08/12/2016 by Jania Palacios

Project to modernize California’s Political Reform Act takes stage in L.A.


(Photo Credit: Visitor7/Wikimedia)

Lawyers, public servants, students, academics, good government reform groups, and concerned citizens made Los Angeles City Hall on Thursday the center of a statewide discussion to modernize California's landmark political ethics law and encourage more people to participate in the political process.

They joined the Fair Political Practices Commission, California Forward and the University of California Berkeley School of Law yesterday for the first of three small discussions being held throughout the state regarding the Political Reform Act Revision Project.

"This is our best shot at cleaning up the law after 40 years," said Jodi Remke, Chair of the FPPC. "We’re trying to get the act into a shape where it’s easier to read, easier to understand and easier for you to make further suggestions and comments."

The Political Reform Act was approved by voters in 1974 and governs political activity in California like campaign finance, lobbying, and governmental ethics. Since then it has been amended numerous times. That's made the rules harder to understand and navigate, placing a hurdle in front of people who might want to seek public office and making it more time-consuming to enforce.

To give act more clarity, the FPPC has partnered with CA Fwd and the law schools at UC Berkeley and UC Davis for a comprehensive revision of the law. 

One of the co-authors of the original version of the Act, Robert Stern, participated in the discussion and congratulated the project's partners on taking on such an important task.

"This [act] should not be locked in stone," said Stern, former president at the Center for Governmental Studies and former General Counsel of the FPPC. "We thought it was very important for this act to be a living act. Clearly it needs to be easier and consolidated."

The gathering served to call attention to the first of two public comment periods and to empower interested individuals to voice their perspectives regarding updating the more than four-decade-old act.

"If we can encourage and empower the public to understand how to engage in this process we will end up with a better product," said Jim Mayer, president and CEO of CA Fwd.

Before beginning the project, the FPPC and CA Fwd recognized four important goals in order to achieve a robust public process: 1) to provide practitioners, public servants and citizens an opportunity to understand the vitality of the law, 2) to incorporate and include parties who deal with the law on a regular basis, as their feedback would only serve to strengthen the revision, 3) to model what an inclusive and transparent process is, and 4) to apply a high level of rigor to the comments received.  

"We wanted some qualitative understanding -- how are people feeling about the law and the project so that when we look at these comments we have context," said Mayer.

The first phase of the project spanning nearly eight months was for the UC Berkeley and UC Davis Law Schools to clean, re-organize and simplify the language without making substantive changes and create a revised draft for review. According to Remke, this is only the first of multiple steps to engage the public and only the beginning of a process that will take several months.

To help with the process, Remke said additional tools to assist the public with understanding proposed revisions will be made available on the FPPC website soon. Update: Side-by-side and marked up versions of the revised draft are available on the project's Public Packet page.

There are two more discussions scheduled for August. To register, visit the event registration page.

Tuesday, August 16 at 1-2:30 p.m.
Fair Political Practices Commission, 8th floor hearing room
428 J Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

Thursday, August 25 at 1-2:30 p.m.
Oakland City Hall, Hearing Room 4 (2nd floor)
1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza
Oakland, CA 94612

For more information about the project including an introductory webinar, a packet of materials with the latest draft of the act, and to learn how to submit a comment, please visit www.cafwd.org/pra.

CA Fwd’s work on the Political Reform Act Revision Project is supported by a grant from The James Irvine Foundation.

Categories: Democracy, Civic Engagement, Elections, Political Reform Act, Tech-enhanced Government, Accountability, Transparency, Accountability, Elections, Transparency

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