As the Los Angeles Times reported last week, the convictions of former council member and prominent local lobbyist Art Snyder were overturned by a state appellate court. But for some otherwise unrelated decisions made by a host of well-intentioned individuals, the result may have been different. At least in the political ethics world, perhaps Murphy's law will have to be replaced by Snyder's Law of Unintended Consequences.
Taken separately, each of the foregoing would appear to have little impact on Mr. Snyder's case. Taken together, they yielded the court's overturning his conviction on the grounds that: because he was a lobbyist (as the prosecution conceded), the "aiding and abetting" section applied to Mr. Snyder. This means that, in the words of the court, "prior to Proposition 208, any person with reporting obligations under the [Political Reform] Act (such as a lobbyist) was subject to administrative action for a violation...but not to criminal liability..." This is especially true, the court reasoned, precisely because Proposition 208 repaired the apparent defect in the "aiding and abetting" statute. (Implying that, without the change, the literal reading of the statute would be less warranted).
Although it is likely that the case will be appealed to the California Supreme Court, there is no guarantee the justices will agree to hear the case. If not, Mr. Snyder will be a free man. In yet another irony, proving that you can never put your foot in the same stream twice, the FPPC cannot now levy administrative fines against him since the five year statute of limitations (added last year) has expired. Moreover, if the case stands, persons who have filing obligations under the state ethics law (lobbyists, most public officials and candidates) and compensated professionals who assist them (attorneys, accountants, campaign consultants) will be free from criminal and civil prosecution while "non-filers" could be convicted of crimes for violating the law.
Capping off this series of ironies is the fact that pending on the Governor's desk is AB1864 (Papan) which would make several changes to the Political Reform Act sought by the FPPC and one which the Commission opposes. The change opposed by the FPPC would repeal the Proposition 208 "aiding and abetting" statute (regardless of whether the initiative survives on appeal) and replace it with the prior version of the statute--the same one which the court held did not apply to Mr. Snyder. Who knows what unintended consequences will result from Governor Wilson's signature or veto of this measure?