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California Political Watchdog Chair Discusses Campaign Finance Ahead Of November Election

Poll worker Melanie Withey attaches "I voted" stickers to a box at a polling station on election day in San Diego, June 8, 2010.
Associated Press
Poll worker Melanie Withey attaches "I voted" stickers to a box at a polling station on election day in San Diego, June 8, 2010.
California Political Watchdog Chair Discusses Campaign Finance Ahead Of November Election
California Political Watchdog Chair Discusses Campaign Finance Ahead Of November Election GUEST: Alice Germond, chair, California Fair Political Practices Commission

Now the midterm elections starts to get serious. Voting is already underway at the County Registrar of Voters office and mail in ballots are being sent out as we move closer to Election Day we'll be seeing more campaign ads getting more flyers and robo calls. And the campaigns themselves will be spending more money. So it's gearing up to be a busy time for California's campaign watchdog agency the Fair Political Practices Commission. The P C is in charge of enforcing campaign financing conflicts of interest lobbying and government ethics. And joining me is the new head of the PPC Alice Germond is chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission. Alice welcome to the program. Thanks Maureen and thank you so much for having me on. Now Alice you're fairly new to this job you came in after the previous chair stepped down. There was lots of turmoil at the agency is that over now. Pretty much so happily. I think things have settled in an important way and that is that we are able to work together. Of course the different commissioners represent different ideas and it's the ideas. The concept of what's a fair political practices commission should do that is important not any internal power struggles or things like that which happily I think have been resolved at a confidence level that makes us able to really look at what the issues are and do our jobs. So what's your top priority as we head into the midterm elections. My top priority is making sure that the voters of California feel confident that their vote counts that they have the information they need to make an informed decision and that there are any shenanigans or dark money or other kinds of things that may mean that something's not right in our election process or in the advertisements of Facey particularly because that is one of the main jobs of the FPC. We have an enforcement division that looks at and resolves or tries to resolve and sometimes has to find people who want to run for office are running for office and may not be clear where their funding comes from who's behind them and in fact we have this wonderful new tool. I was just going to ask you about that. It's an online tool right. It's an online tool it's called Ad Watch and if you out there in San Diego or anywhere in California see an ad that is a bit mysterious don't quite know who funded it or what's behind it. It seems a little bit odd or unusual and it may or may not be. But if you think it is all you need to do is take a picture of it go to the FPP say and send us that information and we'll take a look and make sure that what you're seeing is legal proper and accurate. Now you know campaign finance reform advocates often say that the FPP see investigations aren't resolved until months after the election or sometimes years down the road. After candidate under investigation may actually already be in office. Is there anything that can be done to address that that sort of time gap there. You're right there is a bit of a time gap because obviously if somebody does something naughty in the last stand like three weeks we have to look at it carefully and make sure that something wrong did happen. And sometimes people can try to weaponize the FTC and suggest that someone has done something naughty and they're off before the PPC and therefore don't vote for Jane Doe for the most part however. With our new streamlined process which is a much quicker way and a much clearer way we can prioritize we can take care of anyone who may have done something inadvertently wrong and you know clarify all these kinds of issues way before an election. Also I think I understand and respect the fact that most people in politics are in it for the right reasons. They truly care about the issues and so they run for office. And I think we're seeing that in an extraordinary way this cycle. I wanted to ask you about a local campaign that's been in the headlines recently. Elkhound city councilman Ben Kalasha go apparently sent a campaign letter from his official city email address and has been using the city of ELCO hones letterhead for campaign business. Is the commission aware of this. I frankly don't know the answer to that. I wish I could be more helpful if it has come before us and we are looking into it before it gets to the actual commissioners. And we do not take a position or even look into those kinds of details until it comes to us so that our decisions are based on real information what our legal department and our enforce department brings before us and then we will weigh all of the facts. If there is an issue here let me ask you sort of generic question then could a candidate using official city letterhead face fines possibly. I think it depends on a number of different things. What they're using it for what the issue is is it an election issue. There are a whole batch of different contributing factors to either being fined or not being fined. And as I said I know that you are new to the job yet you've been on the job now and and you must be looking at the way the PPC works. Are there areas of the campaign finance law that you would like to see strengthened. The quick answer is yes but strains in a way that looks more to the future for example at our last meeting we took up the issue of bitcoins. How will campaigns be funded in the future. What are the new ways of advertising in campaigns. What about text messaging. What about all the kinds of e-mails that we're getting. How do they fit into how a campaign is run and how the voter receives them and how she or he understands who's paying for them who's behind them what the real story is here. And I would like to see the BBC have a smooth enforcement policy so that we can move on to the kinds of issues that we're going to see in the future before they become a problem. And that's where issues like too much money in campaigns. Where does it come from. Dark money new kinds of advertising. Who's paying for that meetup. Who is telling you to come to such and such a place. The Union Station in San Diego for the big rally. Who's paying for that big rally. All of those kinds of new ways to campaign are exciting to me because it involves more and more people. But at the same time may open doors for mischief and one does not want mischief to occur in a campaign. I've been speaking with Alice Sherman chair of California's Fair Political Practices Commission. Alice thank you very much. Thank you Maureen and go out and vote people in San Diego.

Voting for the November elections is already underway at the San Diego County Registrar of Voters office and mail-in ballots are being sent out.

As election day approaches, voters will soon be seeing more campaign ads, receiving more mailers and robocalls. The campaigns themselves will also be spending more money.

All that means it's about to be a busy time for California’s campaign watchdog agency, the Fair Political Practices Commission. The FPPC is in charge of enforcing campaign financing, conflicts of interest, lobbying and government ethics.


Alice Germond, chair of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, discusses what the agency is doing ahead of election day, Tuesday on Midday Edition.

Democracy Day is an effort that started in 2022 to draw attention to the crisis facing American democracy, provide the public with the context and information they need, and bring all types of media together to sound the alarm collectively. KPBS is a media partner in this collaborative.