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Friday
Jun032011

POLITICS (State, Local): CalPERS, big $$loss on Arizona land deal; health insurance rate regulation, legislation approved by Assembly Democrats, GOP walkout in protest; Central Basin Municipal Water District, large contract awards, political connections.... 

***Political connections at Central Basin Municipal Water District. Big financial loss at CalPERS in connection with an Arizona land deal: land purchased for $400 million five years ago sold last week for $32.5 million.  Controversial legislation to regulate health insurance rates approved by Assembly Democrats, Republicans walk out in protest....

* Los Angeles Times:  "Water district gives millions in contracts to politically connected recipients" - "Those people and organizations have helped the southeast Los Angeles County agency fight critics and avoid outside scrutiny." 

   A water district that serves southeast Los Angeles County has awarded millions of dollars in contracts to politically connected individuals and organizations, which have helped the district fight critics and avoid outside scrutiny, public records and interviews show. The Central Basin Municipal Water District's relationships with state legislators, a former mayor of Bell and other political insiders have enabled the obscure utility to accumulate clout in Sacramento and in the industrial corridor along the 710 Freeway. 

   At the heart of the district's political ties is the Oldtimers Foundation, a nonprofit organization that was run for many years by George Cole, a former Bell mayor and councilman who has served on the water district's elected board of directors......................

* Sacramento Bee:  "CalPERS loses on Arizona land deal" - From the Bee:

   Another big CalPERS land investment has gone sour, this one in Arizona.

   A partnership led by CalPERS sold a massive parcel in Goodyear, Ariz., last week for $32.5 million – a fraction of the $400 million purchase price five years ago. While the pension fund didn't provide details on the transaction, "it would be safe to say that the majority of the loss is ours since we are the majority investor in our partnerships," said Brad Pacheco, spokesman for the California Public Employees' Retirement System. 

   The CalPERS partnership paid $150 million in cash and borrowed $250 million to buy the land in 2006, according to Bloomberg news and Business Real Estate Weekly of Arizona, which first reported on the deal. About 42,000 homes were going to be built on the 10,000-acre site. The land is now owned by an Arizona private equity firm and a Texas investment partnership.

   For CalPERS, the loss is a legacy of the huge real estate bust of 2008-09, which cost the pension fund more than $9 billion. But the fund's real estate portfolio has gained nearly 10 percent in the past nine months, Pacheco said.............

* Sacramento Bee:  "Assembly OKs health insurance regulation as GOP walks out" - From the Bee:

   The Assembly passed one of the year's most controversial and intensively lobbied bills Thursday  -- imposing rate regulation on health insurance  -- after Republicans walked out of the chamber in protest.

   GOP members wanted to call a caucus to discuss the measure, Assembly Bill 52 by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, but Speaker John A. Perez refused to call a recess. Democrats then defeated a recess motion with leaders saying Republicans were trying to stall long enough to kill the bill because of Friday's deadline for action. The GOP retreated to the Rules Committee room off the chamber and closed the door.

   Without Republicans on the floor, the remaining Democrats conducted a brief debate, with Feuer arguing that regulation by the insurance commissioner is needed because "health insurance rates are skyrocketing." Several Democrats were critical of the bill but just one, Sacramento's Richard Pan, voted against it as the measure was sent to the Senate on a 42-1 vote. Pan is a physician.

   Health access groups and Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, whose presence on the floor prior to the bill debate had irked Republicans, have lobbied for the bill while health insurers, backed by business groups, oppose it................

Friday
Jun032011

BREAKING NEWS: Former U.S. Sen./two-time presidential candidate John Edwards indicted, criminal campaign violations in connection with payments to mistress.... 

***Big news this morning on the national political scene....

* Los Angeles Times:  "John Edwards indicted by North Carolina grand jury" - From the LAT:

   A North Carolina grand jury has indicted former Sen. John Edwards on criminal campaign finance violations in connection with a sex scandal.

   Edwards, the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2004 and a candidate for president in 2004 and 2008, was charged with four counts of illegal campaign contributions, one count of conspiracy and one count of false statements. The charges stem from a years-long investigation into whether Edwards used money from two supporters to cover up an affair with Rielle Hunter, a former campaign videographer with whom he had a child.

   Prosecutors say the money from Edwards' supporters to Hunter constituted campaign donations because it furthered his political career. Edwards attorneys consider that an improper interpretation of campaign finance laws, and that the case is a matter for the Federal Election Commission, not the courts.

   "John Edwards has done wrong in his life — and he knows it better than anyone — but he did not break the law," his attorney, former White House Counsel Gregory Craig, told the Los Angeles Times last week. "The government's theory is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law. It is novel and untested. There is no civil or criminal precedent for such a prosecution."

   Edwards, 57, has reportedly been offered deals to lessen criminal penalties in return for admission of guilt, but he has refused to plead guilty to a felony offense...............

* San Francisco Chronicle (AP):  "John Edwards charged in felony indictment" - From the Chronicle:

   A federal grand jury has indicted two-time presidential candidate John Edwards over massive sums of money spent to keep his mistress in hiding during the peak of his 2008 campaign for the White House.  The case of USA v. Johnny Reid Edwards contains six counts, including conspiracy, four counts of illegal campaign contributions and one count of false statements. The indictment was returned in the Middle District of North Carolina Friday. An Edwards spokeswoman said she wasn't aware of the filing and declined immediate comment.

   The indictment is the culmination of a federal investigation that lasted more than two years and scoured through virtually every corner of Edwards' political career.

   ****

   A plea to a felony charge involving campaign finances could strip Edwards of his law license and end any hope he could work as an attorney for the poor. And a trial would mean more sordid stories about his campaign affair and the child he fathered during it, further battering his reputation. Even if he were to win the case, it appears the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee would do so by making a humiliating argument: that money used to keep his mistress and out-of-wedlock child in hiding was intended to shield the affair from his cancer-stricken wife — not to aid his candidacy, which is what prosecutors believe.

   "Trial or not, John Edwards is the Charlie Sheen of American politics — great hair and no chance for rehabilitation," Democratic consultant Jack Quinn said.

   ****

   The case against Edwards focused on the private money used to keep Edwards' mistress in hiding. Andrew Young, a former aide to Edwards, initially claimed paternity of mistress Rielle Hunter's child and traveled around the country keeping her in seclusion. Young has said he received hundreds of thousands of dollars of support from two wealthy Edwards donors.......

Thursday
Jun022011

MEDIA: New York Times, executive editor Bill Keller to step down; lawsuit filed vs. Tribune Co. and Times Mirror Co. shareholders by former executives and editors; former NPR chief Vivian Schiller hired to run New York Times digital operation.... 

***Several significant media-related news items today....

* Washington Post:  "Bill Keller to step down as New York Times executive editor" - From the WP:

   The New York Times said Thursday that executive editor Bill Keller will step down and be replaced by managing editor Jill Abramson, who will become the first woman named to lead the newspaper’s newsroom. Keller, who has been editor of the Times since 2003, will become a full-time writer for the paper, a position in which he has distinguished himself, winning a Pulitzer Prize as a foreign correspondent.

   ****

   The move was a surprise to many inside and outside the newspaper. Keller, 62, has been a steady presence as executive editor, taking over for Howell Raines after a series of journalistic missteps at the paper................

* Washington Post:  "Former Tribune, Times Mirror executives, editors sue shareholders" - From the WP:

   A group of former publishers, executives and editors of the Tribune Co. and Times Mirror Co. filed suit Thursday against major shareholders who benefited from the $8.2 billion takeover of the media conglomerate.

  The group is seeking to recover $109 million in retirement benefits that were stripped after the company that publishes the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune filed for bankruptcy in the wake of the buyout, which had enriched some shareholders...................

* Washington Post:  "NBC News hires ousted NPR president and CEO Vivian Schiller to run digital operation" - From the WP:

   NBC News is hiring former National Public Radio chief Vivian Schiller, who left this year in the midst of a political controversy, to run its digital operation.  Schiller resigned under pressure as NPR president and CEO . . . after a conservative activist caught a former NPR fundraiser calling the tea party movement racist. NPR’s management was also criticized last year for how it handled commentator Juan Williams’ firing.

   At NBC, Schiller will oversee the company’s websites and mobile phone venture. She is filling the newly created position of chief digital officer. Before joining NPR, Schiller was general manager of The New York Times website and helped run the Discovery Times channel....................

Thursday
Jun022011

POLITICS (Local, Sacramento, San Diego): City of L.A.,Villaraigosa, approval of $6.9-billion budget; Vernon, in "fight to death" with Assy. Speaker John Perez; Chiang to legislators, no budget, no pay; Supreme Court ruling on prisons, Jerry Brown says state needs more time; state Sen. Christine Kehoe, possible candidacy for San Diego mayor; etc.....

Thursday
Jun022011

SACRAMENTO: Redistricting, mapping, lobbying efforts; update, legislation to curb pension spiking and double-dipping; Jerry Brown tax plan, latest polling info; legislative approval, financial aid for undocumented college students; shelving of bills to "police" lawmaker behavior; etc........

***A lot of information out of Sacramento today, on a number of topics.....

* San Francisco Chronicle:  "California voters back Brown on tax ballot"

* Los Angeles Times:  "Voter support for Brown's taxes still below 50%"

* Sacramento Bee:  "New California poll numbers"

* Sacramento Bee:  "Bill to curb pension spiking and double-dipping moves forward"

* Capitol Weekly:  "Redistricting maps: The devil is in the details"

* Capitol Weekly:  "CalChamber, others try to lobby Redistricting Commission"

* Los Angeles Times:  "Bill on financial aid for undocumented college students advances in California Legislature" - "The Legislature also moves on measures for police monitoring of sex offenders' Internet use and ending the fingerprinting of food stamp recipients."

* Sacramento Bee:  "California lawmakers shelve bills to police their behavior"

* Sacramento Bee:  "Drug company fired by CalPERS now loses $3 billion contract"