Ross Johnson, remembered

Fair Political Practices Commission Chairman Ross Johnson, talks to the Sacramento Bee Capitol Bureau in 2007.
Fair Political Practices Commission Chairman Ross Johnson, talks to the Sacramento Bee Capitol Bureau in 2007. Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

This editorial first appeared on April 19, 2010, under the headline, “Kudos to champ of transparency.” Sen. Ross Johnson has died.

Ross Johnson has served Californians well as chairman of the Fair Political Practices Commission. His tenure is coming to a close much too soon.

Johnson announced last week that he must step down for health reasons, effective at the end of this month. As he leaves the public stage, Johnson is doing the honorable thing, because the job of FPPC chairman is too important to be done part time by someone who is distracted.

In his three years as FPPC chairman, Johnson proved himself to be one of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's finest appointees. He truly believed that government must be transparent, and brought life to the saw that sunshine is the best disinfectant.

Under Johnson, the FPPC brought public attention to little-known aspects of politics. He produced factual reports about the largest campaign donors in the state, and independent expenditures, and made them accessible to the public.

He placed on the FPPC's website updated spreadsheets detailing so-called behest contributions, in which politicians funnel large donations to their pet charities from moneyed interests.

Under Johnson, the commission has worked to close loopholes that officials exploited to hide gifts from interest groups, and imposed fines on lawmakers of both parties.

Johnson knows all the tricks of the political trade, having spent a quarter-century in the Legislature, beginning in 1978. One of his best friends is former Sen. John Burton, who is every bit as liberal as Johnson is conservative. Johnson understands it takes more backbone to shake a hand than it does to give the back of a hand.

California has had other strong FPPC chairmen and chairwomen. But Johnson set a new standard. In this election year, when hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent on campaigns, Schwarzenegger will need to move quickly to fill the vacancy.

This editorial ran on April 19, 2010.

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