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Leland Yee falls, and California secretary of state candidates rise up

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Thanks to state Sen. Leland Yee’s alleged attempts to broker illegal gun deals for campaign contributions, candidates for California’s secretary of state are suddenly getting a lot of attention and news coverage. Yee is out of the race, although his name will still appear on the ballot in the June primary. But his scandal is giving some candidates an opportunity, if they choose to use it.

On Tuesday, Dan Schnur called a news conference in Sacramento in which he denounced lawmakers for failing to pursue meaningful reforms after the recent ethics scandals among legislators. The former Republican political strategist turned no-party-preference candidate said he was running to be “California’s reformer in chief.”

“The people in this state are going to elect a person who is going to clean up a corrupt Capitol culture once and for all,” Schnur said. “California’s secretary of state is going to be the person to make those changes.”

Democrat Derek Cressman on Monday called for the creation of a independent ethics commission with subpoena power that could investigate allegations of campaign and ethical improprieties. “It’s time to drain the swamp in Sacramento,” Cressman said in a statement. He’s a former vice president of Common Cause and an outspoken advocate for campaign finance reform and public financing of elections.

Green Party candidate David Curtis and Democrat Jeff Drobman put out statements saying Yee’s apparent downfall is the result of the corrosive influence of money in politics, and Republican Pete Peterson called for “representatives who focus on the job that they’re running for and not the office title.”

Another candidate, state Sen. Alex Padilla, issued a statement last week calling on Yee, along with Sens. Ronald S. Calderon, who has been indicted for corruption and bribery, and Roderick D. Wright, who was convicted in January on voter fraud and perjury charges, to resign. The Senate ultimately voted to suspend the three Democrats. Padilla has otherwise kept a low profile in recent days, and there’s been some speculation that he might suffer blowback from the scandals among fellow Democrats. Cressman has even touted his candidacy as “the non-state senator guy.” 

The candidates may have chosen to focus on campaign finance reform, ethical oversight and rooting out corruption, but the fact is the secretary of state doesn’t have much power over of any of it. The office carries out the requirements of the state’s Political Reform Act. It registers campaign committees and lobbyists, publishes online campaign finance and lobbying disclosures, processes candidate statements and produces the voter guide. But the secretary of state doesn’t control campaign finance laws and has limited ability to change the rules.

Presumably most candidates understand the limitations of the job, and several have said publicly that they want to use the office as a bully pulpit to push their brand of reform. That’s fine. But the candidates should be clear with voters about what they’re proposing to do from the bully pulpit and what they can do from behind the secretary of state’s desk. Voters might be disappointed to learn how much corruption their reformer in chief can actually clean up.

Must-read headlines from L.A. to CA:

More public corruption investigations, please, East Bay Express

The FBI, the state attorney general and local district attorneys should launch more undercover probes of politicians.

More than 450 medical pot shops file to renew taxes in Los Angeles, Los Angeles Times

More than 450 medical marijuana dispensaries have filed renewals to pay Los Angeles business taxes this year, more than three times as many as are allowed to stay open under Proposition D.

Southern California not so sprawling after all, Los Angeles Times

It may not seem like it when you’re stuck in traffic on the 110 Freeway, but Southern California is home to some of the least-sprawling metro areas in the country. That’s according to a study out Wednesday from Smart Growth America, which attempted to measure the concept of urban sprawl in 221 metro areas nationwide. The study ranked the Los Angeles, Orange County and Santa Barbara regions in the 25 least-sprawling.

L.A. council member balks at plans for Jay-Z summer festival in Grand Park, KPCC

Plans for Jay-Z to mount a massive two-day festival at Grand Park this summer are being questioned by the man who represents the downtown area. Councilman Jose Huizar says he wasn’t informed of the Made in America festival, which promoters say will attract 50,000 people Aug. 30-31. Huizar has introduced a motion asking city departments to stop issuing permits for the event until his office is briefed on the plans. The festival could shut down the streets and sidewalks surrounding City Hall and Grand Park — in some cases for as many as 10 days.

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Follow Kerry Cavanaugh on Twitter @kerrycavan and Google+

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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