Watchdogs will be on guard during final legislative rush

On California's legislative agenda: a possible increase in the minimum wage. Above, protesters in Los Angeles rally in support of a nationwide push by fast food workers seeking a $15-an-hour minimum wage and the right to unionize.
(Liz O. Baylen, Los Angeles Times)

SACRAMENTO — Let the frenzy begin.

California legislators return Tuesday from a Labor Day break and begin a final rush to a Sept. 13 annual recess. They’ll deliberate and vote on hundreds of bills that survived eight months of hearings, lobbying, votes, backroom deals and, of course, parliamentary maneuvering. On the agenda for business are bills relating to petroleum fracking, electricity rates, a possible increase in the minimum wage, and workers’ comp benefits for athletes.


It’s also a time when good-government groups are on the lookout for measures that spring to life without being vetted by committees. Such legislative legerdemain, known as “gut and amends,” occurs when proponents take advantage of the chaos to severely amend a dead or dying bill and create something completely different.

“That’s when the crazy starts to happen,” said Phillip Ung, a spokesman for California Common Cause, a nonprofit that promotes government transparency.


But lawmaking isn’t the only thing legislators do during the last few weeks in Sacramento. They furiously solicit political campaign money from lobbyists, unions, businesses and scores of other deep-pocketed players.

The money rolls in at fundraisers held at restaurants and entertainment spots, where participants drink beer, wine and cocktails and eat tacos, sushi, pizza and gourmet fare. Some are held at cooking schools; others at Triple A baseball games. Last week, politicians held 45 fundraisers with ticket price for events supporting legislators running as high as $4,100 per person. The mixture of legislating and fundraising “is public policy at its worst,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. “This is a perfect example of what it shouldn’t be.”


Speaking of money and politics

Californians just got a new tool for connecting the dots about who’s giving money to whom, and what that generosity might be buying.

Advertisement, a Berkeley nonprofit that follows money and politics, just released a new state political contribution search engine, California Power-Search. It downloads campaign contribution lists from the California secretary of state and puts them on a website that’s easier to use than the often cumbersome government data.

“It allows citizens and journalists to keep an eye on what elected representatives are doing and who is influencing them,” said co-founder and President Daniel G. Newman.


Out of here

Nannette Miranda, the Capitol’s last out-of-town-station TV reporter, is off the job. There are still four Sacramento stations that cover events at the Capitol.


Miranda’s decade-long stint ended last week when ABC executives laid her off, ending her daily reports to KABC-Los Angeles, KGO-San Francisco and KFSN-Fresno.

The company had “other priorities,” Miranda said. “I feel it’s a huge loss to have fewer people covering the Capitol.”


Twitter: @marclifsher