(CDCBA), it will incorporate as a nonprofit
professional or trade association with the ability to lobby without
limit. It will enter into a contract with the bar under which
voluntary contributions for its work will be collected by the bar.
The bar will have to go to Sacramento to seek a
change to Business & Professions Code §17533.6, which prohibits a
nongovernmental entity from soliciting membership funds by mail that
contains a seal, such as the seal of the State Bar.
The conference also wants to continue to meet at
the bar's annual fall convention under a revenue- and cost-sharing
formula and to recommend legislation it believes the bar should
endorse. The bar may reject those recommendations if it chooses.
Bar Executive Director Judy Johnson said becoming
an independent organization "is good in that the conference has felt
shackled and we want them to be able to have their forum and debate
the issues in a manner that doesn't harm the bar."
The proposed arrangement, she added, "protects
the bar's integrity and allows the conference to pursue its
"It's clear we're working together to form
a successful relationship," agreed conference chair Stephen L. Marsh
of San Diego. "I think we're making progress."
In recent years, the conference has become a
lightning rod for criticism among those California lawyers and
legislators who consider its political positions too liberal. When he
vetoed the bar's dues bill in 1997, former Gov. Pete Wilson singled
out the conference's activities, as did the U.S. Supreme Court in
its Keller v. State Bar decision prohibiting the use of member dues
for political lobbying.
When the bar finally won a new funding
authorization after its near-demise in 1998, the legislation included
a provision forcing the conference to be self-funded, without benefit
of member dues. At the same time, the bar board has restricted the
conference's purview on many issues and its delegates have chafed at
what they view as limitations on their freedom of speech.
As a non-profit trade association under IRS §501(c)(6),
the conference would be able to engage in public education, advocacy,
direct and grass roots lobbying and ballot measure activities.
A few things on the conference wish list made
Johnson and bar President Karen Nobumoto cringe. For instance, the
conference wanted a link on the bar's web site free of charge.
Because state law requires the conference to be
independently funded, Johnson said, "we have to be very careful to
avoid the perception that we are providing any administrative support
for free." Added Nobumoto: "We are audit-sensitive here," a
reference to the annual audit of the bar's books.
If the board authorizes the conference to pursue
separate status and the bar to seek a statutory change, the conference
is expected to return to the board in mid-June with proposed bylaws
and articles of incorporation.
The conference's executive committee has been
authorized to approve the group's new status, which Marsh said it
likely to happen before the annual meeting in October.