the seat. This has become a two person race-and she is not one of them.
Under California Democratic Party rules, (Article 8, Section 2(d)(4)), the convention floor must first consider whether to ratify endorsing caucus decisions before voting on those that have not been challenged on the consent calendar. The rules provide for the presentation of arguments for an against ratification.
If 50% of the convention fails to support ratification, the decision of the endorsement caucus is considered “vacated.” A substitute candidate can be endorsed, but needs a 75% convention vote.
While a 75% vote for Leno is out of the question, it will be interesting to see if he can overturn the caucus vote stacked against him by Senators rallying around one of their own.