New state ethics watchdog may seek end to posting allegations of wrongdoing

The new chief of the state’s campaign finance watchdog agency said she may try to keep complaints of wrongdoing against public officials off the Web until they have been substantiated.

Federal attorney Ann Ravel, appointed chairwoman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission by Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday, said she shares concerns of politicians who grouse about the agency’s practice of posting unresolved complaints on its website.

“A mere complaint without having been investigated…can unfairly cast somebody in a light that is inappropriate and can have a huge detriment to their lives and their careers,” said Ravel, a 61-year-old Democrat who has been deputy assistant attorney general for torts and consumer litigation in the United States Department of Justice since 2009.

Ravel was also the former Santa Clara County counsel, a job that included advising elected officials on state political conduct rules.

The posting of unproven complaints from the public deemed worthy of investigation was an initiative of outgoing FPPC Chairman Dan Schnur. The policy is supported by such advocates as Katie Fleming of California Common Cause, who argues that “if we don’t find out what our candidates are up to in a timely manner, it’s more difficult to make informed decisions.”


But Internet posting drew complaints from attorneys for elected officials.

The policy “is unfair and prejudicial” to those accused, said James C. Harrison, president of the California Political Attorneys Assn., whose members often represent officials named in the complaints.

Ravel also said her goals include making it clearer to public officials how to comply with the law.

The commission has an important role enforcing the law against “individuals who are actually engaging in improper and corrupt activity,” she said. “But most of the public officials in the state are not doing that. Many of them are just not well informed about the law.”

In addition to Ravel, Brown appointed former federal prosecutor Sean Eskovitz of Santa Monica to a second seat on the five-person commission, which oversees and enforces the state’s campaign finance and ethics laws. Eskovitz, 40, has prosecuted public corruption cases in New York. He is a Republican and is a partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP.