By Allison Hayward *
Many readers may recall that populist gadfly and Mayor of Oakland,
California Jerry Brown has claimed territory from time to time as
a campaign reformer. During his colorful presidential campaign,
he made a point of soliciting small contributions via a 1-800 number.
Brown was not new to these issueshe ran for Governor of California
on a reform platform which included the passage of the state's Political
So it was a surprise and a treat to see the Mayor in his recent
appearance before the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
The FPPC, as it is know, is the enforcement agency that interprets
and implements major portions of California's election laws. Was
Brown at the meeting to deliver a broadside about corruption in
California? No . . . Was Brown presenting a welcome shot in the
arm to staff and Commissioners? Not exactly.
Brown was, instead, pleading for an exception to a long-lived FPPC
interpretation of the state's conflict of interest laws. That ruling
prevents Brown from participating in Oakland redevelopment decisions,
since he lives in a converted warehouse in downtown Oakland. Brown
argued to the FPPC that since he was elected to bring economic growth
to Oakland (specifically yuppies and coffeehouses, noted Brown)
this regulation shouldn't apply to him. At least I think that's
what he was requesting.
It would have been truly refreshing, and possibly even productive,
for Brown to make the next logical step. He could have argued that
California's complex and restrictive conflict of interest rules
should be scaled back for ordinary elected officials, not just progressive
mayors of East Bay cities whose motives are prima facie above reproach.
Compensating corporations for aircraft
usewhy is this so darn confusing?
The NRCC recently obtained an advisory opinion that clarified the
regulation federal candidates and committees must follow when compensating
corporations for use of private aircraft for political purposes.
This Opinion, 1999-13, interpreted what is meant by a city served
by regularly scheduled commercial air service, and verified both
that the airport need not be in the city to serve the city, and
that the corporate plane may use a smaller airport than the commercial
one, but use the first class rate offered at the commercial airport.
Why is this important? If a city is served by regularly scheduled
commercial service, then a corporation should be reimbursed at the
first-class rate for candidates and those in the entourage. If not,
then the campaign pays the charter rate for the plane. Pay the first-class
rate when the charter rate is due, and the corporation makes an
illegal corporate contribution to a federal campaign. The opinion
stated in part:
"The regulation addresses a "city" as the travel
destination for the campaign appearance or event, rather than restricting
its terms to specific airports. This obviously contemplates situations,
such as those you present, in which airports serve more than one
city, or in which a particular city is served by more than one airport.
The regulation could not reasonably be interpreted as requiring
an airport to be within the corporate limits of a city in order
for that city to be considered as being served by regularly scheduled
commercial air service. The Commission agrees that it is reasonable
to use published sources such as the FAA directory and the corporate
directory in determining whether a particular city is so served."
What is amusing to the observer is the drastically disparate reactions
from Commissioners and regulated persons about this Opinion. FECsters
found the request uncontroversial, and were openly puzzled at why
it was made. "Of course the airport serving the city need not
be in the city" they seemed to say "and of course if you're
traveling to that city it matters not if you use a smaller commuter
airport in preference to the megaport that provides the commercial
service." Commissioner Wold said almost as much in the public
Yet the very afternoon this Opinion was provided to the requester,
that requester had a series of conversations with a corporate general
counsel who was adamant that travel to the metropolitan Los Angeles
area could not be reimbursed at the first class rate, because the
travel was through the Torrance Airport, not LAX. Such well-meant
but disparate interpretations of this regulation have been common.
One hopes that this Opinion has added clarity to an unnecessarily
FEC Advisory Opinions Online
The Federal Election Commission recently posted its entire library
of Advisory Opinions on its Web page (www.fec.gov).
The library is searchable by keyword as well as by opinion number.
No longer must candidates, staff, or attorneys rely on memory, old
agenda packets, Westlaw or the quirky index provided with the CCH
collection of Advisory Opinions. Now how about a sensible, freely
available MUR index . ..?
* Ms. Hayward formerly practiced election law at Wiley, Rein &
Fielding and served as legal counsel to the NRCC.