the Rules for Their Paymasters
[Lance T. Izumi and Xiaochin Claire Yan] 10/27/05
to the state Senate’s Guide to Laws on Official Conduct
for Legislators and Legislative Staff, California law prohibits
the use of public funds or resources to advocate the passage
or defeat of a ballot initiative. At a recent hearing on Proposition
75, the paycheck protection initiative, two legislators totally
disregarded that prohibition.
constitution requires that the Legislature hold informational
hearings on statewide ballot propositions. Public funds pay
for these hearings, which is why legislators are not supposed
to advocate the passage or defeat of the initiatives in question.
Yet, anyone tuning into the joint informational hearing held
on September 27 by the Senate Labor Committee and Assembly
Public Employees Committee would have seen Democratic chairmen
Senator Richard Alarcon and Assemblyman Alberto Torrico use
the forum to advocate the defeat of Prop 75.
Lance T. Izumi
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]
Izumi is Director of Education Studies for the Pacific
Research Institute and
Senior Fellow in California Studies. He is a leading expert in education policy
and the author of several major PRI studies. [go to Izumi index]
pummeled proponents of Prop 75 with off-the-wall questions
allowed them to finish their answers. By contrast,
they lobbed rhetorical softballs to opponents and allowed them
to make speeches. Indeed, Alarcon’s questions for opponents
turned a good chunk of the hearing into one long commercial against
For example, he asked, “Is
this Prop 75 nothing but a sham under the guise of workers
protection, but in fact an effort
to whittle away the protections that the workers have by virtue
of the advocacy that these organizations provide?"
As another member
of the panel, Republican Assemblyman Roger Niello, observed, "We
seemed to have had two different hearings here, certainly in
terms of tone. In the first part, I was dismayed
to observe the hearing being not so much the merits proposal
but much more an attack of the motive and impugning of the organizational
charter of the proponents of Prop. 75."
The most obvious violation, however, came when Alarcon used
his summation commentary to blatantly advocate against the initiative.
"I don't support this measure," said Alarcon, "I'm
vehemently opposed to it not only for the substance of the issue,
which I believe undermines worker's rights, but also I'm opposed
to the proposition and initiative abuses that have taken place
in the last decade or longer."
Alarcon went on to
urge Californians "to say NO to all
of the measures on the ballot in November, including this one."
A memo sent out by
the Assembly Rules Committee reminded legislators and staff: “A Member may use any portion of his or her
time to advocate or work for or against the qualification or
passage of an initiative or other ballot measure.” However,
the memo emphasizes that “legislative resources cannot
be used by the Member for this purpose.” By using the publicly
funded legislative informational hearing as a forum to advocate,
in a very explicit way, the defeat of Proposition 75, Alarcon
broke that rule.
Throughout the hearing,
it was repeatedly pointed out to Alarcon that he was "browbeating the witness." Alarcon's response
was that as the chairman of the committee, he was allowed to
do so. It was also pointed out to him repeatedly that the proponents
were often questioned on issues completely unrelated to the proposition
at hand. His response: "We were elected. . . . We will decide
what is relevant."
Sen. Alarcon, here’s what’s relevant: you can’t
bend the law while on state time and while using taxpayer resources. CRO
2005 Pacific Research Institute