Obama plucks California's political ethics agency chair for federal post

lrosenhall@sacbee.comJune 21, 2013 


Ann Ravel says she was regarded as a "wimp" who "wasn't going to do anything" when she was named last year to lead the Fair Political Practices Commission. But she won a legal battle to identify the source of an $11 million campaign donation in November's election.

RENÉE C. BYER — rbyer@sacbee.com

Ann Ravel, the combative chairwoman of California's Fair Political Practices Commission, is one of two people President Barack Obama will nominate to the Federal Election Commission, the White House announced Friday.

Ravel gained prominence during California's initiative campaigns last year, waging a legal battle to identify the source of an $11 million donation from a secretive Arizona group. That entity donated money to a committee opposing Gov. Jerry Brown's measure to raise taxes and supporting a measure restricting the use of union dues in political campaigns.

Ravel persuaded the California Supreme Court to order the group to disclose the source of its contributions. When it complied, Americans for Responsible Leadership said its money came from two other out-of-state nonprofit groups whose backers remain unknown.

Her pursuit of the group has drawn criticism from some that she is motivated by politics. But it earned accolades from many campaign finance watchdogs, who said her assertive approach was needed at the federal level.

"In an era today where disclosure laws are under attack everywhere and political operatives are looking for ways to hide the sources of money, the FPPC under (Chairwoman) Ravel has been a national model for its pursuit of effective disclosure of campaign money," said Rick Hasen, a University of California, Irvine, law professor.

"I would hope and expect she would bring a similar view to the Federal Election Commission."

The full-time, six-member Federal Election Commission administers and enforces the Federal Election Campaign Act. Its membership is typically half Democratic and half Republican, because the law says no more than three members can belong to the same party. That has led to deadlocked decisions in recent years.

The commission currently has one vacant seat and five members serving past the expiration of their terms.

"As many well know, I have long desired to leave, but committed to stay to prevent the FEC from further trampling on our First Amendment and due process Rights," Vice Chairman Donald McGahn said in a statement.

"I am pleased that a willing and capable successor has been vetted and nominated, and look forward to returning to practice law in the future."

McGahn, a Republican, was likely not referring to Ravel but to the other nominee Obama announced Friday, Lee E. Goodman. He is a lawyer who has worked for Virginia's governor and attorney general.

Hasen said the fact that Obama nominated a Republican and a Democrat as a pair makes it more likely that the U.S. Senate will confirm them. Obama's only other nominee to the FEC eventually withdrew because his confirmation was taking so long.

Ravel declined to comment about her nomination.

She plans to remain at the FPPC until her nomination is confirmed, said Brown spokesman Evan Westrup. Ravel's term as FPPC chair is up at the end of next year.

"Ann is doing a great job and would certainly add luster to the FEC," Brown said in an emailed statement.

Ravel has experience in Washington, D.C. She was working as a U.S. Justice Department official when Brown appointed her chairwoman of the FPPC in 2011. Previously, she spent 11 years working for the Santa Clara County Counsel's Office.

Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @laurelrosenhall.

Merced Sun-Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service