Political Watchdog Agency Steps into Mountain Lion Kill Controversy

A mountain lion in Montana | Photo: USFWS Mountain Prairie/Flickr/Creative Commons License

This is a tale of the many dangers of mountain lion hunting -- kind of. Okay; not really, but how often do I get to use the phrase "mountain lion hunting" in the first line of blog posts about California governance and politics?

Recently Dan Richards, the head of the Fish and Game Commission, apparently did what one would expect the head of that commission to do: go hunting. Richards did what hunters do best; he killed an animal. And not just any animal, a mountain lion.

"But isn't that illegal in California?" you may ask. Well, yes, informed reader, it is. However, it is legal in Idaho where Richards' hunting expedition occurred.

How did Richards get to Idaho? Who paid to get him there? Well, now we get to the part of our tale that leads us back to the main topic of my posts: governance and politics. Richards received the guided hunting trip as a gift. The gift was apparently worth almost $7,000. Richards has since paid for the cost of the trip, a decision that seemed to coincide with media coverage concerning his controversial excursion. His decision also came after a complaint was filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), California's political watchdog agency.

Under the California Political Reform Act (which is enforced by the FPPC) some public officials, including Richards, are limited to receiving gifts totaling $420 per year from one donor.

There seems to be little question that Richards violated the gift law. There is no question that he subsequently paid for his trip, albeit after the 30-day repayment window imposed by the Political Reform Act.

While the FPPC did not impose a fine on Richards, it did warn that it could impose penalties of up to $5,000 per violation for any future transgressions.

There are bigger fish to fry, so to speak. So, no harm, no foul?

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School. Read more of her posts here.