Big Daddy

Big Daddy

Dear Big Daddy,
What do you think about the new FPPC chair wanting to halt announcing when politicians are under investigation?
–Irked in Imperial

Dear Irked,
It’s a great idea, and it’s about time somebody stopped blabbing the names of people under investigation.

I know, I’ve been there, I speak with authority. Remember, perception is as important – maybe more important – than reality in politics, so if a name shows up as being under investigation, it’s nearly the same as being found guilty.

Of course, most of them are guilty.

But every now and then you run across one who isn’t. As bard Bart – I watch Simpson reruns up here – once said, “I didn’t do it, nobody saw me and you can’t prove it.” Words to live by – and I did.

Odd that the FPPC’s fangs may be pulled in by Jerry Brown, who loudly demanded the creation of the commission because of the Watergate scandals. Brown was secretary of state then and got elected governor the same year that voters approved creating the FPPC. Guess the old, aggressive Jerry has been replaced by a new, tranquil Jerry. Right.

It’s not as if the FPPC is a powerful guardian. It has no criminal authority and can only impose civil fines, although it can turn cases over to the local prosecutors. Most politicians pay their fines out of campaign funds, anyway, so they feel little pain. The real power of the FPPC is in news coverage, in the stories that reach into the districts of the smacked politicians, and in disclosure.

I used to drink and sing country-western songs with Ross Johnson – he has a better voice than me, but I could keep up – and when he took over the FPPC a few years ago, I knew changes were on the way.

He pushed through better tracing of independent expenditures, politicians’ charitable solicitations, ranked the big-dollar interests and compiled their clout in a book, put economic disclosure statements online and alerted the public when a politician was under investigation.

The irony is that Johnson, the right-wing caveman from Fontana and Irvine, was on a crusade at the FPPC to uncover the bodies.

Of course, he buried many of them himself and had no compunction poking majority Democrats, but still, he was doing God’s work. He’s ill and retired now, but he’s exactly what the state needed at the right time – a smart-ass, blue-collar politico who stuck to his guns, thumped everybody and gave a good speech.

But the alerts on those investigations have got to go, because good politicians work best in the dark. Thank Heaven, the incoming FPPC chair wants to be fair to politicians.

Fairness is a wonderful thing, and we should have more of it in politics. The public, of course, knows nothing of fairness and doesn’t want to.

Neither do I frankly, and those of us in public life shouldn’t pay attention to the public, anyway. You snicker, but I’ve always felt that the first duty of a public official was to ignore the public – except those with money or votes in hand. They have skin in the game.

It is the public that comes up with crackpot ideas like eviscerating property taxes or demanding that lawmakers be removed from office after only serving a few years. Nonsensical, even by Orange County standards, as Ross well knew, privately.

You get what you pay for, and the public got exactly what it deserved in the Legislature.

Maybe they didn’t pay enough.

Ed’s Note: Gingerly corrects Big Daddy to show that the Political Reform Act was approved in June 1974, not in November, when Brown was elected governor.


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