By Zach Arnold | May 6, 2012
Last Friday morning, we posted an article discussing the neutering of AB2100, the proposed legislation (amendments) by Assemblyman Luis Alejo that would give the California State Athletic Commission sweeping authority to review & regulate fighter contracts in Mixed Martial Arts. The current power that the CSAC has to oversee boxing contracts would be given to the commission for MMA as well.
However, as we noted on Friday, AB2100 is headed towards a path of no return. Despite Assemblyman Alejo feeling that he can convince the CSAC to back AB2100, the truth is that the bill continues to get marked through and watered down. A week after a public hearing in Sacramento to go over AB2100 amendments, changes were made to the bill. If the amendments do not see the day of light in the Appropriations committee by the end of the month, whatever is left of AB2100 is essentially crippled. This does not mean that all changes would be terminated but certainly the bulk of what was being proposed would be eliminated.
There were a lot of interested parties in getting AB2100 amendments up & running. For many organized labor unions, this was an interesting test to see how much UFC would sweat over the CSAC being granted authority to review & regulate standard Zuffa contracts. Despite what is a likely end for AB2100, organized labor now has a test case to go to other states to pursue similar type of legislation. Furthermore, they may take their case and try to get legislation passed on a Federal level (to have the Ali Act apply to MMA).
The political problem Assemblyman Alejo faces is that while he is backed by labor unions, his bosses in California are all Democrats in higher authority. As we detailed last Friday, one of the biggest players in the process of AB2100 likely being neutered for good is CSAC Chairman John Frierson. Frierson, who proudly boasts being a friend of Governor Jerry Brown for over 40 years, is a man who recently said in approving Josh Barnett for a fighter’s license that he wants to see business in California. This stance is consistent in various votes that Chairman Frierson has issued in the past. He voted to re-license Antonio Margarito. He tried to motion for Cris Cyborg’s steroid suspension to be cut in half from one year to six months. He voted to halve the suspension of Chael Sonnen and cleared the way for Sonnen to get back to action.
As UFC lobbyist Tim Lynch noted at the April 25th Sacramento hearing for AB2100, the California State Athletic Commission would need to pay to hire lawyers to review hundreds of fighter contracts if AB2100 was passed. Given the current economic situation facing Chairman Frierson and Executive Director George Dodd, this is politically untenable. In order for AB2100 to survive, Assemblyman Alejo would have to craft the amendments in such a way that, on paper, it would cost the AC $0. It’s hard to see how the Assemblyman will be able to pull this off, let alone confront Chairman Frierson’s attitude of ‘we want business.’ You know what wouldn’t be good for CSAC business? UFC and Bellator no longer running shows in California. UFC stated that if the AB2100 amendments passed that they would no longer run California. Chairman Frierson is not going to accept this. This is why AB2100 is headed down a path of no return.
The current political stance of the California State Athletic Commission is simple — any change that is proposed must cost $0 for implementation (on paper). A perfect example of how this policy is reflective upon current regulation involves amateur boxing & amateur MMA. USA Boxing currently works with the CSAC for regulating amateur boxing. Jeremy Lappen’s CAMO (California Mixed Martial Arts Organization) non-profile 501(c)(3) oversees regulation of amateur MMA.
Using the standard of adding regulatory authority to the CSAC without costing any money on paper are the recent guidelines proposed to allow Therapeutic Use Exemptions, including TUEs for testosterone. In language that is clearly spelled out, the regulations being written for TUEs state that since the athlete applying for a TUE has to pay for all medical testing costs this means that it will cost the commission $0. Of course, such legislation cannot track down whether or not fight promoters actually are the ones who are picking up the tab for fighters to get their exemptions to use testosterone. Given that this legislation will allow many big-name MMA fighters who are pleading their case for testosterone usage to get an exemption, this opens the door for those big-name MMA fighters in question to have their fights in California. We want business, indeed.
Everyone understands the seriousness of the debt crisis in California and the position that the California Democratic Party is in. Because California is a one-party political state, a lot of power is consolidated in certain geographic areas – most of it in the big cities west of I-5. John Frierson happens to be a very old-school player in California Democratic Party circles. Frierson has been a member of the CSAC since 2001. To understand how uncommon the length of Frierson’s tenure on the Commission is, you have to look at the rules for membership appointment. You can be appointed to the CSAC via one of three avenues – 1) by the Governor, 2) by the Assembly Speaker, or 3) by the Senate Rules Committee.
- The Governor can give an appointee a length of anywhere from 2 to 4 years.
- The Senate can give an appointee a length of 4 years.
- The Assembly Speaker can give an appointee a length of 4 years.
The reason we point this out for your consideration is because in order for Chairman Frierson to be kept on the CSAC board for as long as he has been, he must be someone of substantial political value. Given his 40+ year political relationship with Governor Jerry Brown, it’s easy to see why John Frierson will remain Chairman of the CSAC for years to come. Although his term expires on January 1st, 2015, the safe bet is that Chairman Frierson will stick around as long as he is in good health.
As we have been reporting on the developments surrounding AB2100, we started to investigate the role of Chairman Frierson and just what kind of influence he has on regulatory decisions with the California State Athletic Commission. Our investigation led us down many different roads that we were not initially expecting to travel. However, our initial search for background information on Chairman Frierson led us to discover some rather remarkable political connections. These political relationships that we are about to reveal will demonstrate how John Frierson has obtained the political clout that he currently enjoys and how it is being used to regulate the fight scene in California.
It is important for us to frame our investigation in a way that connects many dots but does so in a simple, yet detailed manner so that you can understand how the political landscape works in California and how decisions made by the Chairman impact the fans, the fighters, and event promoters.
Chairman John Frierson is an important name to remember and a name to keep a close eye on. What we are about to lay out for you is the following:
- A political profile of how John Frierson built his career and how his political connections have put him in the spot he is currently at
- How John Frierson’s membership on the California State Athletic Commission has not only benefitted him but the many political leaders that he has backed
- How John Frierson has used his political influence to make a difference in setting the agenda for the California State Athletic Commission
- How John Frierson, now the CSAC Chairman, will impact the political decision making for the CSAC in the future and what it means for the future of regulating combat sports in California
In order to understand how we’ve reached the point where are at now, we have to take a closer look at the political career Chairman Frierson has built.
The man with all the right connections
John Frierson has been a mainstay in Los Angeles Democratic Party politics since Richard Nixon was President. In addition to being a delegate for the Democratic National Committee for three decades, he & his wife Susie Frierson (also an activist) have been members of the New Frontier Democratic Club, a very high-profile African-American political organization with a storied history. Frierson is on the Executive Board of the NFDC, a club that is very active in Los Angeles County Democratic Party circles. Naturally, the club is very involved in promoting key initiatives of President Obama such as United We Serve.
Because of the affiliations that John & Susie Frierson are connected to, they have spent many years making connections with the biggest names in the California Democratic Party and, conversely, have returned the favor in backing & promoting many African-American state Assembly & state Senate candidates. Plus, they are also backers of many CA Democratic Party heavyweights in Congress, including Brad Sherman.
While the digital, online footprint of John Frierson is rather small in terms of information, there is a treasure trove of political information in newspapers about key endorsements Mr. Frierson has made & activities that he has been involved in. While some of the candidates Chairman Frierson have backed turned out to be stinkers (he was a booster in California for the John Edwards ill-fated 2004 Democratic Party primary campaign), many of Frierson’s choices — especially on the state level — have been huge winners. He backed Janice Hahn, who went to win a seat in Congress. The couple has backed candidates in local Los Angeles political races as well as the candidacy of a rising political star, Curren Price Jr. Mr. Price started out his career as an Assembly representative in the 51st district in 2006 and was re-elected in 2008. In 2009, Price ran for state Senate in a special election and won the seat. John & Susie Frierson were big backers for Price’s campaign. In his three years of service in the state Senate, Price has risen all the way to the position of Chairman of the Senate Business, Professions, and Economic Development Committee.
That last item of information will become of great importance later on in this article.
In exchange for continued support of major Southern California Democrats who have obtained positions of high power in Sacramento, John Frierson has received a very large amount of political support of his own. Governor Jerry Brown is a close friend and big backer. Former and current LA City Councilmembers are Frierson boosters. Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been a long-time supporter of Frierson, putting him on a Los Angeles Transportation Commission. Here’s how LA Observed categorized the support:
John W. Frierson has been involved in community and political activities for over 40 years. He has held positions in numerous organizations, including Deputy Director of Community Relations for the 2000 Democratic National Convention, Senior Field Deputy for Councilman Nate Holden, Senior Traffic Supervisor for both the Los Angeles Police Department and the Department of Transportation, and Deputy Sheriff of the Los Angeles Sheriff Department. He was also a member of the United States Navy. Frierson attended UCLA and the City College of New York, and received a Certificate in Training from the FBI.
In addition to being on the LA Transportation Commission, Frierson has also been an activist for various propositions including measures involving political redistricting in California.
A cursory look at who has backed John Frierson should give you a clue about how valued he is in CADEM circles. Governor Jerry Brown. LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Former Assembly Speakers Herb Wesson & Karen Bass. Currently Assembly Speaker John Lopez. Curren Price Jr. If you’re a California Democrat and your political territory is in Southern California, you know who John & Susie Frierson are.
The relationship between Price and Frierson is one of importance. As we mentioned earlier, the NFDC is involved in President Obama’s United We Serve project, a project that the Friersons back. Price was a guest speaker in August of 2010 for the United We Serve fair promoted at the LA Sports Arena.
Given that the African-American constituency means so much to the Democratic Party’s level of success, John & Susie Frierson are visible players. Since John’s appointment to the California State Athletic Commission in 2001, John has endorsed numerous political heavyweights and, in those political endorsements, his standing as a member of the CSAC is prominently mentioned. There’s a benefit for him to have the CSAC tag line by his name in terms of image & power.
The ‘gift’ scandal
There’s an old adage that with great power comes great responsibility. The LA Times wanted to make sure that John Frierson found this out the hard way.
Michael Rothfeld, who worked at The LA Times and currently writes for The Wall Street Journal, wrote a famous article on September 18th, 2009 in which he detailed how the California State Athletic Commission was giving out comp tickets left & right to friends, family members, and politicians.
State officials who regulate boxing have used their positions to gain admission to big-ticket events for friends — actor Sylvester Stallone among them — relatives and other associates who sit ringside for free, records show.
One member of the California State Athletic Commission directed state employees to obtain free passes for his wife and pastor. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appointed all but one of the commissioners, attended an event gratis, as did one of his high-ranking aides.
… On Thursday, as The Times was preparing to publish information on the free admissions, Schwarzenegger sent a letter to the commissioners reiterating that “appointees do not accept gifts” and directing them to follow his policy or resign.
… Frierson obtained credentials for his pastor for one fight and invited a guest from New Jersey. He regularly placed his wife, Susie, on the free-entry list along with state employees.
… Before a weekend of three matches in January, William Douglas, the assistant executive officer, sent out a mass e-mail with a chart that commissioners could use to check their desired events and the number of guests they wanted. They requested at least 18 credentials that weekend.
The Governor at the time, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was facing big political trouble with the DCA (Department of Consumer Affairs). The DCA oversees regulatory bodies like the nursing board (big scandal there in 2009) and the California State Athletic Commission.
As a result of The LA Times article, an investigation was opened the next day by the Fair Political Practices Commission, an ethics board. A week after the LA Times article was published, heads started to roll. The DCA flexed its muscle and rejected the appointment of Pat Russell as Executive Director. He was ready to replace Armando Garcia, who left the CSAC.
State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg put it this way:
Steinberg said he hopes that Schwarzenegger “looks for new members whose priority is protecting the health and safety of the athletes they regulate rather than arranging for free admission to boxing and [mixed martial arts] events.”
A month after the LA Times article, the CSAC voted 5-0 to amend their free ticket policy.
The California State Athletic Commission voted unanimously Monday to stop itself from accepting more than one free pass to a fight, a policy change that followed a Times investigation last month documenting commissioner handouts to friends of free ringside passes to big fights.
“I was encouraged it was adopted,” said Brian Stiger, director of the Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the athletic commission.
During public comment before the 5-0 vote was made by commissioners John Frierson, Peter Lopez, Dr. Van Lemon, Dr. Christopher Giza and Mario Rodriguez, one individual urged the commissioners to operate with “transparency” and only attend fights when “on official business, not because it’s a nice thing to do on a Friday night.”
The fallout from the ‘gift’ scandal
After the ticket scandal broke, Governor Schwarzenegger read the riot act (through the DCA) to the CSAC members about what was going on. While some members resigned, others were furious and fought to maintain their power.
The Fair Political Practices Commission, which oversaw the ethics investigation into the ticket giveaways, has three levels for letters they send out in terms of punishment. The warning letter is the strongest grade, followed by advisory letters and then no violation letters. Advisory letters are essentially a slap on the wrist.
Dr. Christopher Giza received a warning letter in January of 2010. Here’s some text from said letter:
I have completed my investigation of the facts in this case. Specifically, I have found that you accepted a gift of a ticket from Golden Boy Promotions to attend a boxing match held on May 3, 2008. The value of this ticket was $400, which exceeded the applicable gift limit of $390 for calendar year 2008.
Your acceptance of a gjft over the applicable limit is a violation of the Act. (Section 895m, subdivision (c).) Although you had a non-delegable duty to understand and abide by the provisions of the Act, we are not moving forward with this matter based on the specific facts of this case. These include the tact that you contacted the Technical Assistance Division, made a good to the value of gift, and paid down the amount over the limit before being contacted by the Enforcement Divison.
John Frierson, however, curiously received an advisory letter telling him that the file on his matter was closed.
This wouldn’t be the only curious development. As the Our Weekly publication noted, while heads were rolling at the CSAC over the ticket scandal… John Frierson got a promotion.
For the first time in its long history, the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) welcomed an African-American as its chairperson.
John Frierson, the new chair, was recently elected chairman by his peers, after serving on the commission since 2002.
“I am overjoyed with this position,” said Frierson, who was re-appointed to the commission in the fall of 2009 by former California Speaker of the House, Karen Bass.
Instead of being removed from the California State Athletic Commission, Frierson was promoted to Chairman despite being named by the LA Times in the ticket scandal. On top of that, a cursory search of previous CSAC meetings shows that the attendance record of John Frierson was rather inconsistent.
As Our Weekly pointed out, it was the now former Assembly Speaker Karen Bass who re-appointed Frierson to the CSAC despite the ticket scandal. This is the highest of California Democratic Party authority giving the green light to make the move. What happened after the ticket scandal story that resulted in John Frierson’s re-appointment to the CSAC?
This re-appointment eventually led Frierson to become the Chairman of the CSAC, with his term not ending until 2015. Chairman Frierson’s influence is palpable.
Friends in high places
In June of 2011, Governor Jerry Brown made an interesting appointment to the California State Athletic Commission board.
Linda Forster, 42, of Los Angeles, has been appointed to the California State Athletic Commission. She has served as the president of Forster Construction Company since 1994. Forster served as the administrator for the Parents of Watts from 1993 to 2006 and as the director of the Dianne Feinstein Home for Young Mothers from 1991 to 1993. She also worked as a clinical social worker at the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in 1996. Forster served as a commissioner for the City of Los Angeles Department of Animal Services Board from 2001 to 2004. She was a member of the U.S. Junior Olympics Basketball team in 1987. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $100 per diem. Forster is a Democrat.
In 2004, Forster was a delegate for the Democratic National Convention. This is mentioned here because of an item about The Friends of Linda Harris-Forster and who made a political donation to her — Susie Frierson.
Here’s an item that will shine a brighter spotlight on the political connections. Kinde Durkee, a high-profile Democratic treasurer in Burbank who got charged for fraud by authorities, reportedly helped file Friends of Linda Harris-Forster with the State. As the LA Times noted in this 2008 article, Forster has had plenty of political aspirations. Here’s a 2007 article detailing Forster’s political connections:
First of all, Linda is the daughter of Sweet Alice Harris and is the front-runner in terms of fundraising. She has the financial support of the biggest of the state’s big wigs, including my beloved sugar daddy, former Controller Steve Westly.
If you don’t live in California, you probably don’t recognize most of these names. If you live in California, you know some of these political heavyweight names.
At the April 9th CSAC hearing, Forster nominated Frierson to be Chairman of the CSAC once again.
Oversight of the CSAC & its troubles
California is dealing with major financial issues right now and the California State Athletic Commission has plenty of problems of their own to manage. Chairman Frierson & Executive Director George Dodd are in a tough spot.
For instance, take a look at this item from the February 6th, 2012 agenda regarding the commission’s Neurological Fund.
As directed by the Commission at the December 13, 2011 meeting, staff met to analyze costs and funding associated with the neurological fund and neurological examinations (neuro exams) in order to draft regulations that would establish a protocol to pay for neuro exams as required by section 18711 of the Business and Professions Code. The Commission directed staff to move quickly on implementation to ensure complance with the law.
Staff conducted a close analysis of the law and found that not only does the law require payment for neuro exams, it requires payment of all exams required in the medical exam process pertaining to licensure.
Given this realization and knowing the Commission’s strong committment to complying with the law, staff reviewed the budget of the Boxer’s Neurological Examination Account (Account) and the costs associated with all medical exams required for licensure to assess the feasibility of paying for all such exam costs. We found that an increase in the assessment would be required — an increase from $0.60 to approximately $2.70 per ticket. In addition to the fee increase, a legislative change would be required to increase the yearly spending cap to allow for the required payments. See below.
Average Annual Revenue – $150,000
Average Annual Cap – $121,000
Current Operation/Salary Expenditures – $74,000
Amount remaining for exam costs – $47,000
Annual medical exam costs – $596,000
Deficit – (in the red) $549,000
Currently, with an annual $121,000 spending cap, the Commission could pay only $56 towards the costs of each medical exam work up. The minimum cost we found for a medical workup for licensing purposes is $745.
Given this information, staff began exploring options:
1) Comply with existing law by raising the assessment to $2.70 and seeking new legislation to change the spending authority so that the Commission may pay for all exams required in the medical exam process.
2) Seek new legislation to remove the requirement that the Commission pay for all medical exams required in the medical exam process and only pay for the neuro exam. The Commission would still have to seek legislation to increase its spending authority to pay for the costs of the neuro exams and eventually have to increase the assessment. See below representing the costs related specifically to the neuro exam.
Average Annual Revenue – $150,000
Average Annual Cap – $121,000
Current operation/salary expenditures – $74,000
Amount remaining for exam costs – $47,000
Annual Neuro exam costs – $80,000
Deficit – (in the red) $33,000
3) Seek legislation to remove the Commission completely from collecting and paying for any medical exams, including neuro exams. The advantages to this idea include, reduced assessment fees, reduced staff workload and operating expenses, and possibly providing the Commission with an opportunity to use existing funds to more directly benefit licensees by redirecting the funds toward the creation and administration of medical database, a long time goal of the Commission and the Advisory Committee on Medical Safety Standards (MAC).
A medical database could allow for greater protection of the health and safety of fighters by 1) tracking injuries; 2) assist in determining when a fighter is safe to return to play after sustaining an injury; 3) identifying medical trends; and 4) assist in preventing further injury by identifying individuals who may be at greater risk. The benefits of a medical database have the potential to far out weight that of merely paying for a neurological examination.
An endeavor such as this would require legislation (see attached proposed draft language) to remove the requirement to pay exam costs and add the authority to create and maintain a database for medical research as permitted by section 18711 subdivision (a)(3). This would ensure that the Commission continues to receive all necessary medical data.
Finally, if the Commission were to pursue this avenue, it may want to consider reducing the current $0.60 assessment fee to $0.01, (the minimum amount possible) until the legislation becomes effective, a database is in place, and a determination is made regarding the amount needed to operate and maintain the database; including the review and study of the information collected by qualified personnel.
I want you to read that passage… and then re-read it. These are the kinds of serious issues that the CSAC is facing with John Frierson as the Chairman. The commission is facing a major money crunch. With Chairman Frierson & Executive Director Dodd as the two key figures on the CSAC, the question is whether or not either man can fix the bind that the CSAC is in. If they can’t find the money to finance Commission regulations as they are required to do so by law, what will that mean for the Commission? Will the Commission approve of less fights and go on furlough (at the request of politicians above them) or will we see the CSAC lower their standards of regulation in order to go ‘on the cheap’ and try to skate by?
These are serious & major questions.
As the CSAC is dealing with major issues like neurological exams, Chairman Frierson also has something else of interest that he felt needed a change… the Commission’s ticket/gift policy.
Last December, the ticket/gift issue magically re-appeared. Wait, didn’t the CSAC vote after the gift scandal on a 5-0 vote (including John Frierson) to not do freebies any more?
CALIFORNIA STATE ATHLETIC COMMISSION GIFT POLICY
Since the receipt of gifts may give rise to the appearance of impropriety, the California State Athletic Commission hereby adopts this gift policy. Even in those circumstances where applicable laws and policies permit the acceptance of gifts, there remains the possibility that the public may perceive such gifts as an attempt to influence or reward official government action and thus as creating a conflict of interest. The Commission therefore strongly urges its members and staff to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest or impropriety and to demonstrate the Commission’s commitment to impartiality, equal treatment and the highest standards of conduct in its interactions with all licensees and potential licensees of the Commission.
All applicants and licensees shall be notified of the Commission’s policy on gifts.
For purposes of this policy, the word ‘gift’ means any item having any cost or financial value, including tickets, food or beverages, entertainment, or travel, as well as licensee-sponsored meals, parties, or events.
Effective immediately, the gift policy dated October 26, 2009 is abolished and the following gift policy applies.
A. Commission Members and Staff who are required to file a Form 700
Commission members, the executive officer, assistant executive officer, and chief and assistance chief athletic inspectors are required pursuant to Title 16 Cal. Code Regs 3830 (Appendix) to file annually a Form 700. Members and the staff designated above shall comply with all applicable laws and rules related to conflicts of interest, including the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Incompatible Activities Policy dated April 8, 2010, and shall thoroughly disclose on their Form 700s all items required to be disclosed by law. Commission members and staff designated above are also expected to comply with the biennial requirement to take and complete the ethics course offered online by the Office of the Attorney General.
B. Commission Staff
No gifts of any kind, of any value, shall be accepted, on or off the work site, by any Commission employee from any applicant or license or any person acting on behalf of an applicant or licensee. As used in this policy, the term ‘employee’ includes all athletic inspectors except the chief and assistant chief athletic inspector. This policy is intended to supersede any law that conflicts with this policy, but all other laws and policies of the state of California shall continue to apply fully.
Any gift received by a commission staff member shall be returned within 30 calendar days to the give whenever feasible. When return of a gift is not feasible, the employee shall deliver the gift to the Commission’s executive office,r who shall promptly donate the gift to a non-profit entity.
Let me translate the change for you — the ‘no gift’ vote by Chairman Frierson on October 26, 2009, a month after the LA Times scandal article, is done. While the language of this revised gift policy sounds stern and tough, it’s opening the door again for gifts & tickets.
Because that’s really important.
Who’s the watch dog?
A lot is at stake for the California State Athletic Commission. Governor Jerry Brown cannot afford to have a Commission scandal because it would hurt him politically. The DCA, which overses the CSAC, is under his control. Money is tight. Big decisions will have to made soon.
The bottom line is that all of the circumstances laid out in this article should give you a good idea as to why the Commission wants no part of a strongly-Amended AB2100 bill.
“We want business.”
Chairman Frierson wants business and he wants shows. The political pressure is on. If money troubles continue to plague the CSAC and a political decision has to be made as to whom the fall guy is (Chairman Frierson or Executive Director Dodd), let us state our personal opinion clearly:
George Dodd will get the ax if conditions don’t rapidly improve for the California State Athletic Commission.
Chairman Frierson is not going to be an easy ‘fall guy’ by any stretch. Too many politicians have put too much political capital into backing him to just run away from him. Conversely, Chairman Frierson has a close relationship with Governor Brown and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Chairman would put the Governor in a compromising position.
So, who exactly is the watch dog outside of the DCA that is analyzing what is going on with the CSAC?
The CSAC will have to develop a self-assessment report about how the regulatory body is functioning and the problems they are facing. Once that report is created, the Senate committee will have a meeting next Spring to make any determinations about the future of the CSAC.
If there are major financial or mismanagement problems with the CSAC, I like the chances of survival for Chairman Frierson but not as much for Executive Director Dodd.
The Chairman of the Senate Business, Professions, and Economic Development Committee is… Cullen Price Jr., friend of the Governor and Chairman Frierson’s political ally.
And now you know… the rest of the story.