Ex-FPPC chairwoman Liane Randolph changes sides, joins Dream Team

A former chairwoman of the Fair Political Practices Commission — who once battled Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in court over campaign finance laws — now serves as an attorney and advocate at the lobbying and legal firm hired by Schwarzenegger’s multi-million dollar political committee, the California Dream Team.

Attorney Liane Randolph left the FPPC in 2007 after four years as chairwoman, serving as an appointee of former Gov. Gray Davis. That same year, she took a position at the law firm of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, a lobbyist employer. Randolph, although not a registered lobbyist, is now paid to advise and represent a committee once squarely in her crosshairs as head of the watchdog panel.

Since August 2007, the Dream Team has paid Randolph's firm more than $690,000, campaign records show.

As chairwoman of the FPPC Randolph pushed through new regulations to crack down on committees like the Dream Team, which commissioners ruled were being used to skirt campaign contribution limits.

But four years later, Randolph appeared before the FPPC as a paid advocate for the Dream Team, the same group once targeted by those regulations. And this time, Randolph was urging the commission to oppose new crackdowns on those committees.

Randolph did not comment for this story, but in a written statement, the Dream Team's Becky Warren said Randolph "advise(s) CDT on day to day compliance with the Political Reform Act." Warren stressed that Randolph is "not policy or political adviser to the Governor.  (She) merely helps the team ensure that CDT complies with the law."

Warren said Randolph's work for the firm "did not present a conflict because (as FPPC chairwoman), Liane was the client, not the attorney in court. Fundamentally, Liane's role as Chairman of the FPPC was to make policy and enforce the Political Reform Act.  She has a different job now as an attorney representing clients who are complying with the Act.  They are two completely different and not inconsistent roles."

The regulations sought by Randolph in 2004 focused on money coming in to candidate-controlled committees. The regulations opposed by Randolph in 2008 had to do with committee spending.

The new rules, which were opposed by Randolph and were adopted in January 2009, attempted to crack down on what ballot-measure committees can — and cannot — spend their money on.

The new rules say that a ballot-measure committee can only spend money on specific ballot measures. In fact, the latest campaign commercials from the governor have been questioned by some Democrats who argue that the ads are in violation of the newly adopted FPPC rules. But Schwarzenegger’s political team dismisses those claims as unfounded.

According to official minutes from the December 2008 meeting, those who spoke in opposition to the new spending controls were Chuck Bell, on behalf of the California Republican Party, and Pillsbury’s Fed Lowell and Randolph, representing the Dream Team.

Randolph herself is not a registered lobbyist. Though Randolph is listed as the firm’s responsible officer, the law firm’s only registered lobbyist is Margaret Rosegay.

But Randolph did appear at an FPPC meeting on behalf of the Dream Team in December 2008 to provide input on new regulations the commission was considering concerning candidate-controlled committees, like the Dream Team.

In June 2004, as chairwoman, Randolph pushed for strict, new campaign contribution limits to committees controlled by political candidates, such as the governor’s Dream Team committee. The new rules applied fundraising limits to “any committee controlled by a candidate for elective state office that is established for the purpose of supporting or opposing state or local ballot measures.”

The regulation effectively limited Schwarzenegger’s ability to raise funds for the 2005 special election campaign. In March 2005, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne Chang struck down the regulation, effectively ending contribution limits to the Dream Team and other committees like it.

Randolph did not lobby the commission directly until December 2008, when the commission contemplated new rules for ballot-measure committees controlled by political officials or candidates. According to lobbying reports, the Dream Team paid the law firm $141,158 for work during the final three weeks of 2008. The firm received an additional $82,445 during the first three months of 2009.

Warren said Randolph's work for the team came only after the Dream Team hired Fred Lowell, a partner in the Pillsbury firm. "Fred Lowell was retained by the Dream Team in April 2007.  Liane joined Pillsbury at a similar time," Warren explained.  "Before Pillsbury was retained, Fred had let CDT know that she had been on the opposite side of the Citizens case and had been Chairman when the FPPC had brought an enforcement case against the Dream Team (known then as the California Recovery Team) so CDT was aware she was working for Pillsbury."

While the dream team has used Pillsbury for legal counsel for the last two years, the Dream Team officially brought Pillsbury on as lobbyists on December 11, 2008, the same day the FPPC heard testimony over proposed regulations voter ballot-measure committees.

Dream Team spokesman Adam Mendelsohn said Randolph has been the committee’s attorney since 2007. “She was not hired specificially to fight  any one regulation,” Mendelsohn said. Instead, he noted Randolph’s firm, Pillsbury, Winthrop, Shaw Pittman, filed a lobbying report because Randolph did weigh in on a regulation before the Fair Political Practices Commission toward the end of 2008.

According to "revolving door laws," members of a public agency must be out of office for 12 months before lobbying that agency.

Randolph was appointed to the FPPC by Davis, a Democrat, in March 2003. According to an online biography, she served at the Oakland law firm of Meyers Nave and focused on municipal law. At Meyers Nave, she provided counsel on open-meetings laws, land use, the California Environmental Quality Act, redevelopment and public contracting matters. She was a staff attorney for the FPPC  from 1995 to 1997, drafting regulations and agency advice letters.

Randolph’s role on behalf of the Dream Team raised questions on Tuesday, after Schwarzenegger launched a statewide television ad campaign on the state budget. He took to the airwaves to counter recent ads from labor groups attacking the governor’s budget stand.

Schwarzenegger’s TV blitz was paid for by the Dream Team, a ballot campaign committee controlled by the governor. The committee’s key donors include $500,000 from the governor himself and Wal-Mart, $400,000 from Google, and major donations from Chevron, AT&T, Verizon and Oracle, among numerous others. Many of the donors have business before the state.

Rules regarding the financial activities of candidate-controlled committees have long been considered at the FPPC. In particular, the commission has favored greater disclosure of spending, and has sought greater oversight on transfers of funds between committees.

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