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Breaking the Rules for Their Paymasters
Prop 75...
[Lance T. Izumi and Xiaochin Claire Yan] 10/27/05

According 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.

The state 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]

Lance 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]

This pair pummeled proponents of Prop 75 with off-the-wall questions and rarely 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 Prop 75.

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

copyright 2005 Pacific Research Institute



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