While there may be other meanings to walking the dog, taken literally it might just have been the deciding factor in California Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to sign the ban on lead ammunition.
The biggest proponent of the lead ammo ban was the anti-hunting Humane Society of the US. And who just happens to walk Jerry Brown’s dog Sutter on a regular basis? None other than Jennifer Fearing who is the state director for HSUS in California.
Does the hand that holds the leash of California’s “first dog,” cuddly corgi Sutter Brown, also have a hand in guiding policy with the dog’s master, Gov. Jerry Brown?
That’s the question being raised about Jennifer Fearing, the senior state director for the Humane Society of the United States, who critics suggest has turned her role as regular walker of the governor’s dog into a cannily effective way to lobby the state’s chief executive on animal rights issues.
Fearing scored a perfect 6-for-6 record this legislative season in getting bills signed by Brown, placing her in the ranks of Sacramento’s most effective lobbyists.
Among the coups for the Humane Society was legislation banning lead ammunition that Fearing said endangered as many as 130 species in California. It was one of 11 bills signed by Brown out of the 18 that the Legislature passed to restrict guns or ammunition.
Fearing denies any impropriety and says she hasn’t talked to Gov. Brown or his wife personally about the bill in question.
Others are not so sure. The gun-rights group Free California has filed a complaint with California’s Fair Political Practices Commission saying the dog-walking is an in-kind payment to the governor. Ethics experts are also unsure about this.
Fearing is “a powerful person who wants something from the government,” said Jessica Levinson, an expert on law and governance issues and associate professor of law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
With her role in the dog’s life, “she has access to Gov. Brown,” Levinson said. “There are a variety of ways to exercise influence.”
California taxpayers, for instance, would have a right to know if “Brown had a kid, and his tutor was head of the California Teachers Association,” Levinson said.
I know I, for one, would be more favorably disposed towards someone my dog liked. Conversely, if my dog didn’t like you, then there is something about you that might be suspect. Regardless of the intent, Fearing’s regular walks with Sutter who seems to like her has to have made Brown more receptive to her arguments. It would be hard for Brown to dismiss Fearing and her group’s agenda out of hand given the personal relationship in question. I don’t know if Fearing started walking Sutter in order to get Brown’s attention but it seems to have worked anyways.
UPDATE: The Washington Times is wondering if this should be called “Corgigate”. Attorney Chuck Michel who handles much of the NRA’s legal work in California had this to say of Fearing.
“For someone who did not hesitate to take the moral high ground in denigrating the ethical standards of hunters during the campaign to ban lead ammunition, it is disappointing to see that Jennifer Fearing does not hold herself to those same ethical standards in properly disclosing her relationship with the governor,” said Chuck Michel, California attorney for the National Rifle Association, in a statement.