Petitioners conned voters into switching to the GOP
The Orange County Register, April 16, 2010
Petitioners prowling parking lots and community college campuses tricked dozens of young Orange County voters into registering to vote as Republicans, an Orange County Register investigation has found.Since mid-March, at least 99 written complaints have been submitted to state elections officials by Orange County residents who say they were registered to vote Republican without their consent. The Register found an additional 74 voters who said they were duped or coerced into registering to vote as a Republican by signature gatherers who initially asked them to sign petitions for causes like legalizing marijuana, fighting cancer or cleaning up beaches.
How lawmakers turned a perk into a profit
The Orange County Register, February 18, 2010
After long days of representing Orange County residents at the state Capitol, Assemblyman Van Tran returns to a gated community where he lives with wife and kids in a 2,658-square-foot house with two fireplaces and a three-car garage. But that isn't the Westminer Republican's "home." The Assemblyman is one of many savvy California lawmakers who exploit overlapping laws that allow them to leverage special tax-free legislative allowances to buy homes, secure tax deductions and sometimes pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit.
Tough-on-crime stance emptied California's pocketbook
The Orange County Register, December 4, 2009 through December 22, 2009
With Tony Saavedra
This four-part, explanatory journalism series examined the effect of "tough-on-crime" policies on California's criminal justice system. Among other things, this series looked at the state's prison system, which is the most expensive in the country but doesn't actually rehabilitate criminals, and explored the influence of California's public safety unions. This series won the 2009 John Jacobs Award (for excellence in reporting on California State government and politics) for print special feature/enterprise reporting.
Water agency kept uranium contamination secret
The Orange County Register, October 10, 2008
Southern California's largest water agency knew a proposed groundwater project was contaminated with uranium but never told the state or federal government, even as the agency touted it as a solution to California's water problems.
Public agency, private benefit
The Orange County Register, May 22, 2008
What do $3.70 lattes, an Indian casino and a BMW dealership all have in common? An obscure California government agency thinks they're all public benefits worthy of tax-free money. County supervisors and city council members across California formed the agency 20 years ago and set it up so that it would funnel money to their political associations. They've taken a public agency and used it for private benefit.
State insurance guarantee association accused of mismanagment
The Orange County Register, February 11, 2008
California's insurance safety net is $1.6 billion in the red and plagued by potentially gross mismanagement. But the California Insurance Guarantee Association really got in trouble when they threw me out of their meeting. This story resulted in a new law to make their meetings open to the public.
Mining loopholes in lobbyist rules
The Orange County Register, February 23, 2007
California's lobbying laws make distinctions an average person never would. Individual lobbyists can't make campaign contributions, but lobbying firms can. Lobbyists are required to register with the state, but call yourself a "consultant" and you don't have to. Lawmakers have to wait a year before they can lobby the Legislature, but they can lobby the executive branch immediately. It doesn't make sense.
Donations, key posts connected for Assembly Democrats
The Orange County Register, January 26, 2007
In Congress, seniority rules, so no freshmen would ever wield the gavel. But Sacramento is ruled by term limits – and money. A statistical analysis of campaign contributions shows that freshman Democrats in the California State Assembly are more likely to land a committee chair if they give more money to their party.
Pledging muddles campaign finance picture
The Orange County Register, August 30, 2006
Politicians in California are supposed to report campaign contributions when they receive them, but I discovered that lawmakers were getting around this law by accepting -- and tracking -- promises of money and reporting it only when the check arrived. As one expert said, "It's like Enron accounting for politicians."
Bad timing: State slices program that helps schools slice costs
The Orange County Register's OC Watchdog blog, May 18, 2009
At precisely the time when a faltering economy means cities and schools need to save money, the state of California has decimated one of the very programs that helps local governments cut costs.
The system is the problem with California's budget
The Orange County Register, June 5, 2009
When Arnold Schwarzenegger seized the governor's office in 2003, he replaced an unpopular leader who presided over a multibillion-dollar budget deficit. Six years later, Schwarzenegger's approval ratings are in the toilet and the state is facing a $24.3 billion shortfall. What happened?
Tran launches Congressional campaign… in wrong district
The Orange County Register's Total Buzz blog, May 7, 2009
Assemblyman Van Tran officially launched his quest to unseat Rep. Loretta Sanchez at a press conference at a Little Saigon office building in Westminster. The only thing is the office is in Congressman Dana Rohrbacher’s district, not Sanchez’s.
The Orange County Register, March 28, 2008
In 2006, landlord Dan Bader advertised a room for rent in his Newport Beach home. As an afterthought, he wrote that it was "Well suited for professional adults." The state sued him for discriminating against people with children.
Data does not compute
The Orange County Register, March 3, 2008
Ready answers are rare in state government. Because it lacks software to track its resources and people, the state can't answer basic questions about California and its govnerment.
Quick fixes on bills can keep public in the dark
The Orange County Register, September 14, 2007
Lawmakers like to say they've come to the Capitol to do the people's work. But watch how bills are passed and you'll see that sometimes the people have no place in lawmaking.
Democrats resurrect rejected proposals
The Orange County Register, September 11, 2007
Senate Republicans ended their blockade of the state budget after Democrats agreed to limit greenhouse gas lawsuits and delete several provisions from budget trailer bills. Three weeks later, deleted language to benefit trial lawyers suddenly reappeared in a bill Democrats could push through before the Legislature adjourns for the year.
Program keeps doctors' addictions secret
The Orange County Register, July 13, 2007
A former trial lawyer and state senator, Joe Dunn built his career by standing up for the little guy. So why is he now defending a potentially danagerous program that allows doctors to see patients while they're secretly treated for alcohol and drug abuse?
Critics say bills labor for unions
The Orange County Register, June 1, 2007
Say you're an official for a city in California and you want to save your city some money by streamlining your contracting proceedures. The Legislature will give you the power to do that -- but only if you direct your contracting business to union firms.
Many records, little information
The Orange County Register, May 25, 2007
Using Perl to scrape lobbying data off of the California Secretary of State's Web site, I discovered a problem in how the state accounts for spending on influence.
Traveling on someone else's dime
The Orange County Register, May 4, 2007
California lawmakers join corporate executives on lavish trips paid for by a nonprofit funded by those same corporate interests. Jack Abramoff got busted for organizing similar junkets, but it's legal under California's rules.
Disclosure no cure for limiting influence
The Orange County Register, March 30, 2007
Whenever politicians are confronted with the problem of money in politics, one of them invariably starts talking about disclosure. But is that really the answer? I explore a campaign finance reporting that, in its deluge of information, actually obscures the influence of money in politics.
A surge in contributions
The Orange County Register, February 16, 2007
During his first two years in the state Legislature, California Assemblyman Joe Coto showed no interest in insurance. He didn't serve on the Assembly Insurance Committee, didn't carry any insurance legislation and didn't take much money from insurance companies. But right before he was named chairman of the insurance committee, insurance money started flowing to him. Coincidence?
Balanced budget teeters on wordplay
The Orange County Register, February 2, 2007
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that the budget's "net operating deficit" has been reduced to "zero." But later his director of finance revealed that the state is a $1.8 billion in the red. It turns out that "net operating deficit" is a made up measurement that excluses several big expenses.
State’s accounting watchdog opts to keep public in the dark
The Orange County Register's OC Watchdog blog, January 28, 2009
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Enron, Bernard Madoff and other big financial scandals of the past decade, it’s that we can’t blindly trust accountants. So you’d think that the state board regulating accountants would do everything it could to inform Californians of problems in the industry. But it’s not.
Consumer protection’s forced marriages: A sensible idea?
The Orange County Register's OC Watchdog blog, February 2, 2009
Imagine if the governor proposed saving money by consolidating the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. You’d think he’s crazy, right? Well, critics argue that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing something like that with his plan to consolidate several boards, commissions and bureaus as part of the fix to the state’s $42 billion deficit.
Capitalizing on Cars
The Orange County Register, August 1, 2006
John Campbell was elected to Congress on the promise that he wouldn't waste tax dollars. But when he was a California state senator, he made the state of California buy him a tricked-out Mustang for $41,000 -- and then had the state sell it 3,000 miles later at a loss of $14,000.
Behind scenes, Correa's ahead
The Orange County Register, June 2, 2006
I used Social Network Analysis software to help illustrate how the leader of California's State Senate was using a series of campaign committees to support an Orange County Senate candidate.
Politics shift meaning of 'home'
The Orange County Register, May 28, 2006
California Assemblyman Van Tran lives with his wife in a new home in West Sacramento, but says he lives with his parents in Orange County. He can get away with it because state law says lawmaker live wherever they say the live.
O.C. voters were duped into GOP registration
The Orange County Register, April 1, 2006
With Tony Saavedra and Kimberly Kindy
Our investigation finds that more than 100 Orange County residents were tricked into registering as Republican voters. A state investigation sparked by our story led to felony charges being filed against 12 signature gatherers, who were paid a "bounty" for every GOP registration they secured.
Delta folks lament loss of familiar CHP patrols
The Sacramento Bee, January 15, 2006
Change isn't easy in a place where a curve in the road is named for a restaurant that closed there 20 years ago. So it's no surprise that residents of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta were upset when they learned the California Highway Patrol was planning to eliminate the region's resident officer program.
The Sacramento Bee, November 6, 2005
With plans for a 24-hour big box store on the horizon, residents of a small bedroom community wonder how many "good and decent people" are out past 1 a.m. But in truth there's hardly anyone out, good or bad -- just the gas station attendant, the fast-food cashier and the waitress at Denny's.
Rebuilt bridge is where the bats love to hang
The Sacramento Bee, September 30, 2005
Tour a new $14 million freeway bridge with 12,000 square feet of bat condos underneath. But watch your step.
Elk Grove, property owners debate value
The Sacramento Bee, August 30, 2005
A highway expansion means residents and businesses will lose their land, and nobody's too happy about it. Folks in this expanding bedroom community mourn the loss of its rural feel... and demand more money for their properties. As one official says, "It's such a sensitive issue, eminent domain."
It's Moving Day for a Mighty Oak
The Sacramento Bee, August 14, 2005
For 20 years, the valley oak has lived in a quiet field in south Elk Grove, the future site of a long-planned community development. Here, the tree matured from a sapling, stretching its roots deep into the earth. It appeared the 25-foot to 30-foot oak would be here forever. But it won't, not now.
Plantin' Seeds of discipline
The Desert Sun, December 28, 2004
Far away from the glitz and glamor of Palm Springs, Roman G. Pellum inspires the cities' poorest children in an after school program founded on discipline, hope and basketball.
Teens vie for pageant title
The Desert Sun, August 10, 2003
Miss Teen USA -- a whirl of Hollywood talent scouts, air-horn blowing fans and 3,000 pounds of hair-care products. Here's a behind-the-scenes look at the beauty pagaent and its "fresh" contestants.
The Art of Deception
The Seattle Times, January 26, 2003
With Duff Wilson and Sheila Farr
Our investigation exposes a Seattle art store for selling fake Asian antiquities. The store was secretly owned by a Nobel Prize candidate.