A Stanford University nonprofit agency on Monday described data released by the Assembly Rules Committee on members' spending figures as suspicious and misleading.
Dakin Sloss, president of California Common Sense (CACS), stood alongside Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) during a press conference at the Capitol building and called into question that shows Portantino to be the biggest Assembly spender.
"The data and surrounding context is awfully suspicious.
"It appears that the rules committee under-reported other assembly members' spending on staff and overreported Portantino's spending on staff,'' said Sloss, a Stanford student.
Last month, Portantino, the Los Angeles Times, The Sacramento Bee and other media outlets filed public-records requests for current office records of all 80 Assembly members. At first the Assembly balked, arguing that disclosure is not required under the state Legislative Open Records Act. Then, last week, Portantinothat would force the Legislature to comply with the more stringent California Public Records Act.
The Assembly then released members' spending records for the last eight months on its homepage Friday. Those numbers, which you can find here, show Portantino to have outspent all of his colleagues, yet CACS research found Portantino to be 37th on that spending list.
• Expenditures data (the CACS term for the Assembly's figures it released Frdiay) under-reports personal staff salaries by $2.75 million and over-reports Democratic committee and leadership staff salaries by $1.28 million
• Assembly Rules Committee shifted how millions of dollars of staff are listed: reporting personal staffers as committee, leadership, caucus, or overhead staff
• 40 of 68 listed chiefs of staff are reported as committee, caucus, leadership or overhead staffers instead of personal staff in payroll.
•Payroll data (the CACS term for the Assembly website pdfs that list monthly salaries for every staffer for May) shows that the 10 members with the largest under-reported personal staff expenses actually spend more than Portantino
Regarding the allegation that the Assembly's numbers are erroneous, John Vigna, spokesman for Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, told Patch Monday that the eight-month figures are still raw data that are subject to change upon audit, but that the Assembly is not trying to be deceitful.
"The fact is that Speaker Perez directed that every single dollar and cent spent by the Assembly be posted on our website.
"In addition, he has previously directed all Assembly salaries be posted on our website. The people of California now have an easy, accesible place to retrieve that information.''
Vigna pointed out that the Assembly anounced the creation of a task force Aug. 15 to modernize the assembly's open-government policies. Transparency is a vital issue, he said, and one worthy of a comprehensive, thoughtful discussion, which will happen during the legislative intersession. But by Sept. 9, the Assembly has a couple thousand bills it needs to get to the governor's desk, so it's focusing on the job at hand.
Regarding transparency, Vigna contended that Sloss is not currently a student at Stanford. He further opined that it's curious why Portantino would associate himself with a "climate change denier''--a position Sloss argues for during a 2010 school debate that was posted on You Tube, as well as in various blogs.
Sloss, when reached by phone Monday, told Patch that he took some time off school last spring to work with CACS, but that he is a fully registered student for the fall.
"Sounds like the Assembly is using some out-of-date data,'' Sloss said, adding his political position on climate change - which he referred to as a "character attack'' - is not at issue; the real problem is the authenticity of the Assembly records.
Portantino reiterated Monday that Pérez is personally targeting him for casting the lone Democratic . Perez has reduced Portantino's budget and issued furlough notices for his staff.
"The [CACS] information presented offers a disturbing picture of how the Assembly is run,'' Portantino said.