Ex-school official can't join lawsuit over his postal records

U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. ruled on April 26 that William Eisen's request didn't meet the legal standards required to be allowed to argue alongside government attorneys representing the Postal Service in the case.

The Fair Political Practices Commission has sued the post office in federal court over what it calls the "improper" withholding of records related to Eisen, a former member of the Manhattan Beach Unified School District board.

The commission regulates the political activities of public officials, lobbyists and campaign committees. It also enforces California's campaign reporting and disclosure requirements, conflict-of-interest rules and election laws.

Since 2008, the state watchdog agency has investigated allegations that Eisen violated campaign disclosure rules related to mass mailings, but the Postal Service declined to release certain records to state investigators, citing privacy concerns. At the time, Eisen was the focus of a recall effort.

State investigators wanted postal records that would help determine whether mass mailings purportedly from the South Bay Taxpayers Association and the South Bay Republican Club, in support of Eisen, were actually sent by Eisen.

The U.S. Justice Department is defending the Postal Service against the state's claims. Eisen petitioned the federal court in February, asking for the right to join in the defense. The Justice Department didn't object to the move. State attorneys, however, argued Eisen's addition would only confuse and impede the case. Commission attorneys wrote:

Mr. Eisen has not given any reason why the USPS would not vigorously defend its position, right or wrong, or why Mr. Eisen's interest in non-disclosure of this same information would be inadequately represented.

The fact is, Mr. Eisen has not offered any such evidence because there is none. Both he and the USPS share the same ultimate objective: to prevent the FPPC from obtaining information that would enable it to perform its duty of enforcing important provisions of California's Political Reform Act on behalf of the people of the State of California.

When a proposed intervener and a party share the same ultimate objective, as they do here, a presumption of adequacy of representation applies.

The outcome of this unusual records battle between California and the federal government could have broad repercussions. Justice Department attorneys are slated to file new arguments against disclosure this week. A hearing in the case has not been set, but could occur in early August.

The state commission has determined that Eisen might have violated state law. But no final action has been taken because the records that would fully substantiate the case remain with the Postal Service.

Commission Chairwoman Ann Ravel said in January that she fears if the state isn't allowed access to the records, it would result in a shutdown of campaign disclosure enforcement:

California, twelve other states, and the Federal Election Commission all regulate mailed political communications with regard to either the number of mailed pieces or dollar amount spent on the mail pieces before being categorized as a mass mailing.

Without compliance from the USPS, neither these 13 states, nor the federal government will be able to determine whether a mailing is in violation of their respective laws. The USPS denial of these claims will effectively shut down enforcement of state and federal laws regarding campaign communication disclosure on mass mailings, thereby depriving the public of the ability to identify and take action against persons in violation of these laws.

Eisen, 69, blamed the commission investigation on past political opponents, who he says are still seething over his criticisms of wasteful spending and his other political stands.

"For the last year and a half, I'd thought this whole thing was dead," Eisen told California Watch in a previous interview. "Now I see they're back on the track, trying to drum up stuff against me."

View this story on California Watch

Story courtesy of our media partners at California Watch (A Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting)

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