Another Dark Money Plan to ‘Protect’ Elections

The New York Times reported recently that a Democratic group is starting a nonprofit that plans to spend $10 million to “protect” election officials, who are said to have faced “increased threats in recent years” and who have been “resigning at an alarming rate.”

You would think local law enforcement agencies, and maybe even the FBI, would be investigating these threats and taking action to protect election officials.

If that’s not happening, then maybe there’s another reason that “threats” are cited in a story about a nonprofit group raising $10 million for next year’s election.

The new group is called Value the Vote, and it’s a 501(c)(4) nonprofit under the IRS code. Value the Vote was started by the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, which exists to help Democrats get elected to the job responsible for oversight and administration of state and local elections. DASS spent $30 million on the midterms last year.

Value the Vote plans to “initially focus on five battleground states,” The New York Times reported, specifically, “Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina, Nevada and Wisconsin.”

What is the group planning to do in these states that are considered critical to the outcome of the next presidential election? “The group will look to counter election misinformation,” the Times reported, “including with paid digital advertising, and will begin a voter registration program” that will be “focusing heavily on Black and Latino communities, which have tended to back Democrats in greater numbers.”

The technical name for this is “campaign spending.”

However, campaign spending is highly regulated by the Federal Election Commission and various state agencies. Campaign committees and political parties must report every donation along with the name, address, occupation and employer of the donor, and there are strict limits on how much an individual donor may contribute.

It’s different for nonprofits. They can accept donations without the limits and disclosures required of political campaign committees, but the degree of their engagement in political campaigns is limited by federal law. According to the Internal Revenue Service, a 501(c)(4) “may engage in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office provided that such intervention does not constitute the organization’s primary activity.”

But what is the “primary activity” of Value the Vote if not to go into key battleground states ahead of the 2024 election and intervene in the election? The group will be paying for voter registration of Democratic-leaning groups and digital advertising to combat “misinformation” as they define it.

Even if the IRS chooses to leave Value the Vote alone and never investigates how it’s raising or spending its money, the group could face legal trouble in the states. Twenty-five of them have passed laws banning or restricting the use of private financing in public elections.

The list includes two of the five “battleground” states on Value the Vote’s things-to-do list: Georgia and Arizona. A third state on the list, North Carolina, has a bill in the legislature that would ban election officials from accepting outside funding.

The landslide of legislation stems from one of the curious things that happened ahead of the 2020 election, along with the government’s determination that a novel virus spreads at polling places but not at protest marches. There was an unprecedented infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars from nonprofit organizations into election administration all around the country.

The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, a 501(c)(3) that under the Internal Revenue Code is “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office,” pumped about $350 million into the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life to be pushed out in “election grants.”

The Chicago-based CTCL  was founded in 2012 by three individuals who worked together at the New Organizing Institute, described by Influence Watch as “a major training center for left-of-center digital activists” and by a Washington Post reporter as “the Democratic Party’s Hogwarts for digital wizardry.” Several board members of the CTCL, according to Influence Watch, have “strong ties to Democratic political operations.”

In December 2020, NPR published an article headlined, “How Private Money From Facebook’s CEO Saved The 2020 Election.” It quoted Bill Turner, an election official in Chester County, Pennsylvania, who said the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative’s money was essential to preventing an “election meltdown” because Congress didn’t provide enough funding for such things as drop boxes and new equipment to process mail ballots. The CTCL gave Chester County $2.5 million from the funding provided by Mark Zuckerberg’s foundation. That was more than the county’s entire 2020 budget for voting services. Chester County, NPR notes, is “one of several large suburban counties that ring Philadelphia — once-Republican strongholds that have shifted in Democrats’ favor in recent years.” Hillary Clinton did well there in 2016, but Joe Biden did nearly twice as well in 2020.

Hans von Spakovsky, a former Federal Election Commission member, called Zuckerberg’s flood of money “a carefully orchestrated attempt to convert official government election offices into get-out-the-vote operations for one political party and to insert political operatives into election offices in order to influence and manipulate the outcome of the election.”

A lot of state lawmakers agreed with that assessment, which is why 25 states now have laws banning or limiting the use of money from private groups in election administration.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

CPAC Treasurer Accuses Chief Matt Schlapp of Financial, Personnel Mismanagement

The resignation letter adds pressure on Schlapp, who is fighting a defamation lawsuit from a campaign staffer who alleges he groped him

Matt Schlapp, the prominent Trump ally who leads the influential Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), was accused this week of mismanaging money and staff in a scathing resignation letter from the parent organization’s treasurer.

Bob Beauprez, the treasurer of the American Conservative Union and a board member for eight years, said he had “lost confidence” in the organization’s financial statements and could not solicit donations “in good faith.” He blamed Schlapp forexcessive staffdepartures and suggested that violations of the organization’s bylaws could expose the storied institution to lawsuits or even criminal prosecution.

“A cancer has been metastasizing within the organization for years. It must be diagnosed, treated, and cured, or it will destroy” the organization and its foundation, Beauprez said in the letter, which was obtained by The Washington Post. “I’ve come to think that the expectations for my role as a director and officer is much the same as that of a mushroom — ‘To be kept in the dark and fed a lot of manure.’ I no longer am willing to comply.”

The 13-pageletter, delivered Tuesday ahead of a scheduled June 1board meeting, escalates the internal and public pressure on Schlapp,who as ACU chairman since 2014, has become a fixture in conservative media. But his leadership is facing multiple challenges amid corporate backlash over CPAC’s embrace of the far right in the United States and abroad, as well as reduced turnout at its flagship Washington-area conference in March. Schlapp called the event a “home run.”

Schlapp and his wife, Mercedes, a senior fellow at the foundation and a former senior official in the Trump White House, are also fighting a defamation and battery lawsuit from a formerRepublican campaign aide who alleged that Schlapp groped him last fall during a visit to the Atlanta area. Schlapp, 55,has denied the aide’s account and attacked his credibility.

Schlapp on Thursday broadly denied the allegations in the letter, characterizing them in a response posted to Twitter as the “routine internal complaints of disgruntled employees.”

“The claims contained in the original email are out of context or are in error,” Schlapp said. “I’ve experienced a political assassination attempt on every part of my character and integrity for the past five months. I’m disgusted that I need to respond to the Post about internal deliberations of CPAC — an organization that’s grown five-fold under my leadership.”

Beauprez did not respond to a message from The Post.

In his letter, Beauprez said he accepted Schlapp’s denial of any inappropriate conduct involving the aide, but he also argued that the board has a duty to protect the organization from potentially significant damages and has never been“fully briefed” on the lawsuit.He said the board agreed to advance $50,000 for Schlapp’s attorney, Ben Chew, who previously represented actorJohnny Depp, butBeauprez said hewas concerned that the fees had spiraled to more than $270,000. That amount has been raised from private donors, he said.

Chew said in an email that the executive committee was briefed on the lawsuit at Beauprez’s request. “Given the information we have unearthed in discovery, we are confident we will prevail in the litigation,” he added.

Another former CPACemployee has notified the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of plans to sue over claims that she was fired in retaliation for complaining about a co-worker’s sexist and racist comments. Beauprez said the board has not been formally briefed on that case either.

“A few of us have sought answers to some of what seem to be obvious and necessary questions,” Beauprez said.“As a result, we have been accused of ‘not having Matt’s back’ and ‘trying to stage a leadership coup.’”

Concerns about Schlapp’s leadership also fueled the recentresignation of the treasurer of the American Conservative Union Foundation, Randy Neugebauer, according to several people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. Neugebauer did not respond to a request for comment from The Post.

Beauprez, a former Republican congressman from Colorado, detailed other wide-ranging complaints that he said date back to 2020. He said that since the organization’s chief financial officer left in March, the bookkeeping was taken over by a longtime business associate of Schlapp’s who provided financial documents with unexplained discrepancies. Beauprez also said he was concerned about payment obligations that were “a far greater amount than I ever recall,” and he said Schlapp was not able to specify how much money the organization made on the CPAC event in March.

The Post reported in February that more than half of the organization’s staff has left since 2021. Beauprez said Schlapp established a pattern of maligning people who leave, even when he was responsible for hiring and promoting them. Several staff members were driven to therapy and medicationin a stressed-out workplace with “major deficiencies” in management, Beauprez said.

One employee became so distressed thatshe left a group dinner and was found by co-workerswandering aimlessly in the streets, according to the letter. Multiple people who were present for that incident confirmed the account to The Post.

“New hires always come in with the highest regard, but when they leave whether by choice or get fired, they are disparaged and have suddenly become useless human refuse,” Beauprez said. “To ignore and deny the reality is dishonest.”

Beauprez’s letter also detailed several instances in which he alleged that the organization failed to follow its bylaws. Specifically, he said, the board’s executive committee approved Schlapp’s salary but neither the committee nor the board ever saw a formal contract, as required by the bylaws. Schlapp, whose chairman position is traditionally unpaid, started receiving annual compensation of $600,000 in mid-2022as his lobbying income declined, according to public records and people familiar with the organization’s finances.

Beauprez also alleged that the board never approved a resolution authorizing officers to sign checks as required by the bylaws.

Click here to read the full article at the Washington Post

California Democrats Further Torn After Seeing Sen. Feinstein’s Return to Washington

As she approaches retirement age, Democrat Donna Perkins understands reluctance about telling Sen. Dianne Feinstein what to do as she winds down her career.

After all, California’s senior senator has already announced that she would not seek another term — and some argue that the calls for her to step down earlier are rooted in misogyny and ageism.

But after seeing news coverage of Feinstein’s return to the nation’s capital last week, in a wheelchair and still weak after a nearly three-month absence from Washington as she recovered from shingles, Perkins is more concerned than ever about the 89-year-old senator’s ability to represent 39 million Californians.

“I don’t want to be like that, right? I’m getting ready to turn 65. I want somebody to say, ‘Hey, Donna, you know what? It’s time to pass the torch.’ It’s sad, but it’s not fair either,” said Perkins, 64.

Perkins was among about a dozen Democrats who gathered at the Highland Park branch of a Los Angeles library Thursday evening to watch a livestreamed U.S. Senate candidate forum featuring two of the top Democrats running to replace Feinstein in 2024, Reps. Barbara Lee of Oakland and Katie Porter of Irvine. The event was sponsored by the progressive California Working Families Party. Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank was invited to participate but declined.

Questions about Feinstein’s future have been swirling for quite some time over concerns about declining mental and physical capabilities. Concerns grew after she was briefly hospitalized earlier this year and, while recuperating at home in San Francisco, missed votes that resulted in a holdup for confirming some of President Biden’s judicial nominees. Feinstein is a member of the Senate’s powerful Judiciary Committee, which was deadlocked because of her absence, resulting in Democrats delaying votes on nominees that could not win support from Republican senators.

Feinstein flew back to Washington on Wednesday, though she has been advised by doctors to take on a lighter workload. She cast critical votes Thursday to advance judicial nominees who lacked Republican support. And yet, among some California Democrats, Feinstein’s return did little to quell concern about her likely effectiveness in the Senate, heightened further by the Democrats’ razor-thin majority.

“Everybody is so diplomatic. I think she needs to take care of herself, and you can’t take care of yourself with that intense responsibility. Something comes first — either taking care of yourself or taking care of your constituents,” said Susie Tompkins Buell, a major Democratic fundraiser based in San Francisco. “I know she likes being there, I know she’s a fighter. But I feel like for the bigger picture, for a better future for all of us, I think she should resign. It’s an act of honor to do that.”

Tompkins Buell has helped raise campaign money for Feinstein in the past and her husband once worked for the senator.

Others expressed similar concerns about representation, while declining to weigh in on what Feinstein should do.

“I’m not a doctor. I certainly haven’t seen Sen. Feinstein in person. I don’t feel like the best person to make that judgment call,” said former San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Jane Kim, who is now the executive director of the Working Families Party and moderated the Senate candidate forum.

“I think it’s important we have a U.S. senator to be able to fulfill their duties every day in the U.S. Senate because we have a tied vote,” Kim said Friday. “It is critical for our party and our movement that we’re able to move forward on decisions around judicial nominees in particular and keep business moving in Washington.”

Eddie Isaacs, 42, said after seeing the images out of Washington, he was concerned about her health but wants to see how Feinstein’s recovery progresses.

“I think we should see how she does in the next few weeks and make a decision at that point,” he said. “Frankly, I didn’t realize it was deteriorating as bad as it had been the last three months.”

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Report: Regulators Saw Problems, But Didn’t Make Silicon Valley Bank Fix Them Fast Enough

When state and federal regulators spotted problems at Silicon Valley Bank, they didn’t do enough to make sure the bank acted quickly to fix them. That’s one of the key takeaways from a report published today by the California state department that shared responsibility for overseeing the bank, which failed in March. 

The report came from California’s Department of Financial Protection and Innovation, which, among other responsibilities, works with federal regulators to oversee state banks. Some of that oversight happens in the form of bank “exams,” where government workers go in and investigate a bank’s solvency, management and more. 

In the case of Silicon Valley Bank, California was sharing oversight with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. The Fed had “assumed a lead role for many supervisory activities,” the report said. 

In years leading up to the bank’s collapse, California and federal regulators had “identified deficiencies” in the bank’s management practices and had taken action in their capacity as bank supervisors related to the bank’s “risk management, liquidity, and interest rate risk simulations,” the report said. The bank had begun to remediate those issues, but “the regulators did not take adequate measures to ensure SVB did so with enough speed,” the report said. 

The report outlined steps the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation could take to protect against “future economic destabilization,” including:

  • Work with federal regulators to come up with better, faster systems for making banks fix problems; 
  • Prioritize regulation efforts on banks with more assets, and staff up oversight teams if banks grow quickly – as Silicon Valley Bank did;
  • Increase scrutiny of uninsured deposits; 
  • Tell banks to come up with a better way to handle social media, a key element in the speed of Silicon Valley Bank’s bank run. 

“The Federal Reserve played the lead role (in overseeing Silicon Valley Bank) and, as we knew, did a negligent job of addressing problems in SVB that it identified,” wrote Ross Levine, a banking and finance professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, in an email to CalMatters. There were lots of federal and state regulators focused on Silicon Valley Bank, “and yet they collectively did not understand the magnitude of the interest rate risk even though it was obvious. Each person seemed to do their job within the context of their little inspection box. Yet, collectively, they missed the big, obvious problem staring them all in the face.”

State lawmakers will get a chance to ask questions on Wednesday when they hold an oversight hearing on Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse. Officials from the state Department of Financial Protection and Innovation are expected to give remarks and answer questions. 

“I do want to be clear that SVB failed because the bank’s leadership failed and they didn’t properly manage the risk,” said Tim Grayson, a state assemblymember from Concord and the chair of the assembly’s committee on banking and finance.

As for how much responsibility state regulators have for the ultimate demise of the bank, that’s something legislators will have to look at during the upcoming hearing, he said. 

“My focus now heading into this Wednesday hearing is how to prevent a similar situation from happening again,” Grayson said. “And what that really means for me is being able to take a fresh look at bank supervision and whether or not our state regulator has everything that it needs to protect California, at least California’s banking system.”

The report comes on the heels of the collapse of First Republic, another California bank. First Republic’s customers had begun pulling their money out before Silicon Valley Bank failed, and then customers withdrew even more money in the ensuing panic. On May 1, the state department said that it had taken possession of First Republic and handed it over to federal regulators, who subsequently sold it to JP Morgan Chase Bank.

Different banks have different regulators depending on whether the bank has a state charter or a national charter; charters are like a business license for a financial institution. Banks with a state charter, like Silicon Valley Bank and First Republic, are regulated by both California and the federal government. Other banks, including Bank of America or JP Morgan Chase, have national charters and are regulated primarily by the federal government. Banks can choose which charter to seek.

Federal regulators also bear some responsibility in Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse, as the Federal Reserve acknowledged in its own extensive post-mortem report recently. The bank’s federal supervisors “did not fully appreciate the extent of the bank’s vulnerabilities, or take sufficient steps to ensure that the bank fixed its problems quickly enough,” wrote Michael Barr, the Fed’s vice chair for supervision in a letter accompanying the report.  

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Republicans Balk at Plan to Replace Feinstein on Judiciary

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats’ efforts to temporarily replace California Sen. Dianne Feinstein on the Senate Judiciary Committee met quick opposition Monday from Republicans, complicating their plan as some of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees remain on hold during her extended medical absence.

Feinstein, 89, last week asked to be temporarily replaced on the Senate Judiciary Committee while she recuperates in her home state from a case of the shingles. The statement came shortly after a member of California’s House delegation, Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, called on her to resign from the Senate, saying it is “unacceptable” for her to miss votes to confirm judges who could be weighing in on abortion rights, a key Democratic priority. Feinstein has been away from the Senate since February.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday that he is moving forward and hopes to put a resolution on the Senate floor this week seeking a temporary substitute on the panel. But it’s unclear if Democrats will have the votes.

Multiple Republicans indicated on Monday that they would object to the rare request, meaning there would have to be a roll call vote — and Democrats would need at least 10 Republicans to vote with them for approval.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican on the Judiciary committee, said on the Senate floor that he hopes to see Feinstein back in the Senate soon, but “until then, President Biden’s most controversial, partisan judicial nominees will have to wait.”

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, a member of Republican leadership, said she wouldn’t support a temporary replacement. “We’re not going to help the Democrats with that,” she told reporters.

The uncertainty over Feinstein’s status, and over the fate of some of Biden’s judicial nominees, is the latest tangle for Schumer as he navigates his party’s one-seat majority in the Senate. Feinstein’s absence comes as another Democratic senator, John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, has also been on an extended medical leave. Fetterman, 53, returned to the Senate on Monday after checking himself into the hospital in February for clinical depression.

It also comes as bipartisan votes on federal judgeships — lifetime appointments, in most cases — have been increasingly steeped in partisanship. While the Judiciary committee has moved some of Biden’s judicial nominees with a handful of GOP votes, Republicans are loath to give approval to a plan that will help Biden place more judges on the bench.

“I will not go along with Chuck Schumer’s plan to replace Senator Feinstein on the Judiciary Committee and pack the court with activist judges,” tweeted Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., a member of the Judiciary panel.

Democrats say the are currently 12 federal judge nominees they have been unable to advance because of Feinstein’s absence. It is unclear how many of the nominees would be able to move with some Republican support.

Several Republicans questioned the motivations behind the effort. North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis said he was skeptical because Democrats aren’t trying to replace Feinstein on the Intelligence or Appropriations panels.

“Why one and not all three?” asked Tillis, who is also a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Chuck Grassley of Iowa said they think Democrats are pressuring Feinstein unfairly.

Collins said that she and Feinstein are good friends, and she thinks there has been a “concerted campaign” to push her off the Judiciary committee. “I will have no part of that,” Collins said.

Feinstein has come under increasing pressure to resign or step down from her duties. While she has defended her effectiveness, she has faced questions in recent years about her cognitive health and memory, and has appeared increasingly frail.

In 2020, she said she would not serve as the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel after criticism from liberals about her handling of of Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation. Earlier this year, she said she would not serve as the Senate president pro tempore, or the most senior member of the majority party, even though she was in line to do so. The president pro tempore opens the Senate every day and holds other ceremonial duties.

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, a longtime member of the panel who is the same age as Feinstein, chastised Democrats for denying Feinstein the opportunity to become chairman of the committee and trying to force her out of office “because she’s old.”

“I don’t intend to give credence to that sort of anti-human treatment,” Grassley said.

If Feinstein were to resign immediately, the process would be much easier for Democrats, since California Gov. Gavin Newsom would appoint a replacement. The Senate regularly approves committee assignments for new senators after their predecessors have resigned or died. But a temporary replacement due to illness is a rare, if not unprecedented, request.

It is unclear how long Feinstein will be away. Her office has not given a timeline for her return, and Democrats have not said for how long they would seek a temporary replacement. She has been away from the Senate since Feb. 27, just two weeks after she announced she would not run for another term next year.

Schumer said he spoke to Feinstein in recent days, and “she believes she will return soon. She is hopeful of that and so am I.”

Asked if Feinstein should resign, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin said Monday that “I’m not going to push her into any other decision.” Durbin had previously expressed frustration about his committee’s stalled nominees.

Click here to read the full article at AP News

Political Consultant Melahat Rafiei Pleads Guilty to Attempted Wire Fraud

A former executive director of the Democratic Party of Orange County pleaded guilty today to a felony charge for attempting to defraud one of her political consultancy firm’s clients.

Melahat Rafiei, 45, of Anaheim, entered her plea to attempted wire fraud in Los Angeles federal court. Sentencing was set for Oct. 13, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“Ms. Rafiei appeared in court today and per her plea agreement entered her plea before the judge. She is proud that the work she has done was instrumental in bringing down the Anaheim cabal,” said Alaleh Kamran, Rafiei’s attorney. “It is worth noting that her plea was not to bribery charges, but to attempted wire fraud.”

Rafiei, the principal and founder of Progressive Solutions Consulting, a Long Beach-based political consulting firm, admitted that she agreed to bribe two members of the Irvine City Council — both on cannabis-related matters, court papers show.

The two councilmembers were not named in the plea agreement, nor were any allegations against any councilmembers documented in the agreement. No current councilmembers were serving at that time.

Rafiei was a longtime leader in Orange County’s Democratic Party and formerly served as secretary of the California Democratic Party and state representative to the Democratic National Committee.

According to her plea agreement, from April to June 2018, Rafiei agreed to give at least $225,000 in bribes to Irvine City Council members in exchange for their introducing a city ordinance that would allow Rafiei’s clients to open a retail cannabis store in Irvine.

In April 2018, Rafiei presented a business opportunity to an individual who was then employed in the medical cannabis industry and offered to introduce the person to an Irvine politician, who was not identified in court papers, prosecutors said.

The next month, Rafiei met with the unnamed elected official to discuss introducing an ordinance in Irvine that would legalize retail medical cannabis and ultimately benefit the individual’s business, court papers state.

Following the meeting, Rafiei asked the person’s business partner to pay her between $350,000 and $400,000 in exchange for getting the cannabis ordinance introduced, according to her plea agreement.

Irvine only allows marijuana testing laboratories in industrial, medical and science districts. No other type of commercial cannabis business is permitted.

In September and October of 2019, Rafiei falsely represented to a commercial cannabis company owner that, in exchange for a payment of at least $300,000, she would work to pass a cannabis-related ordinance in Anaheim that would benefit and be specifically tailored for the company owner’s business, her plea agreement says.

However, Rafiei already had been working on such an ordinance for other paying clients, court papers show.

Rafiei then falsely represented to the victim that she would keep only $10,000 of the payment in exchange for her purported work. In fact, Rafiei intended to keep $100,000 of the payment, prosecutors said.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

Bills Would Let Transgender People Seal Name-Change Requests

SEATTLE (AP) — You can change your name, but in many states you can’t completely shed your old one — something that’s of particular concern to transgender people and that legislators in at least two states are trying to change.

A bill in Washington would allow gender expression and identity as reasons to seal, or keep out of the public record, a future petition for a name change. And a California bill would require the sealing of petitions by minors to change their name and gender on identity documents.

In states where such petitions aren’t sealed, transgender people can be susceptible to cyberbullying or even physical violence because their previous names, and by extension their lives, are an open book in the public record, advocates warn. Students, for instance, can and do easily find and share such records when they are looking for background on a new kid in town, one advocate noted.

Maia Xiao, a University of Washington graduate student, has changed her name in that state and said the publication of a transgender friend’s name-change records in an online forum led to relentless harassment, including hate mail. She wrote last summer to Democratic state Sen. Jamie Pedersen to urge reform.

“It feels very close to me,” said Xiao, who would not disclose the name of her friend, citing privacy. “I don’t live a very online life, but it’s really scary to know that something so personal can be so easily accessed by transphobic trolls who want to cause harm.”

Pedersen is sponsoring the Washington legislation, which passed the Senate this month with bipartisan support and is expected to also pass the House. The bill is modeled on laws in New York and Oregon and would also extend records privacy to refugees, emancipated minors and people who have been granted asylum.

Currently, only people subjected to domestic violence can have their name changes easily sealed in Washington. Some other states, including California, also make exceptions for victims of crimes like human trafficking, stalking and sexual assault.

“This seemed to me like a simple action that could go a long way in making transgender people a lot safer in our state,” Pedersen said.

Some officials and law enforcement officers worry that criminals who request a name change could escape accountability under the proposals. The Washington bill would allow courts to unseal a name change file if law enforcement had reasonable suspicions, and sex offenders and incarcerated people would still be ineligible for a sealed name change.

“This is not the intent of the bill, and such cases would be rare, but there needs to be procedures in place to prevent it,” Jennifer Wallace, executive director of the Washington Association of County Officials, said in an email.

The approaches in Washington and California contrast starkly with recent and mysterious moves in Florida and Texas to compile lists of trans residents using public records, and as lawmakers in at least 39 states consider a torrent of anti-trans bills.

Republicans’ “disturbing” requests for data on transgender residents in some of those states add urgency to his proposal, Pedersen said.

The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton last year requested data on how many people had changed the gender information on their driver’s licenses. The Texas Department of Public Safety found over 16,000 gender changes during the prior two years but didn’t turn over data because it could not determine the reason for each change.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis asked state universities last month for data on students who had sought or received treatments for gender dysphoria. Neither Paxton nor DeSantis explained why they requested the data.

Harassment from such disclosures can especially target young trans people who struggle with mental health issues or gender dysphoria, advocates say. The same internet forum that Xiao said had targeted her friend came under fire last year for instances of doxxing trans people, or maliciously publishing their personal information online, and has been linked to suicides.

Peers may search students’ names as they move to a new middle or high school and can easily find and share court records related to their petitions for a name and gender change, said Kathie Moehlig, executive director of the San Diego nonprofit TransFamily Support Services. She approached California Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Chris Ward with the idea for the bill after students she advises brought the trend to her attention.

Many families with trans children aren’t even aware such records are public, Moehlig said.

“Somebody’s gender identity is an innate piece about them — it’s intimate,” she said. “They deserve the right to the privacy around their identity.”

The California bill, which was introduced last month and has not yet been scheduled for a hearing, would require the state to seal any petition filed by a person under 18 for a change to gender and sex or to gender, sex and name in identity documents. Also sealed would be documents from a petitioner’s court proceedings.

San Diego lawyer Clarice Barrelet, whose 11-year-old son is transgender, said simply plugging his name into a search engine shows his legal gender change.

He had insisted by age 6 that he should not be called a girl and would grow up to be a man, Barrelet said. He came out as transgender at age 8 and changed the name and pronouns he used in school, even before his mom petitioned the court for a legal change to his identity documents.

Barrelet said she thinks those records should be sealed for children and adults to better protect their privacy.

Click here to read the full article in AP News

California’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein Announces Retirement

WASHINGTON, D.C. – California’s longest-serving senator, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, will not run for reelection next year. 

The announcement was made Tuesday on Twitter and on her official website. However, the public announcement appears to have come as a surprise to Feinstein, according to multiple reports.

When asked about her retirement, she told reporters,“I haven’t made that decision, I haven’t released anything.”

Feinstein’s staffer injected telling the senator “We put out the statement.”

Soon after, Feinstein is heard on audio recording telling reporters that, “So it is what it is. I think the time has come.”

According to the initial announcement, Feinstein said she plans to remain in office through the end of her term, which ends at the end of 2024.

“I am announcing today I will not run for reelection …but intend to accomplish as much for California as I can through the end of next year when my term ends,” Feinstein tweeted. “Even with a divided Congress, we can still pass bills that will improve lives.”

At 89 years old, Feinstein is the oldest senator. 

She had been dogged by accusations in recent years that her effectiveness in the Senate has been hindered by her age.

Other Democrats had already jumped in to run for her seat, even before she made the inevitable announcement. 

Democratic Reps. Katie Porter of Irvine and Adam Schiff of Burbank launched rival Senate campaigns in recent weeks. Earlier this month, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would support Schiff if Feinstein did not seek re-election. 

Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland is expected to jump into the contest as well.

In recent years, questions have arisen about Feinstein’s cognitive health and memory, though she has defended her effectiveness.

Feinstein was first elected to the Senate in 1992. Previously, she became mayor of San Francisco after the assassination of then-Mayor George Moscone and city Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978.

Feinstein will be remembered for her fight against the “epidemic of gun violence.” She achieved the passage of the landmark, federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994 and has advocated for its reinstatement since it expired in 2004.

In 2019, she introduced three pieces of gun safety legislation in the Senate: an updated assault weapons ban, the extreme risk protection order act to help states develop court processes that allow family members to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals and a bill to raise the federal age to purchase assault weapons and high-capacity magazines from 18 to 21.

Click here to read the full article in FoxLA

Democrat Rep. Katie Porter Accused of Demoting Aide Who ‘Gave Me COVID’

That’s sick!

Democratic congresswoman was accused Thursday of retaliating against a staffer who the lawmaker said exposed her to COVID-19 this past summer after working in person while ill.

Sasha Georgiades, a Navy veteran who joined Rep. Katie Porter’s office in 2020 as a Wounded Warrior Fellow, told Reason magazine that she was relegated to working remotely for the last several weeks of her fellowship and never heard from her boss again after Porter lashed out.

“Why did you not follow office protocol on testing?” Porter, 48, allegedly asked Georgiades in a July 9 text message obtained by the news outlet. “It’s really disappointing”.

According to Georgiades, the “office protocol” required taking a COVID test the instant one felt even slightly unwell. She told Reason that she thought she was “just sore from exercise.”

“I’m terribly sorry,” an apologetic Georgiades responded at the time. “You’re right I should have done better. Just because I felt okay in the moment doesn’t mean that I was.”Porter, who was elected to represent California’s 45th District in 2018 and has been reelected twice since, contracted COVID-19 around the same time — she announced she had tested positive on July 11 — and became enraged, texting Georgiades: “Well you gave me COVID. In 25 months, it took you not following the rules to get me sick. My children have nobody to care for them.” 

“She never spoke a word to me after this,” Georgiades, whose fellowship ended in August, told Reason. 

In response to Porter’s claim about her children, Georgiades claimed that the single mother was supposed to be in Washington, DC that week, anyway – away from her three kids, who live in California.

“If she thought she was going to go the rest of her life without it, that’s impossible,” Georgiades said of Porter’s reaction.

In a statement, Porter’s office confirmed the authenticity of the messages, saying: “This former employee was not fired. She was a fellow in our office, and weeks before she breached COVID protocol in July, we had already mutually agreed on an end date in August 2022.

Click here to read the full article in the NY Post

The Golden State Needs a Course Correction in the New Year

As 2022 draws to a close, despite the positive bleatings of the politicians, this was not a great year for California.

The once-projected $100 billion surplus could have been used to reconfigure the state’s tax system, which is overdependent on the PIT — the personal income tax. It wasn’t. Instead, the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office is predicting a $25 billion deficit beginning next July 1.

Everybody knows the PIT is like a roller coaster: revenue goes way up in good times, way down in bad times. It’s nosediving now. The latest among many high-tech companies suffering layoffs, from the San Francisco Chronicle, “Thumbtack, the San Francisco online services marketplace, is laying off around 14% of its staff.”

In the Legislature, Republicans not only failed to gain seats, they lost one in the Assembly, to 18 of 80; and another in the Senate, to 8 of 40. In both houses they’re well below the one-third needed to stop a tax increase. Even if you’re not a Republican, you might feel the effects of their impotence if the supermajority Democrats decide to increase your taxes to make up for that $25 billion deficit.

Democrats easily won all the statewide offices, beginning with the governor. Whatever the reasons for the GOP’s failure, one-party states don’t do well. Democracy only exists if there’s competition.

Republicans also lost a majority on the Orange County Board of Supervisors for the first time in five decades. Democrats also picked up a majority on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors The boards’ 3-2 Democratic majority will be entirely in fealty to the public-employee unions at a time when critical fiscal decisions will run against profound economic uncertainty.

Clearly, the party that ran San Francisco and Los Angeles into the ground isn’t doing so well at the state level, either.

Several of my friends have skedaddled out of California this year for the Volunteer State, with several others planning to go in 2023 or ‘24. They’re part of an exodus of another 250,000 this year to other states. That means the Golden State, which lost one House member after the 2020 U.S. Census, probably will lose another — or two — in 2030.

Contrast that with the 1980s, when I came here in 1987. The state gained 6 million in population and six House seats.

Gov. Gavin Newsom calls it the California Way. But for increasing numbers of people, it’s the way out.

The exodus hasn’t helped housing affordability. According to the California Association of Realtors, just 36% of households can afford to buy a home in Q3, compared to 42% a year earlier. Prices have dipped a bit, but of course interest rates have soared, and along with them mortgages.

The median home price in Orange County, where I live, still is $1.03 million. The only people who can afford those kinds of prices are millionaire entrepreneurs who haven’t left yet and tax-stuffed members of the public-employee unions.

One-party rule has also failed California’s kids.

Reports on schools post-pandemic showed test scores dropped sharply due to the excessively severe lockdowns. Approximately 84% of black and 79% of Latino students failed to meet state math standards. Even though the state, according to the June budget document, is spending nearly $24,000 a year per student.

Some of the few bright spots this year were when San Francisco recalled three nutty leftist school board members, then recalled radical District Attorney Chesa Boudin.

Among Republicans, when a litany of problems with California is listed, someone is likely to crack, “Well, the weather still is great!” Indeed it is.

Click here to read the full article in the Orange County Register