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Newsom picks cannabis legalization coauthor to head campaign watchdog agency

Newsom picks cannabis legalization coauthor to head campaign watchdog agency
Gov. Gavin Newsom, pictured, appointed Richard Miadich, whom he worked with on Proposition 64, to head the state Fair Political Practices Commission. ((Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press))

Tapping a political ally, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday appointed Richard Miadich as chairman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission, which enforces campaign finance and lobbying laws in California.

Miadich was coauthor of Proposition 64, the 2016 ballot initiative pushed by Newsom that legalized the sale and possession of cannabis for recreational purposes in the state.

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The appointee takes over as head of the campaign watchdog panel from Alice Germond, who was appointed by former Gov. Jerry Brown but whose term as chair had ended.

Newsom declined to comment Tuesday on the appointment to the powerful commission. The chairperson is the only full-time commissioner and has a major role in the day-to-day operation of the agency as well as setting policy.

Miadich, a 43-year-old Sacramento resident, has been managing partner since 2016 at the law firm Olson Hagel & Fishburn, which represents political clients with business before the commission, including politicians facing fines for violating campaign finance laws.

Miadich could not be reached for immediate comment.

He co-wrote Proposition 64, whose most high-profile supporter was Newsom, then the lieutenant governor. Newsom had created a blue ribbon panel that came up with recommendations used to write the initiative.

In a 2017 interview with The Times after the initiative's passage, Miadich predicted the comprehensive regulatory scheme in Proposition 64 would help persuade the federal government not to interfere with California's new cannabis market.

"Given the strict regulatory structure set forth in Proposition 64, that medical and adult-use regulations are being developed in concert, and that public opinion is squarely on the side of states' rights on this issue, I think it is impractical for the federal government to reverse course now," Miadich said.

On Tuesday, the late-afternoon appointment announcement drew a muted response from groups that advocate for enforcement of campaign laws, including California Common Cause, which said they want time to review the appointment before commenting.

The Olsen Hagel law firm has long provided advice to the state's leading politicians, boasting on its website: "The firm's attorneys participated in the drafting of California's state campaign finance provisions and regularly advise candidates, committees and donors on its requirements."

Miadich's clients included the Burbank Hospitality Assn. when it agreed to pay a $5,000 fine last year to the Fair Political Practices Commission for failing to properly file a major donor campaign report after it contributed $50,000 to a local initiative.

The law firm's clients over the years have included former state Treasurer Philip Angelides, former state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, Planned Parenthood of Orange County and lobbyists including Frank Molina.

The firm represented former state Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) in a dispute that led to the commission’s issuing a warning letter over Mendoza's lack of reporting on income from a house.

In March, the firm represented the political committee called the California List as it agreed to a $700 fine for failing to properly disclose campaign activity.

Miadich, a Democrat, earned a juris doctor degree from the UC Davis School of Law.

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The appointment, which comes with an annual salary of $158,572, does not require state Senate confirmation.

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