A commissioner of California’s political watchdog agency met secretly with a lawyer working for Senate Democrats while advocating for changes to campaign finance law that would help retain the Democrat’s supermajority in the state Senate, The Bee has learned.
Commissioner Brian Hatch, a Democrat and former lobbyist for the firefighters union, met privately, talked on the phone and exchanged text messages with the lawyer as the Fair Political Practices Commission considered flipping a longstanding legal interpretation of campaign finance law to favor Sen. Josh Newman in the fight to retain his seat. . . .
While FPPC commissioners are prohibited from speaking privately with people involved in enforcement cases, other situations allow more flexibility. Commissioners are allowed to meet or discuss the agency’s legal opinion on state law and rule-making decisions, but such one-on-one meetings are unusual and are supposed to be disclosed. Hatch did not disclose his conversations. . . .
Thomas Hiltachk, a political lawyer who has appeared before the FPPC for decades, also said such private contacts are unusual. . . . Hiltachk said he’s met with FPPC commissioners over the years after they are appointed to get to know them. He hasn’t tried to lobby them on issues before the commission, he said.While Hatch's discussions with the outside lawyer appear to be legal under FPPC rules, they should have been disclosed. Failure to disclose these interactions has the potential to undermine the legitimacy of the FPPC's decision-making process, just as the partisan activities and statements of the FEC commissioners risk undermining the FEC's work.