Wednesday, October 29, 2014




    When producers named a post-apocalyptic television series “The Walking Dead,” they probably had no idea that title also would come to describe one of the worst moves Arnold Schwarzenegger made in his seven years as California’s most amateurish governor ever.

    That was his deal to sell 11 choice state office buildings to private investors for about $2.3 billion ($600 million in immediate cash), which he planned to use as a stopgap to throw into California’s then-chronic budget gap. Never mind that even his own pet economists predicted a net loss of $2.8 billion over 30 years from this deal.

    Jerry Brown thought he cancelled this big mistake almost immediately after taking over in 2011 for his third term as governor. But somehow the deal threatens to survive; at the very least, it still haunts the state.

    The sale of buildings in Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego is not exactly a ghost, largely because a San Francisco judge decided about a year ago that the potential buyers’ claim their deal was done before Brown could quash it deserves a full court trial. That trial will probably open within the next month.

    The essential claim of the buyers, a partnership called California First that’s headed by the Irvine-based ACRE LLC and Hines Inc. of Houston, Texas, is that a contract is a contract. California First won an auction staged under Schwarzenegger, but has yet to take possession of any building.

    The fact these companies are still pursuing the deal four years after Brown tried to end it is pretty good evidence they had figured to reap healthy profits from the steady stream of rents Schwarzenegger committed the state to pay for at least 30 years after the deal was done. They also planned to fire most union maintenance workers now employed in the buildings.

    Schwarzenegger tried hard to sign as many papers on the deal as possible before leaving office, since Brown had expressed great skepticism about the sale while campaigning in 2010.

    Brown knew the deal stunk, and tried to exploit a contractual loophole to keep the buildings in state hands. His claim then remains the contention of the state Department of General Services today: Because a ruling in a lawsuit that aimed to stop the sale forced the buyers to miss a deadline, the deal was never really done.

    A department spokesman told a reporter this fall that “The lawsuit is a misguided attempt to resurrect a long-defunct contract.” But California First maintains it had at least an implied contract that still should apply. And it’s for sure that Schwarzenegger wanted to sell.

    This deal, of course, was as short-sighted as the $15 billion in budget-balancing bonds Schwarzenegger pushed through 10 years ago, bonds which the state may pay off next year with a final $1.6 billion installment.

    So no one now can be sure who will ultimately own the red granite Ronald Reagan State Building in Los Angeles, the Public Utilities Commission and state Supreme Court buildings in San Francisco and the Department of Justice building in Sacramento, to name a few landmarks involved.

    Rooting hard for the deal to be consummated is the firm of Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis, whose executives contributed more than $79,000 over the years to various Schwarzenegger campaign committees. CBRE stands to get $16 million in commissions if this happens, a pretty nice return on its political investment.

    The sale drew little attention until this column in February 2010 exposed its short-sighted nature. Protests built after that.

    But California First never gave up even after Brown acted. One partnership lawyer called Brown’s cancellation “a politically motivated decision that left our client with a broken contract.”

    Brown explained his move differently, saying he sought long-term budget solutions and not short-term Band-Aids that merely “kick problems down the road.”

    The bottom line is that this was one of the worst real estate deals ever negotiated by California officials. But it may yet be revived.

    Which means that almost four years after the consistently inept Schwarzenegger left office, one of his mistakes threatens to burden the state he still professes to love for many decades into the future.


    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




          During his first eight years as governor, Jerry Brown was so imaginative about what state government could do that he won the nickname “Gov. Moonbeam.” It took Brown, then in his 30s, to theorize that a state could launch its own communication satellite. And that a governor should deal person to person with presidents and prime ministers of foreign countries. Common sense ideas today, but visionary in the 1970s.

          Now, as Brown prepares for a likely record fourth term as California governor – having gone from the state’s youngest chief to its oldest – the question is whether he will return to the innovative mentality of his youth or stay with the steady, gradualist approach that’s served him well during his almost-expired third term.

          All signs point to his continuing that more recent approach as he becomes a lame duck without an obvious successor in the wings.

          Brown, of course, would say he accomplished a lot during his return to the governor’s office after a 28-year hiatus. His biggest achievement was bringing the yearly state budget into balance, even though he couldn’t do much about California’s outstanding debts of well over $100 billion.

          That’s hardly Moonbeam material. He kept the wheels turning on the bullet train project pushed by predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger and backed by the state’s voters six years ago. Critics say the plan is impractical, and Brown has made it his baby, but it was never his own idea.

          Brown has also been very gradualist in dealing with the ongoing drought. Potential ground water regulations he signed into law won’t do much until decades from now, and the ranch-owning Brown has made no major moves to shift water away from farms.

          Even his prison realignment plan was forced on him by federal judges at three different levels insisting he had to clear tens of thousands of inmates out of state penitentiaries.

          So there have been no brilliantly innovative ideas from the recent Brown, no new state agencies created as his younger version did with the Fair Political Practices Commission and others. No radical moves in education, either.

          All this led his most recent Republican challenger, Neel Kashkari, to call him “lazy and status-quo oriented.” A far cry from the old Moonbeam.

          But now Brown will be essentially free. At 76, he can’t seek a fifth term and it’s likely he will never run for office again anywhere, whether for another go-‘round as mayor of his adopted city of Oakland or nationally, as the youthful Brown did while running twice for president and once for the U.S. Senate.

          So far, he’s offered no clue about what he might do with this freedom. Will he try some daring environmental moves, as he did many years ago while fighting to reduce pesticide use in agriculture and strictly enforcing the then-new California Environmental Quality Act? Might he try for even more radical changes in school finance than his Local Control Funding Formula, which has just begun sending more state money to schools with the neediest students than to other schools?

          Radical new actions seem unlikely. His Proposition 1 water bond embraces traditional priorities like more storage and cleanup of existing water sources. His Proposition 2 rainy day fund for state budget protection is scarcely an original idea.

          The most innovative thing he proposed during his latest term might have been the notion for building giant “twin tunnels” to bring fresh water from the Sacramento River system under and into the Delta area southwest of Sacramento. As envisioned, the tunnels would help keep that area free of salt water intrusion while assuring steady supplies for the state Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. This puts him at odds with some environmentalists who once were his leading supporters and now have nowhere else to go.

          Brown gave few hints during the fall campaign, where he’s been essentially unchallenged by the poorly-funded Kashkari and did very few interviews, none of them hard-hitting.

          Which leaves open the question of where an unfettered Jerry Brown might try to take his beloved state, which has given him more time in its top job than anyone else has ever had.


    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Wednesday, October 22, 2014




          Sighs of relief were audible all around California the other day, when the embattled, disgraced Michael Peevey announced he would not seek reappointment to a third six-year term as president of the powerful California Public Utilities Commission.

          But the relief was premature. And Peevey’s announcement is not nearly enough to restore credibility to this tainted agency. Only a real house-cleaning can do that.

    The announcement from Peevey, ever the crafty fox guarding the unsuspecting henhouse, as this column first labeled him as early as 2005 for his obvious conflicts of interest, means he will stick around long enough to orchestrate the two most important votes of the last 15 years by his five-member commission, which sets rates for privately-owned gas and electric companies.

          Peevey’s staff emails and documented conversations with officials of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. about its cases are now notorious. But he’s still due to preside over the vote on how to penalize PG&E for the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people and destroyed dozens of homes. This decision will also determine how much PG&E customers, who have paid monthly for gas pipeline maintenance over more than 50 years, will be dunned for new pipeline repairs. No one has accounted for the billions of dollars PG&E took in via those payments.

          Peevey, a former president of Southern California Edison Co., will also preside over the commission’s vote on how much consumers must pay for the knowingly defective, documented Edison decisions that led to the closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, of which the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. is a part owner.

          A preliminary settlement not yet finalized calls for consumers to pay more than $3 billion over the next 10 years for safely mothballing that plant. But customers have already paid monthly for its retirement since the day it opened in the 1970s. No one has explained why consumers should pay anything more.

          Neither of these decisions will be made by Peevey alone. The other four commissioners will cast most of the votes, but if they go the way things have since ex-Gov. Gray Davis appointed him in 2002 (with ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reappointing him six years later), the often bullying Peevey will get his way. Both decisions will likely stand unchanged after those votes. Appeals from PUC decisions can only be made directly to the state Supreme Court, which has almost never reversed any.

          The other four commission members have never crossed Peevey on an important vote involving prices charged by California’s largest utilities. They have been meek enablers of Peevey’s corruption. They’ve gone along with him on rate increase after rate increase. They’ve acquiesced in keeping secret the prices of giant solar thermal electricity plants whose output will be far more costly than power from conventional oil- or natural gas-fired generating plants. Other commissioners also joined Peevey in trying to bring hyper-expensive, unneeded liquefied natural gas from foreign countries into California. And on and on.

          So they’ve been classic enablers. At least one of them, Mike Florio, formerly a longtime consumer attorney who was appointed to the commission in 2011 by Gov. Jerry Brown, has voiced regrets over helping PG&E with “judge-shopping” in the San Bruno case and recused himself from coming votes involving that company.

          All of which suggests it’s high time to clean house at the PUC. The only way to restore this powerful agency’s credibility is to dump all the commissioners now, hopefully delaying the two key big-dollar decisions until a new panel can be seated.

          For people who knowingly enable corruption are legally and morally just as responsible for it as the actual perpetuator. And that describes the other meek members of this commission.

          Even if he wanted to (and he’s shown no sign he does), Brown could not simply fire them like other appointees; like most judges, they serve fixed six-year terms and Peevey’s is the only one about to end. Brown would have to pressure their resignations by doing things like cutting the PUC budget and asking state legislators to suspend their pay.

          That's not likely. Which means that even though a clean sweep is called for, the PUC will most likely continue on its biased path of favoring big utilities over their customers long after the discredited Peevey has left.


     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




          These are days of optimism, maybe even delusion, for the California Republican Party, which hasn’t won a statewide race of any kind since 2006.

    Despite the fact that Democrats won majorities in the June primary for five out of the seven statewide constitutional offices, the GOP still thinks it can win at least one slot. But that’s not likely, no matter how healthy it might be to have folks from two parties in office..

          Republicans’ thinking may be epitomized by former state party chairman Ron Nehring, now running for lieutenant governor. Nehring took just 23.8 percent of the primary vote, while incumbent Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom won 49.9 percent – just a few votes short of a majority – but Nehring believes he achieved a lot in June.

          True, he did land a slot in the November runoff. But he won just 976,000 votes, compared with 2,082,000 for Newsom. Democrats together netted better than 55.5 percent of the total vote for that office.

          Add to this the fact that June saw a record-low turnout of all voters, with the Democratic vote depressed even further than the GOP’s. If the pattern of the last non-presidential statewide runoff election holds again, almost twice as many voters will fill out ballots this fall as last spring, the increase even greater among Democrats.

          And yet, Nehring says of his spring performance, “Our campaign finished strong.” He called Newsom “the weakest link” among Democrats, noting that of the five incumbent Democrats seeking reelection, Newsom was the only one not getting a clear majority in the June vote.

          As a side note, this goes to show the idiocy of one provision in the law that set up the top two primary election system. It forces primary candidates who win clear majorities to run again in November. Almost certainly, that will be a complete waste of everyone’s time, money and attention this fall, as Gov. Jerry Brown (54.3 percent) and the other majority-winning Democrats will likely roll up margins at least as large as their primary edges.

          But still, Republicans like Nehring believe they can pull off upsets. They are also looking closely at the campaigns for state controller and secretary of state.

          In the run for controller, the state’s check-writing officer, Republican Mayor Ashley Swearengin of Fresno topped all primary vote-getters with 24.8 percent, while the total GOP vote came to 44.8 percent. If every GOP vote cast in the primary wound up with Swearengin, she would still be about 5 percent behind the total Democratic vote. Another 6 percent of primary voters went for Green Party candidate Laura Wells, who didn't make the fall ballot. It’s a good bet most of her votes will go Democratic this time – not to mention the fact that Democratic turnout in general will be up more than the GOP’s.

          So no matter how attractive and solid a candidate Swearengin may be – and she is both – it’s pure delusion to think she’s the fall favorite, as some in the GOP now bill her.

          Over in the run for secretary of state, another solid and attractive Republican candidate was the leading vote-getter on primary election day, but not after all absentee and provisional ballots were counted. By then, Republican Pete Peterson, a Pepperdine University professor, trailed Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla by more than 22,000 votes. Meanwhile, the total Democratic vote came to about 55 percent, so for Peterson to win in November, he’d need to get more than one-tenth of all voters who went Democratic in the spring, plus all those who voted Green and the 9 percent who went for Independent Dan Schnur, an academic who formerly was a GOP political operative. Plus a majority of the voters who didn’t turn out for the primary.

          The upshot is that it’s highly unlikely any Republican can win any statewide office this fall, no matter how wishful their thinking may be just ahead of Election Day.

     Which means Democratic consultant Garry South’s conclusion in summer a memo about the controller’s race also applies to the contests for secretary of state and lieutenant governor: “When you hear the spin from Republicans about how Swearengin is a truly viable candidate in the general election – she finished first in the primary, she’s an attractive and media-savvy candidate, blah, blah, blah – compare it to theactual metrics… and this ain’t happenin’ for Swearengin.” Nor for Peterson and Nehring.

          No matter how comforting Republican illusions may be today.


Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is

Wednesday, October 15, 2014




    It’s almost a foregone conclusion that the Proposition 1 water bond on next month’s ballot will pass easily: Every poll shows it with almost a 2-1 lead heading into the vote and the opposition has virtually no money for television commercials.

          But two other propositions are almost equally deserving of yes votes, Propositions 45 and 48.

          Proposition 45 is almost a no-brainer. It would place health insurance rates under the same kind of regulation that has made California the only state where automobile insurance prices have fallen over the last 25 years – since voters adopted the 1988 Proposition 103 and put car and property insurance rates under the authority of the state insurance commissioner.

          One look at the list of donors to the No on 45 campaign (available on the secretary of state’s website at, reveals that through the end of September, all $34 million-plus spent to defeat 45 had come from the state’s largest health insurance companies: Blue Shield, Anthem Blue Cross and its parent company Wellpoint, Kaiser Foundation, United Healthcare and HealthNet.

          The single biggest check came last year from Wellpoint, which plunked down more than $12 million almost instantly when it became clear 45 would reach the ballot.

          Radio and television ads financed by those big bucks are misleading as can be, warning that 45 could somehow reduce the negotiating power of the commission that regulates Covered California’s rates under Obamacare. It won’t. But it will require insurers to justify rate increases for groups and individual policies before they can be bumped up.

          The bottom line: The officials who would regulate health insurance rates under 45 have already saved Californians more than $105 billion over the years via car insurance rate hikes that didn’t happen. This proposition is sponsored by Consumer Watchdog, the same populist outfit that wrote and sponsored Proposition 103 in 1988, getting it through despite being outspent 60-1 in that election by the big auto insurance companies.

          The need to approve Proposition 48 may not seem as obvious, because its passage would simply allow construction of a new Indian casino already approved by every state and federal authority with a voice in the matter, from the state Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

          While it’s true this gaming compact would be the first allowing a Native American tribe to build a gambling hall off reservation land in California, approval in no way means other tribes would have an easy time gaining a similar nod.

          (Full disclosure: The writer is part-owner of the Madera Tribune, headquartered about one mile from the planned site of the putative new casino, to be owned by the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians.)

          In a state suffused with Native American casinos, this one is controversial only because it would adjoin State Highway 99 about 25 miles north of Fresno and presumably attract some gamblers who now take their money to other nearby casinos. In fact, almost all funding for the No on 48 campaign as of Sept. 30 came from existing Indian casinos which fear new competition.

          The two biggest contributors to the campaign against 48 are the existing Table Mountain and Chukchansi Gold casinos, also located near Fresno, and their financial backers. The second-leading contributor to the No campaign is Chukchansi’s leading lender, New York’s Brigade Capital Management.

          The No campaign calls on voters to “Keep Vegas-style casinos out of neighborhoods,” but it’s really about eliminating competition. There is in fact no neighborhood adjacent to the casino site, only a hotel, gas station and open land.

          Meanwhile, building the casino would produce about 4,000 permanent jobs in Madera County, where unemployment runs about 25 percent above the statewide average. It would also draw workers from nearby Fresno and Merced counties, whose unemployment is even higher.

          Only an accident of fate – and the fortunes of long-ago tribal warfare  – left the North Forkers so far from a major highway that they need to build off their reservation.

          The bottom line: Both these propositions and the water bond deserve yes votes both on their own merits and because of the disingenuous nature of the opposition.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




          Of all the issues in Proposition 46, an omnibus measure on next month’s ballot aiming to improve patients’ rights in several health care areas, money is the one that counts most.

          The central question boils down to this: Should victims of medical malpractice and their lawyers get rich, or should malpractice insurance companies stay rich?

          For one underlying reality caused by the state’s 38-year-old cap of $250,000 on the amount of pain and suffering damages any patient can collect when mistreated has been that insurance carriers like NorCal Mutual and The Doctors Co. got rich while patients often have no legal recourse no matter what’s happened to them.

          Even when juries come in with multi-million-dollar judgments in cases where patients have lost limbs or even their lives due to mistakes by their doctors, those amounts are routinely knocked back to $250,000 by judges in accord with the law. The only thing not limited is economic losses – lost wages and the like due to medical mishandling or negligence. Prop. 46 would raise the $250,000 limit to $1.1 million, indexing it to inflation afterward.

          So when a patient's history documents serious cardiac reactions to a particular drug in the past and a doctor still insists the patient take it, the penalty can’t go above $250,000 even if a drug reaction leaves the patient bedridden and disabled for years.

          The limit has had two meanings: Wronged patients usually can’t find lawyers to take their cases, since any substantial case will involve at least $100,000 in expert and witness fees, with attorney fees tacked on. Not much left of the $250,000 after that, so why bother?

          And insurance companies have profited greatly. One credible estimate puts their administrative expenses and pure profit at a total of about 70 cents from each dollar doctors pay for malpractice coverage. By contrast, 80 cents of every health insurance premium dollar in California, by law, must go toward paying claims. “That 70 cents leaves a lot of room for higher payments without rate increases,” says Jamie Court, president of the sponsoring Consumer Watchdog advocacy group.

          Sure, as the No-on-46 TV and radio commercials tell us, trial lawyers want to make more from malpractice cases. They’ve spent about $6 million promoting Proposition 46. But insurance companies have put up the bulk of the $58 million raised to fight the measure. The leading contributors? The Doctors Co. and NorCal Mutual, at $10 million each. Would these outfits ever spend so much if they didn’t feel their huge profit were threatened?

          So voters will decide if trial lawyers and a few malpractice victims get big chunks of cash, or whether the insurance companies keep on profiting.

          A peripheral Prop. 46 issue is drug-testing of doctors. Federal estimates are that 15 percent of practicing physicians have substance abuse problems, often controlled substances like Vicodin and Xanax, which they can easily access. With doctors numbering just above 30,000 in California at last report, this means about 4,500 are likely drug impaired at any given time. Yet, the state Medical Board disciplined only 326 over the last 10 years for drug abuse, an average of just 32 per year.

          So many surgeons now operate while on drugs, often narcotics. Thousands of other doctors make key decisions for their patients while drug impaired. Yet, the Medical Board can’t find them unless someone complains.

          Enter drug testing. All doctors would have to be tested randomly under Proposition 46, any with complaints getting tested right away. Those who test positive would see their licenses suspended until they at least begin rehab.

          This issue, says the ballot argument on the No side, is only included to distract voters from the main issue, money. Maybe so, but the state’s nonpartisan legislative analyst says random testing would lower costs related to drug abuse by many (unspecified) millions of dollars.

          Prop. 46 would also compel doctors to consult a statewide prescription database before writing new scrips. The aim is to keep drug abusers from “doctor shopping” for physicians willing to feed their drug habits. It also could stop doctors from running so-called “pill mills,” where they’re paid solely to write prescriptions for controlled substances.

          But money remains the central issue. The question of who gets rich or stays rich is now before the voters as baldly as it ever has been.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Wednesday, October 8, 2014




          Just like this fall, there was a desultory quality – some called it murky – to the way Gov. Jerry Brown campaigned two years ago for his pet Proposition 30, which raised sales taxes a smidgen while considerably upping income tax levies on the wealthiest in order to bail out schools and a few other state services to the tune of $6.5 billion a year.

          Sure, Brown campaigned. But in the last weeks of his effort, there were no big labor rallies. No speeches to massive crowds in the main squares of the state’s biggest cities. There were few days when the governor made more than one appearance and plenty with none. Most of his appearances came on public college campuses, where his measure was already popular because of the likelihood that it would forestall more tuition increases.

          In short, Brown was no dynamo. He looked and in some ways acted like the 74-year-old he was.

          He’s been no more active this fall, at 76. If, as expected, he wins a fourth term next month, he’ll be the oldest person ever elected governor of California.

          There is little doubt Brown is in top physical shape. He hikes, he bikes, he runs, he lifts weights. When New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie famously called him an “old retread” in a 2013 speech, Brown challenged him to a three-mile road race and nothing further was heard from the obviously overweight, out-of-shape easterner. Brown also has been fortunate, never having had a serious health crisis.

          And he’s hinted that he wants to accomplish a lot more in what figures to be his last term in any public office. “My goal over the next few years is to pull people together,” he said in one talk. “We have our antagonisms in California, but we can find a common path…California has a lot of dynamic future ahead.”

    In another, he said, “The key to administering this state is having a disciplinarian in the corner office.” He referred, of course, to himself.

    The implication was that he’s uniquely equipped to unify the state, even though he’s failed somewhat at that task in the first four years of his second go-‘round.

          Whatever the reason, he hasn’t campaigned much against Republican Neel Kashkari, the sacrificial lamb opposing his reelection. But he has relatively quietly overseen major changes in education financing and prison policy.

          Brown’s style when campaigning this year has been pretty similar to when he was attorney general, his most recent previous job. His speeches then were mostly low-key affairs, with no rousing emotional appeals and little apparent forethought.

          “I haven’t written a speech in awhile,” he said at one appearance. “They’re hard to write and even harder to read, so I just stick to my notes.”

    At times, he’s seemed nostaligic for a slower-paced past. “In the world I live in now, there isn’t much past, not much memory,” he said. “It’s all about the news. So we work on all the chaos, hope and fear that drive us all.”

          But no one can doubt Brown still has a passion for California. He sees that the state’s problems are mostly new versions of those that confronted his father, Pat Brown, governor from 1959-67: water, transportation, education and crime prevention. As then, he remarked, the question today is “how much (money) do we keep for ourselves and how much we contribute to the commonweal.”

          That’s mostly in the category of musing, though. If anything aroused passion in Brown in the last few years, it was the influx of money from unidentified donors to an Arizona committee that kicked more than $10 million into the campaign against Proposition 30. “Who are these guys?” he demanded. “Are they foreigners? That's illegal. Are they Californians using Arizona to hide from their own state's sunshine laws? Also illegal.”

          That’s about as fiery as Brown gets these days. Will he be even lower-key in his expected new term?

          The answers to that kind of question will determine whether Brown can govern effectively as a lame duck over the next four years. His future is entirely up to him.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




          From the rhetoric Gov. Jerry Brown employed on it, you’d think a law he signed early this fall would clean up the initiative process for all time.

          Not exactly, for like the so-called ground water fix he signed earlier, this one also leaves untouched the chief flaws of the process it's supposed to fix.

    Yes, the law known as Senate Bill 1253 will make improvements. But not nearly as many as 2012’s long-dead SB 52 "Disclose Act" could have. That plan would have forced every political commercial in California to reveal its three largest funders prominently for six seconds at the start of ads, rather than using small print at the end. Similar rules would have applied to print ads, radio spots, mass mailers, billboards and websites.

          Instead, the new law merely requires the secretary of state to post on the Internet and regularly update the top 10 donors to the committees behind every initiative measure. In short, to know who’s behind what, voters must be active, not passive, seeking out key data rather than having the information handed to them easily and prominently.

          Yes, voters will be able to see online the fact that – for one example – the campaign against this fall’s Proposition 45 attempt to rein in health insurance rate hikes is so far funded by $37 million from some of the state’s largest health insurance companies – United Healthcare, Kaiser, Blue Shield and Wellpoint (owner of California Blue Cross).

          But they won’t get that information in large type on TV screens or loud voices at the start of radio ads. Instead, high-speed slurring  over of this key information – the way it’s done in the current misleading No-on-45 ads – will likely continue. Yes, the information will be out there, but no, the great majority of voters won’t digest it.

          And yet, Brown claimed the law he signed “strengthens the integrity of the initiative process, which is uniquely influential in California political life.” Brown also liked the new law’s for the first time allowing initiative sponsors to pull back measures if the Legislature passes something similar prior to ballots being printed and mandates legislative hearings on any measure likely to reach the ballot.

          But…none of these things actually changes much. They do nothing about sky-high per-signature payments to initiative petition carriers, payments that move them to push for signatures from persons who are not registered voters – a phenomenon that this fall cost the “Six Californias” proposal a place on the 2016 ballot when a large percentage of its signatures proved no good.

          Use of well-paid circulators has lately made the initiative process easily bought. Essentially, if you’ve got the money, you can get whatever crazy idea you like onto the ballot, unless you are as inept as Silicon Valley entrepreneur Tim Draper was in pushing Six Californias, a rare big-money flop.

          The bill Brown signed aims to help ease the domination big bucks exert over initiatives by extending the signature period from 150 days to 180, the presumption being that allowing petition carriers more time will give volunteer-carried measures a better shot than they’ve previously had.

          This could be a positive change, as is the new information that will soon be available online. But it’s not enough to really clean things up.

          Yes, the main funders of misleadingly-named political committees involved in initiative campaigns will be revealed to all who pursue the information. But no, it won’t be done prominently, unless one side or the other takes the Internet data and puts it into a separate “look who’s behind this” ad.

          So there’s still a need to revive the original Disclose Act, carried in 2012 by current Democratic Congresswoman Julia Brownley of Ventura County. Even better would be resurrection of a late-1990s proposal demanding exposure of the biggest donors behind any ad in type matching the largest size found anywhere else in the ad.

          The idea here is that since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations and others can contribute as much as they like to independent campaigns not controlled by candidates, it’s more important than ever to identify the donors.

          That’s why -- just like his very mild ground water action -- the new law Brown signed is an improvement, but nowhere near enough to really clean things up.

     Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is For more Elias columns, go to

Thursday, October 2, 2014




    How concerned will Gov. Jerry Brown be with the well-being of ordinary Californians in the new term he’s widely expected to win next month (the latest major poll has him leading his opponent by a 54-33 percent margin)? How much will he pander to the interests of large corporations?

    The first answer to those questions will come near the end of this year, when Brown either reappoints Michael Peevey to another six-year term as president of the powerful state Public Utilities Commission or jettisons him due to a wide public perception that the commission has become routinely corrupt during Peevey’s 12-year tenure.

          Peevey’s presence on the commission, which regulates natural gas and electric utility companies and their rates except where utilities are municipally owned, has long seemed a conflict of interest. A former president of the Southern California Edison Co., he and his commission consistently act in the interests of big utility companies. So he’s been likened to a fox guarding the henhouse (this column first called him that in 2005, three years after his initial appointment to the commission by ex-Gov. Gray Davis).

    One reason his career has seemed greased, with nary a problem getting confirmed by the state Senate, is that he’s married to Democratic state Sen. Carol Liu, whose district covers a wide swath of the San Gabriel Valley in suburban Los Angeles County.

          There are indications he may again prove immune to the conduct that has surrounded him for years. In one interview this fall, Brown called Peevey “a strong force…I know there’s been a lot poured out on this topic, but I would say he gets things done.”

          For many years, Peevey has presided over the nonstop kabuki-like dance performed by the PUC and companies like Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric. This theatrical exercise sees the utilities routinely ask for sky-high rate increases, knowing the PUC will knock it back, but they'll nevertheless get all they really want and expect each time.

          That sort of phony rate regulation has never hurt Peevey, even though it hits hard on most businesses and residents of the state. One reason he’s so secure is that PUC members, once appointed and confirmed, cannot be fired even by the governor who appointed them or any successor. Their terms are all but inviolate, regardless of their performance.

          But Peevey is in trouble now. Once it became clear that he informally advised PG&E on how to conduct itself after federal officials first pronounced the company “negligent” and then indicted it for a huge gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno in 2010, he recused himself from further proceedings relating to that blast and the penalties to be exacted on PG&E for it.

          He fired his chief of staff when emails revealed “inappropriate communications” between her and PG&E. But does anyone seriously believe a chief of staff would advise a troubled, regulated company without the full knowledge and approval of her boss? Peevey’s staff also allegedly helped PG&E decide which administrative law judge would hear a PG&E rate case deciding how much the company pays for gas pipeline repairs and how much its customers will be assessed. Of course, consumers have paid monthly for gas pipeline maintenance since the 1950s, but PG&E didn’t always use the money for that.

          Plainly, the PUC’s civil service lawyers and analysts do not believe Peevey was in the dark on all this. In one September staff meeting, they reportedly demanded he resign, with some likening him to “an untouchable mob boss.”

          Brown knows all this. He also knows Peevey consistently refuses to reveal how much some large new solar thermal power plants will cost, even though other commissioners labeled their price tags “exorbitant.” When those plants come online within the next two years electric bills will rise sharply.

          But Brown might not mind that. He’s an enthusiastic backer of all sorts of renewable energy projects, which Peevey has pushed hard – one reason why Brown thinks he “gets things done.”

          The problem is that most of what Peevey has done favors big corporations at the expense of their customers. If Brown reappoints him, he will be thumbing his nose at every consumer and Peevey would have another six years to coddle the companies he loves to favor.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to




          No candidate likes to admit in October that he has virtually no chance to win the office he’s running for. So it is today with Neel Kashkari, the Republican nominee – read: sacrificial lamb – who is Gov. Jerry Brown’s reelection opponent.

          But occasionally a seemingly sure loser shows enough fire and grit to establish himself or herself as a force to be reckoned with in the future. An example is Dianne Feinstein, then the Democratic mayor of San Francisco, who ran a fierce but losing campaign for governor against Republican Pete Wilson in 1990. Her effort demonstrated statewide appeal; she handily won a  seat in the U.S. Senate two years later and has outlasted Wilson by more than a decade.

          Kashkari now trails Brown by about 22 points in the polls, one of which indicated that just six weeks before Election Day, his name was recognized by only about 25 percent of Californians.

          This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because Kashkari is so far behind in the polls, big campaign donors don't put much money behind him, which assures that he can’t run many television ads, thus keeping him relatively unknown.

          But Kashkari evinces no discouragement over his situation, insisting he’s gaining ground all the time. “In early March I was at 2 percent in the polls,” he said in an interview. “Now I’m at 34 percent in the polls. Brown is stuck at about 50 percent and more people in the polls say California is on the wrong track than the right one.” Actually, Brown was at 57 percent in one recent survey, 54 in another, both figures topping his performance in the June primary election.

          But Brown, well known to 84 percent of Californians asked to identify him in one survey, has yet to spend much of his $20 million-plus war chest on television, at a time when he was advertising heavily four years ago in his race against self-funded Silicon Valley billionaire Meg Whitman. In fact, he indicates he may spend some of his money furthering the Proposition 1 water bond with which he and Kashkari share the fall ballot.

          None of this fazes Kashkari. Little does. When two of his fellow Republican candidates for statewide office refused to endorse him during the party’s fall convention, he responded with a fiery speech calling Brown “coddled.” He insisted the GOP is the better party for immigrants, despite its firm opposition to amnesty for illegal immigrants, even children whose lives are in danger if forced to return home. He’s also called Brown “lazy” and “a creature of the status quo.”

          “I clobbered him in our debate,” Kashkari claimed, even though most analysts rated it a draw. “I’m using innovative tactics, too.” One was posing for a week as homeless and unemployed in Fresno to dramatize the plight of California’s poor, whom Kashkari says Brown steadily fails to help. “That shattered Brown’s myth of the California comeback,” he said.

          And Kashkari thinks the race will tighten, as elections often do in late October, when voters begin to pay attention.

          All this demonstrates the dogged quality of Kashkari, who began the year as a primary election underdog well behind far-right Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks, and then surpassed him despite the unpopularity of the bank bailouts he helped design while a U.S. Treasury official at the height of the last recession.

          Does this mean he might run for one of the two California seats in the U.S. Senate due to come open if either Barbara Boxer (term up in 2016) or Feinstein (2018) opts to retire?

          “In all honesty, I’ve never ruled out any of those opportunities,” said Kashkari, who appears to love campaigning and might just keep going like a battery bunny if defeated this fall. “Right now, I’m 100 percent focused on November.”

          But if or when he wakens on Nov. 5 as something other than the governor-elect, bet on Kashkari starting right in on his next effort. Which means that win or lose, Californians have probably not seen the last of Kashkari. And his independence from Republican dogma on issues like abortion and poverty might just give him a better chance than any Republican Senate candidate of the last 20 years.


Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is