Tag Archives: Sacramento

Target Needs to Pay for Targeting Our Privacy

Target ShirtTarget is targeting our privacy. There’s a big red bullseye, a target – like the one on the shirt I’m wearing today – that Target and Neiman Marcus, who chose not to show up to answer questions today, have put on us because they haven’t done enough to protect our private financial data. And the reason is that there’s no financial incentive to do so.

110 million Americans had their personal financial information breached. That ‘s one out of two adult Americans. I was in Sacramento today to testify in front of a joint California Assembly committee hearing investigating the breach. And yet Target did not send a single representative to Sacramento today to answer questions about the largest data breach in American history?

The fact that Target didn’t show up today tells us all we need to know about how sorry Target is and how committed it is to our privacy.

If you are as offended by this as I am, I have a t-shirt for you to wear too.

The reason Target won’t face legislative questions today is the same reason that our personal financial information and data is at such grave risk: there is no price to pay. There are few financial penalties to companies like Target when our personal data is taken.  

Beyond public embarrassment, Target has little financial incentive to care.

We, the consumers, pay the consequences but we have no remedies.

According to the Committees’ own staff research, 1 in 4 consumers whose personal information that is taken becomes a victim of identity theft. 1 in 4 victims of a data breach is also a victim of identity theft. If these numbers apply to Target, that would potentially create more than 25 million identity theft victims.  

There’s a harm. The retailers had a role in creating that harm. And yet they have no liability under California law for what they have or have not done to safeguard the sanctity of our personal information.

The problem with privacy violations is that unlike thefts of money or property the law does not recognize a harm and does not provide a remedy.

As the Committees’ staff research states: consumers have no remedy under the law for the loss of financial privacy suffered through these data breaches, and the 1 in 4 risk of id theft they face.  Zero remedies.

Jamie CourtSo why would retailers invest in greater security, or meet voluntary industry standards, or move away from risky magnetic strip technology?  

If they don’t have to pay a price they don’t have an incentive to change.  And that leaves our private financial information with a big bullseye on it.

What can we do?

We need a California financial information act that mirrors our Medical Information Privacy Act.    

When there is a data breach of our medical information, the drug company, hospital or medical center is liable to the consumer for $1,000 per violation.  

Guess what?  Medical data breaches are fewer and farther between. When they occur companies pay a big price.

The same should be true for our financial data. We need a California Financial Information Privacy Act

It would:

  • Change notification standards to be immediate.
  • Write minimum-security standards into the law so that they are no longer voluntary.
  • Set limits on the time data can be retained. And limits on what information can be collected and retained
  • Most importantly: create a private right of action. Put a price tag on retailers’ mistreatment of our private financial information.

Until there is a price to pay, Target and other retailers will continue to make us targets.

If you are as offended as I am by Target’s absence today in Sacramento, please share our Target design online to show your displeasure.

When a company as big as Target won’t provide a single representative to answer questions about the largest data breach in American history, it is time for California to step up and deliver on the promise in Article 1 Section 1 of our state constitution: Privacy is an inalienable right.

Posted by Jamie Court, President of Consumer Watchdog.

Give my 6-week-old daughter’s death meaning

38 Is Too Late BillboardMy baby Mia died in a hospital at just 6 weeks of age from whooping cough in the middle of a whooping cough epidemic because doctors didn’t give her a simple test.

A 38-year-old law says her life is only worth $250,000 – that is the value of a child in California when they’re harmed by the health care industry. It’s wrong, and it’s the reason medical negligence is so common today – there’s little price to pay when something goes wrong.

We should not have to put up a billboard in Sacramento to get the Legislature’s attention to change the law, but we did. It’s on Highway I-80 so state legislators will consider updating the antiquated law that for the past 38 years has put a discriminatory limit on the value of a precious life like Mia’s.

Will you help me keep this billboard up with a donation today?

You can read more about Mia and watch a video at 38istoolate.org, where you can join our movement to update patient safety laws in California and better protect patients.

Please take a minute to donate and learn more.


Posted by Alejandra Gonzalez-Chavez, Special to Consumer Watchdog.  Follow Consumer Watchdog online on Facebook and Twitter.

California Tenants to Have Lobby Day in Sacramento

(Bumped to remind folks about SB 603   – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

California is a deep-blue state, with two-thirds Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature.  And when landlords tried to repeal rent control at the ballot five years ago, they suffered a massive defeat.  But that doesn’t mean the legislature is pro-tenant.  Every day, real estate lobbyists in Sacramento have their ear – as they spread misinformation & scare tactics about common sense, pro-tenant legislation.

Which is why a Lobby Day on Tuesday, May 7th by Tenants Together to pass SB 603 (security deposit reform) is so unusual.  For the first time in over a decade, dozens of tenants from throughout California will swarm the State Capitol – meeting with legislators about the security deposit crisis, and demanding change.  And the Senate Judiciary Committee will be voting on SB 603 that same afternoon.

Every year, California landlords hold billions of dollars of security deposit money.  For many tenants, it is their largest asset – and yet most never expect to see it back, assuming that it’s merely a “cost” of renting a new apartment.

A Tenants Together survey found that nearly 60% of its members reported having their security deposit unfairly withheld.  Most tenants did not bother to proceed with suing their landlord in small claims court.  And while a new report of three courthouses found that tenants prevail in 70% of such cases, a miniscule number of landlords – only 3.5% of cases – were hit with penalties.

In other words, landlords have impunity to steal your security deposit – knowing that tenants are not likely to sue, and if they do they would simply be required to pay it back (with no penalties) a few months later.

Senate Bill 603 by State Senator Mark Leno would do three things: (a) require landlords to keep tenant deposits in separate accounts, not comingled with their assets, (b) impose automatic penalties against landlords who fail to return deposits and (c) require that landlords pay tenants interest on security deposits, as is the law in many local jurisdictions and a statewide requirement in many other states.

SB 603 is a very modest proposal to better secure money that tenants are required to give to their landlords – but we expect a vigorous fight from the landlord and real estate lobby, who are used to always getting their way in Sacramento.  Tomorrow’s Lobby Day will feature the human side of the issue – with tenants from across the state who will meet with State Senators and their staff, highlighting this issue.

Stay tuned on Wednesday, as we report back on the outcome of Lobby Day.  In the meantime, you can call or write to your State Senator and urge them to vote “yes” on SB 603 by going to this link: http://org2.salsalabs.com/o/52…  

Statehouse Responds: Threatens to Put Medical Board Out of Business

Enough is Enough

Last month, at an emotional in hearing in Sacramento and in a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed, we called for the state agency that oversees doctors to become a stronger regulator or to go out of business.  The Legislature has to renew the doctor-run medical board every ten years, and that’s this year. Sacramento apparently agrees with us.

After an emotional outpouring from families who lost their love ones to dangerous doctors, and thousands of emails from Californians, the chairmen of the Senate and Assembly Business and Professions Committees sent a message.  The Los Angeles Times is reporting that chairs Curren Price and Richard Gordon have written the medical board to state that they will not reauthorize the board unless it commits to major changes.

This is a big and important step toward strong patient protections in this state. The California Medical Association has for too long stymied real change for patients in the Capitol, and now Gordon and Price have upped the ante by acknowledging the depth of the problem for patients.

Three important areas need to be reformed, as Carmen Balber and I outlined in the San Francisco Chronicle op-ed:

A true overhaul of physician discipline would move complaint investigators into the attorney general’s office to work hand in hand with prosecutors and would create a public-member majority on the medical board.

Real reform should also include mandatory random drug testing of high-risk surgeons and physicians – as is mandated now for bus drivers, college athletes and pilots.

Finally, the state’s 38-year-old limits on the rights of injured patients need to be revisited, too. It’s time for the public to take the power back for itself.

The movement is afoot, and we have taken another step toward greater patient safety. Stay tuned. Momentum is building but we still have a long march ahead.


Posted by Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell and President of Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

John Perez Wins A Battle Against Torie Osborn, But Loses The War For 2/3rds

With 100% of precincts reporting, the race for the 50th Assembly District ended with an upset, with community organizer Torie Osborn ending up in third place, and the Democratic Mayor of Santa Monica, Richard Bloom and Democratic Assemblywoman Betsy Butler surviving the June primary – only to face each other again in November.

Butler squeaked into first place by only 102 votes.

Her boss, Assembly Speaker John Perez, spent over a million dollars to get Butler those votes. But while he was busy waging a war against Torie Osborn in AD50, he lost the war for AD66, and ultimately the 2/3rds majority Democrats desperately needed to break Republican obstruction in Sacramento.

Let me explain.

The Democratic candidate in AD66, Al Muratsuchi, came in first against his Republican opponents and will face off against millionaire Republican Craig Huey in the fall. But while good news for Democrats in the short-run, the numbers look dismal for Muratsuchi in November.

With 100% of precincts reporting,Muratsuchi garnered 22,000 votes while his Republican opponents Huey and Nathan Mintz combined received nearly 33,000 votes. Mintz will certainly endorse Huey, so expect Republican voters to fall in line for the general election.

That’s a hell of an enthusiasm gap to overcome.

Muratsuchi received virturally no support from Sacramento even as Perez publicly  declared the Santa Monica/West Hollywood race his top priority, securing the California Democratic Party endorsement for Butler at the February convention, then directing or pressuring Assembly members, Sacramento unions, and PACS to dump over a million dollars into the safe blue seat.

What that means in real-world terms is that while Sacramento squandered it’s resources in AD50, there was nothing left over to help South Bay activists register voters or build any infrastructure to get out the vote. It’s a deficit that, even if corrected now, will haunt the district through the fall.

What remains to be seen is if Perez will bother to correct that deficit at all. In fact, it’s far more likely he will continue this destructive pattern into the general election.

Victory in November isn’t assured for Butler. By all accounts, she proved to be a terrible campaigner in the AD50 race, relying almost entirely on Sacramento’s largess to get her through the June primary. It’s anyone’s guess as to how she will do against Bloom, who has the advantage of real – not manufactured – incumbency in the district.

As Sacramento contemplates even more draconian cuts to education, healthcare, social services and environmental protection, the legacy of these two races will be a stunning indictment of Assembly Speaker John Perez’s lack of leadership.  

Just in Time For The June 5th Primary: Sacramento Dem Dysfunction In One Easy Graph

Back in February, I reported how Dem leadership in Sacramento apparently just wasn’t all that into winning a 2/3rds majority this year.

Turns out 4 months later, not much has changed.

To review, thanks to redistricting and a new “open primary” system, Democrats have a realistic shot in 2012 at picking up the two seats in the Assembly needed to achieve a 2/3rds Democratic super-majority and overcome obstruction from Republicans. Without that super-majority, things will continue to deteriorate in Sacramento, with Democrats forced to make draconian cuts to education and the social safety net instead of finding ways to raise revenue to balance the California budget.

“California voter approval of the Democratic-controlled legislature slinks along between 9 and 20 percent in recent Los Angeles Times and Field polls,” writes former state Senator Tom Hayden in the Nation magazine. “Despite Democratic majorities in both houses and control of all statewide offices, the Democratic Party seems chronically unable to deliver the minimum that voters want from their government: results. College tuitions keep rising, and college doors keep closing. School funding keeps declining. Wetlands and redwoods keep disappearing. Billions spent on mass transit do not reduce congestion and air pollution. To a disillusioned majority, all the Sacramento fights appear to be about slowing the rate of California’s decline”

Yet Democratic leadership and PACs donated over a million dollars to two “incumbent” Assembly members running in super-safe Democratic districts while virtually ignoring other seats in swing districts (source ca.sos.gov)

Mike Allen in AD10 (+35 democratic voter registration) and Betsy Butler in AD50(+33 democratic) together received 5x more money than Al Muratsuchi – a non-incumbent Democrat running in AD66 (+3 democratic) against two better-known and well-funded Republicans.

He has received no money from the California State Democratic Party, while Allen and Butler combined have received over a $100K.

Eric Bauman, Vice Chair of the California Democratic Party, believes it’s a non-issue.

“Let’s not get caught up in misunderstanding or distorting the challenge. Muratsuchi’s race is a November race, not a June race – rest assured he’ll be fully resourced in the general election.”

Rick Jacobs, founder of the California Courage Campaign, disagreed, raising concerns that throwing resources at safe Democratic seats would damage the CDP’s credibility with grassroots activists.

“So then comes the question as to why, given priorities statewide, the leadership raises and spends hundreds of thousands of dollars in AD 50. How does that inspire people to work hard and raise money for 2/3?”

Susie Shannon who serves on the Executive Board of the CDP Progressive Caucus was similarly incredulous. “How do they expect to raise money from the grassroots in the future if they are just going to whittle it away on safe Democatic seats? Any way you slice it, the (money) spent on the Butler primary could have been saved for the Marutsuchi general election to defeat the Republican candidate, or any number of more productive endeavors. I would rather see this money going to overtime pay for the overworked CDP staffers.”

The question now is what happens after June 5th if “incumbent” Assembly democrats Butler and Allen end up running against “non-incumbent” Democrats in November instead of Republicans.

Will Democratic candidates facing Republicans in other districts be, as Bauman promises, “fully resourced”? Or will Butler and Allen continue to take the lion’s share of Sacramento’s and the CDP’s pie?

“I would venture many thousands will be spent to support the candidates endorsed by the CDP,  and that includes Butler and Allen,” said Bauman.

“The CDP and (Speaker John Perez’s) priorities should be to make sure we have 2/3 majority so we could actually accomplish some important things like generating revenue, ” said Agi Kessler, a delegate to the California Democratic Party and chair of the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley.

Concerned that party leadership would waste money on Democrat-on-Democrat races throughout the state, Kessler and other democratic party activists circulated a petition at the CDP convention asking Assembly Speaker Perez to prioritize winning a legislative super-majority when allocating limited resources. They submitted nearly 300 signatures from fellow delegates.

“As of today we’ve received no response from the Speaker or anyone in his office”, said Kessler.  

Finally, A Real Chance for Public Higher Education Reform in California

As a recent graduate of San Francisco State University, I am thrilled that there is finally momentum gaining in the movement to achieve real public higher education reform in California. In particular, the Middle Class Scholarship Act is an economically feasible way to make public higher education more affordable for all Californians.

While I was a student at SFSU my tuition increased every semester. To make matters worse, I never qualified for financial assistance to help fund my education because the State determined that my parents could afford to pay not only my tuition but also those of both of my sisters.

California’s public college students are continuing to struggle. The CSU Board of Trustees’ recent decision to close Spring 2013 enrollment is just one of the devastating blows that our public higher education students have been forced to endure, with no end in sight.

Luckily, help for California’s public university students and their families could be on the way. The Middle Class Scholarship Act recently proposed by California State Assembly Speaker John A. Perez is exactly the kind of public higher education reform that California’s students and their families need in these difficult financial times.

If it is approved by two-thirds of the California State Legislature, the Middle Class Scholarship Act will provide scholarships to approximately 150,000 CSU students and roughly 42,000 UC students who have family incomes less than $150,000 and whom do not already have their fees covered. These Middle Class Scholarships will slash student fees by two-thirds. Additionally, our California Community Colleges will receive $150 million to address their unique needs. The Middle Class Scholarships will be paid for in full by closing a wasteful corporate loophole that only benefits out-of-state businesses.  

The Middle Class Scholarship is an innovative solution to California’s public higher education crisis that will help students achieve their dreams, while at the same time, ensure that our Golden State has a strong workforce that is prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century economy.

I know that as a student, it is difficult just to make time to study and to work but I strongly urge all of California’s UC, CSU and Community College Students to do whatever they can to help pass the Middle Class Scholarship Act and to fight for the higher education reform they deserve. From signing and sharing this petition and tweeting and posting Facbook messages to your State legislators and Governor Brown (if you don’t know who your State legislators are, you can look them up here) to organizing on campus and gathering signatures, no action is too small or insignificant. Keep the faith and, most importantly, keep making your voices heard.

Please embrace the help of the politicians who want to help The Middle Class Scholarship Act become law. Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, Speaker Perez, Senators Darrell Steinberg, and Leland Yee and many other State leaders have consistently stood in solidarity with California’s college students and have fought tirelessly against every single higher education budget cut and fee increase. To pass the Middle Class Scholarship Act, the support and expertise of these politicians will be invaluable.    

If California’s public college students continue to come together and rally the support of our State legislators to pass the Middle Class Scholarship Act, I think we will finally see the dawn of real public higher education reform in California.

‘Medicare for All’ Would Solve California’s Budget Deficit

by Jennifer Epps

In Canada, the only way to see a doctor is to call one up and make an appointment. Or walk in to their office. In Britain, the only way you’ll get surgery is if you actually need it. And yet State Senator Mark Leno and 44 co-sponsors want to bring this kind of healthcare system to everyone in California! Imagine.

In fact, the California legislature twice approved such a system, in which private providers carry on as independently as always but the public pays their bills directly (rather than indirectly as it does now, through a patchwork quilt of emergency care, programs to bring healthcare to the poorest and the elderly, and subsidies for insurance premiums.) Both times Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill. But Senator Leno, a longtime campaigner for single-payer — a.k.a. “Medicare-for-All” — has brought the bill back again as SB 810. Last week, the bill fell just two votes shy of passage with a tally of 19-15 in favor. (It needs 21 to pass because it requires more than a simple majority.) Sen. Leno plans to push for another vote under Reconsideration, because several Democratic state senators abstained, but the deadline to win their support is today.

(Edit by Brian…More over the flip)

This single-payer bill is championed by Campaign for a Healthy California, a coalition which includes the California Nurses Association, Physicians for a National Health Program, California Alliance for Retired Americans, Progressive Democrats of America, California School Employee Association, Democracy for America, the California Health Professional Student Alliance, and many others. They have put out action alerts to supporters of SB 810 to call on five key state senators to vote Yes: Los Angeles area state senators Alex Padilla, Rod Wright, and Ron Calderon; San Diego area senator Juan Vargas, and Fresno/Bakersfield senator Michael Rubio. If supporters can bring just two of these state senators around in time for a Reconsideration vote today, then patients in California could very soon be able to choose which doctor to see (rather than submitting to a ‘network’ or their HMO). And the leading cause of bankruptcy for both the insured and uninsured – medical bills – could be eliminated.

A lot of people – i.e. all other advanced democracies in the world – think access to healthcare is a basic human right, and that organizing that access is one of the functions of a government and of a civilized society. In fact, in poll after poll, the majority of Americans support a publicly-funded universal health care system as well.

But never mind that. This is a time of economic struggle, an overstretched state budget, and financial uncertainty. Giving the government the job of administering health insurance at this particular juncture is above all else…the most fiscally conservative thing to do.

SB 810 would eliminate private health insurance entirely. All Californians’ healthcare costs would be paid for from one big pool. It’s just like the way people get insurance coverage now, except much much simpler, everyone would be covered, and the profit motive would be removed. And making health insurance a government-run program would dramatically reduce a huge portion of health care expenses that are eaten away by needlessly complicated administration costs. It’s the exact opposite of what the bill’s detractors pretend. Rather than creating more bureaucracy or paperwork, SB 810 would very quickly whittle down the costs of administering healthcare, currently at 33% of California’s total healthcare spending, to under 5%.

Providers would only have to bill one entity, a new California Healthcare Agency, and would have no need to chase after patients for unpaid balances, or argue with insurers about whether the insured really does need that organ transplant or dialysis. That’s how Sen. Leno’s site can claim that SB 810 would save California $20 billion in the very first year by reducing administrative costs alone.

Moreover, health insurance commissioners would not need to watch over insurers and fight their premium hikes on behalf of consumers (health insurance premiums grow 4 times faster than wages). After SB 810, there would be no premiums. There would be no deductibles. There would be no co-pays. There would be no private health insurance.

These companies would still find a way to sell insurance for non-essential services — just as in Canada insurers offer policies for things like private rooms should the insured be hospitalized. Insurance companies are nothing if not resourceful, and we shouldn’t worry about them too much. The big change would be that with a single-payer program, insurance companies could no longer build their business by keeping the whole health system stratified.

The U.S. spends twice as much of its GDP on healthcare as other wealthy nations do. It spends more, and gets less. Americans receive less doctor consultations, hospital care, and surgery than people in other industrialized nations, yet our healthcare costs are higher. Insurance companies, by insisting on their privileged position as middlemen between patients and physicians, balloon healthcare costs out of all proportion. Far from delivering medical care more cheaply, these companies take money from patients – and from non-patients, like those who put off getting care because they can’t afford their deductibles or co-pays but who keep sending in premiums to ward off catastrophe – and apply it to profit dividends, CEOs’ bonuses and even marketing to win over more customers. And all we get in exchange is the 37th best healthcare in the world, according to the WHO.

In addition to Big Insurance, we have Big Pharma driving up healthcare costs. Countries like Canada began long ago to use the leverage of government to negotiate down drug prices, but in the U.S., the government behaves as if it is powerless in the face of whatever pharmaceutical companies wish to charge. SB 810 would tackle prescription drug pricing in California by using its bulk purchasing power. Sen. Leno estimates that such savings on medication, as well as equipment, would save the state $5.2 billion.

Lack of or inadequate insurance leads many to wait until their health is seriously threatened and then seek care in Emergency wards, rather than getting preventative screenings or catching the problem at the initial symptoms. This is not only costly to the hospital which provides the Emergency services, and to taxpayers who have to make up the costs, but it escalates costs in general, since by the time these patients seek care they are in need of much greater intervention. SB 810 would transfer the emphasis to preventative care and primary care, and thereby save Californians an estimated $3.4 billion.

In short, Sen. Leno maintains that SB 810 would be fully funded from the money we already spend on health care, and that, to boot, California would save a total of $29 billion just in the first year.

Considering that these cost-cutting measures would completely solve the state’s fiscal crisis without either cutting social services or raising taxes, if Republicans really were fiscal conservatives they should have jumped on board with full support for SB 810. But of course insurance and pharmaceutical companies would be pretty unhappy with them, and campaign donations would stop flowing.

Considering that the Republicans’ objections to the federal Affordable Healthcare Act was that it would force people to buy private health insurance – the result of the Obama Administration’s barring single-payer advocates from all planning sessions – you would think that they would all be in favor of the freedom that SB 810 would bring. But of course it’s hardly the freedom of the 99% that matters.

SB 810 has strong backing from ordinary, non-radical Californians. Sen. Leno’s website lists 172 groups (unions and professional association, religious groups, city governments, Democratic Clubs, etc.) who endorse SB 810 and who have been working hard to make California the 2nd state in the nation to enact single-payer.

Single-payer advocates affiliated with the Campaign for a Healthy California include the American Medical Student Association, Consumer Federation of California, League of Women Voters of California, Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party, Amnesty International USA, California National Organization of Women, Courage Campaign, California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers, and California Faculty Association.

The bill’s champions expect that Governor Jerry Brown would happily follow in the footsteps of Vermont’s Governor Peter Shumlin and sign a single-payer bill. (The passage last spring of a publicly-run health insurance system made Vermont the first state in the U.S. to take this bold step.) If Sacramento fails to pass SB 810 this year because one Democratic senator voted No (Calderon) and four Democrats abstained (Padilla, Wright, Vargas, and Rubio), there will be a lot of very disappointed people in this state.

There will also continue to be 7 million Californians without insurance. Even after the federal Affordable Healthcare Act kicks in, 3 million Californians will remain uninsured, says Sen. Leno. Despite the fuss the country went through over health insurance reform, so-called ‘Obamacare’ would only manage to cover four out of five at best. And it is predicted that many who will still be unable to afford health insurance will choose to pay the fine instead. We will still have a tiered health care system. And we will stay pay more for less.

Alex Padilla (Pacoima/LA area)
Capitol – 916-651-4020
District – 818-901-5588

Rod Wright (Los Angeles area)
(916) 651-4025
(310) 412-0393

Juan Vargas (San Diego area)
Sac: (916) 651-4040
Dist: (619) 409-7690

Michael Rubio (Fresno/Bakersfield area)
Sac: (916) 651-4016
Dist: (661) 395-2620

Ron Calderon (Los Angeles area)
Sac: (916) 651-4030
Dist: (323) 890-2790

Anatomy of a CDP Endorsement: How Sacramento Insiders Rig The System Against Grassroots Candidates

Grassroots activists in Assembly District 50 received a hard lesson in “Incumbent-Protection 101” this weekend. Despite losing every Democratic Club endorsement in the district, candidate (and current 53rd AD Assembly member) Betsy Butler managed to get 57% of the vote at yesterday’s California Democratic Party “pre-endorsement” caucus, beating her opponent, Torie Osborn, who had won the support of every local club who voted to endorse, often by overwhelming margins.

Welcome to the myopic world of hard-ball Sacramento politics.

Every year, CDP delegates meet a few weeks before their yearly state convention to “pre-endorse” (aka recommend) Democratic candidates they believe are worthy of their party’s institutional support.

Candidates who received between 50% and 70% of the votes at their local weekend meeting are now eligible for, but not guaranteed of, the state Democratic party’s seal of approval at the February convention. And if no one received at least 50% of the votes, Dems won’t offer any endorsement in that legislative or congressional primary.

(And don’t even ask me the rules for how Democrats in these local party meetings gained eligibility to vote. Instructions from IKEA make more sense.)

Again, these meetings and subsequent endorsements are notable because of the brave new world of party primaries, ushered in by 2010’s Proposition 14 top-two system. It’s a world unsettled, too, by new district maps that have left more open seats than at any time in recent history.

As such, a number of Democratic candidates are scrambling for an advantage. And the gold standard is thought (by many) to be the official “Democratic Party candidate” come June.

The CDP endorsement is particularly important to Butler, who has little name recognition in AD50, having moved from the South Bay to avoid running against Tea Party candidates in her home district.

Theoretically at least, the delegates voting in these caucuses are supposed to be from the home district of the candidate they’re voting to endorse. And actually, the delegates themselves are. However, the politicians who “own” these delegates don’t have to be.

Only about a third of CDP delegates are elected by popular vote. The other two-thirds are appointed by politicians or elected by Central Committees. And in contested races like the one for the 50th Assembly District, delegates can be traded amongst politicians like playing cards.

That’s exactly what happened yesterday in the AD50 pre-endorsement caucus.

Of the 64 votes Butler received, 5 of those came from delegates she herself appointed. Forty-two delegates were assigned by Assembly Speaker John Perez, who pulled them from assembly members in districts as far away as San Francisco and Riverside.

Torie Osborn, on the other hand, not being an elected official, could not assign herself delegates. The numerous Democratic club endorsements she secured weren’t particularly helpful either, since party rules severely limited the number of delegates they’re allotted. Some endorsing clubs weren’t eligible to send delegates at all.

Dorothy Reik, President of the Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains – one of the clubs endorsing Osborn – attended the pre-endorsement caucus.

“John Heaner, the chair of the 13th District who was running the meeting, tried to claim that other electeds had a stong interest in our district and had sent the delegates on their own.” said Reik,”That is ridiculous. Those delegates were not even in the room for the most part. What should have been an example of local democracy in action turned into a farce.”

Butler failed to get the 70% needed for unanimous consent at the CDP convention, so she’ll have to wait until February for another endorsement vote at the convention to seal the deal. It’s entirely possible grassroots activists won’t let this go without a fight, and could organize to block Butler’s endorsement.

But such moves are rare, success rarer still. The grassroots are woefully underrepresented at the State Convention, the delegation an almost perfect microcosm of Sacramento itself – insular, inclined to protect the status quo and resistant to overcoming institutional inertia.

But in the age of “occupy”, grassroots activists seem less willing than ever to put up with the status quo. As one young Osborn supporter put it, “Folks in Sacramento should take note that AD50 supports Torie Osborn without a doubt,and will fight to make her voice heard”

Fasten your seat belts, kids, this could be a bumpy ride.

Last Night Of CA Legislature, What Damage Done?

The clock ticking down on the last night in the California statehouse is always a lot like waiting for last call at a rowdy bar around 2 AM — you wonder how much damage will done before the last shot.

The clock ticking down on the last night in the California statehouse is always a lot like waiting for last call at a rowdy bar around 2 AM — you wonder how much damage will done before the last shot.

For years my colleagues and I have stood watch on the California legislature,into the wee hours of the morning, to make sure that politicians and companies didn’t a pull a fast one at the last moment. There have been a lot of close calls over the years, and some lost ones too.

Here’s the roundup from Friday night’s/Saturday morning’s last call in the statehouse before 2012:

•     Last day legislation to move all ballot initiative measures to the November 2012 ballot, and stop ballot measures on the June primaries, cleared both houses of the legislature. Senate Bill 202 passed every committee and both houses in a single day. It’s not clear whether Governor Brown will sign SB 202,  but if he did, the public would win big.  Special interest groups often target the low turn-out June primary to pass measures the majority of Californians would never approve of.  It’s better to have the real sentiment of the most Californians voting on ballot measures, rather than allowing corporations, for example, to target a much more friendly electorate in June, when Republicans will turn out big for their presidential primary.  Mercury Insurance CEO George Joseph is trying to qualify his insurance surcharge initiative in June, a repeat of the failed Prop 17 from June 2010, for this very reason.  He would stand even less a chance of pulling the wool over the eyes of the majority of real California voters in November.  Turns out SB 202 stands on strong principle.   For decades, prior to 1978, initiatives only went on the November general election ballot, which is what the California constitution requires.  Then the legislature officially changed the protocol.  If the legislature can change the definition of “general election” to include primary election, it can change the definition back.

•    Legislation requiring health insurance companies to cover behavioral therapy for autistic children went to the Governor’s desk, SB 694.  Consumer Watchog sued Governor Schwarzenegger’s Department Of Managed Health Care to force such continued coverage for autistic children in 2009, when the state started allowing insurance companies to deny the treatment as “educational.”  A 9th Circuit decision recently strengthened our legal case, which is still pending, that the Mental Health Parity Law requires behavioral therapy to be covered.   The insurance companies no doubt hope the new legislation will undermine our lawsuit and other pending cases against them, because they don’t want to have to pay for the therapy they have denied since 2009.  Senator Steinberg, however, testified that he believed such therapy was always required and the legislation was clarifying existing law.  We expect to prevail.

*  The bill to force health insurance companies to get prior approval from state insurance regulators before raising rates never came up for a vote on the Senate Floor. AB 52, authored by Assembly Member Mike Feuer,  was shelved for the year  because the legislation did not have enough votes in the insurance-friendly state Senate.  Consumer Watchdog is exploring a November 2012 ballot measure to regulate health insurance premiums, rollback rates by 20% and gives patients new options. Stay tuned for developments as our opinion research and drafting continues this fall.

Governor Brown hosted a kegger in his office for the legislature after it closed down in the early morning hours.  For the public, there wasn’t much to celebrate this session, other than that more damage wasn’t done.


Jamie Court is the president of Consumer Watchdog and author of The Progressive’s Guide To Raising Hell.