A Humane Society lobbyist is coming under scrutiny for her close relationship with a member of California Gov. Jerry Brown's inner circle: his dog Sutter.
Jennifer Fearing, senior state director for the Humane Society of the United States, is a regular dog-walker for the governor's beloved corgi. She's also six for six on bills that she pushed during this year's legislative session in Sacramento, including a hotly debated bill to outlaw lead ammunition for hunting.
Mr. Brown signed Assembly Bill 711, the lead-ammunition ban, on Oct. 11 over the objections of gun-rights groups and a coalition of labor leaders.
Coincidence? Maybe. "It sounds silly because it's regarding a dog, but it is true there are services being exchanged that haven't been reported," said Jennifer Kerns, spokeswoman for Free California, a gun-rights group.
Critics say Ms. Fearing may be breaking the rules because so far she hasn't reported the dog-walking as an in-kind contribution. Gun-rights and hunting groups are considering filing a complaint over the pro bono dog exercising with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission.
"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.
Jessica Levinson, associate professor at Loyola University Law School in Los Angeles, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Ms. Fearing is "a powerful person who wants something from the government."
Her access to 10-year-old Sutter's leash means that "she has access to Gov. Brown," Ms. Levinson said. "There are a variety of ways to exercise influence."
Ms. Fearing told the Chronicle that her critics are "clearly overestimating the value" of her dog-walking duties, which she says are based more on her love for animals than her desire to curry favor with the governor.
"I wouldn't misuse that relationship," she said. "I deal with staff, and I go through the right channels."
Those who suspect her of harboring an agenda are reading too much into the situation, she said, adding, "I would like to believe that we live in a civilized society where you can do neighborly things like walking people's dogs."
While the Humane Society enjoyed a successful session, it wasn't necessarily a great year for all liberal groups. For example, environmentalists saw several of their pet causes languish, including a proposal to phase out plastic carry-out bags.
Sutter is something of a furry celebrity in California, often appearing in public with his governor-owner, sending out regular tweets from his Twitter account, and hosting his own Facebook page, which has nearly 11,000 "likes."
"I'm California's First Dog. I like long walks in the park, tummy rubs and I'm a people person!" the page says.
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