Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Friday, October 17, 2008

Lobbying firms paid by Ventura County Board of Education rack up big charges for taxpayers, show little results

A press release from the ventura County Democrats -- it's a little long but chock full of information. Afterwards, check out Strickland's donation from Wal-Mart on ElectionTrack -- do you think there was any relationship to the story below? -- Sara

The Republican-controlled Ventura County Board of Education’s (VCBE) contract to pay two out-of-town firms more than $396,000 to lobby on behalf of the Ventura County Office of Education (VCOE) has produced little more than additional bills for taxpayers and a possible partnership with a private Christian College in Indiana which could help build the college a new $8.5 million building.

Since 2007, the VCOE has enlisted the services of Anchor Consulting, LLC, of Alexandria, Va. and Capitol Venture, LLC of Sacramento. Each of these lobbying firms received $10,000 a month from the VCBE. The board majority originally voted to use money garnered from leasing educational broadband services to pay for the lobbyist expenses. Now it is using money in reserves.

According to an article in the Jan. 16 edition of Roll Call, Anchor Consulting dreamed up a plan for the VCOE to partner with another one of its clients, Grace College, an evangelical Christian college in Indiana, to obtain No Child Left Behind (NCLB) money to fund a project for at-risk youth in Ventura County.

“The biggest chunk of the budget would be a new $8.5 million building on the Grace campus that would be used to host VCOE at-risk youth for four sessions of a two-week summer camp,” the Roll Call article states. “Grace would continue to use the building throughout the year.”

Currently, no earmarks for the at-risk youth program have been placed in the re-authorization of the NCLB measure, which was stalled in the last legislative session.

“No Child Left Behind is underfunded as it is,” said VCBE Trustee Mary Louise Peterson, a critic of the lobbying contracts. “And we’re trying to take money away from a program that is underfunded to give to a private college?” she asked.

The board’s other paid lobbying firm, Capitol Venture, recently billed nearly $800 in expenses for a meeting with Wal-Mart executives to talk about a Regional Occupational Program, Peterson said. “We’re their only education client.” This bill was in addition to their monthly $10,000 fee, Peterson said.

How were these two firms selected?

VCBE member Chris Valenzano, a former legislative aide to Tony Strickland when he served in the Assembly, proposed in September of 2006 that the board consider hiring lobbyists, according to board minutes.


Records from the California Secretary of State indicate Joseph G. Yocca of Capitol Venture made a $1,000 donation to Republican Tony Strickland in October of 2006 during his failed race for State Controller. Anchor Consulting also made a $1,000 donation to Strickland’s race at the same
time. Strickland is now running for State Senate District 19, which serves Ventura County and portions of Santa Barbara and Los Angeles County.

Not long after, in February of 2007, according to board minutes, VCBOE member and Ventura County Republican Central Committee member Dean Kunicki said he was considering six lobbying firms for the County Schools Office. He did not provide costs at the time he presented his recommendations. In March of 2007, a majority of the board voted to pursue contracts with these two lobbying firms. No other firms were presented for the vote.

The $396,000 contract is one of the largest expenditures for educational lobbyists in the state. Only a handful of other county offices have hired lobbyists.

Capitol Venture was also involved in work on a failed bill authored by Assembly member Audra Strickland last year. According to the Ventura County Star, AB911, introduced on behalf of the VCOE, would have equalized the amount of money counties receive for students in Regional Occupational Programs. The bill would not have helped the local schools, former Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Charles Weis told the Star, “It would have taken money away from us.”

Recent online reports filed on behalf of the Ventura County Board of Education for the 2007-08 state legislative session show no lobbying activity reported in the second, third and fourth quarters. A report from the lobbying firms presented to the board blamed partisan politics for the lack of activity on behalf of the county schools.

Two candidates currently running for seats on the Ventura County Board of Education will bring much-needed change. Dr. Mark Lisagor is running for District 3, which serves Camarillo, Somis, Santa Paula, Fillmore, Piru, Meiners Oaks, Oak View, Ojai and Wheelers Springs. Dr. Ramon Flores is running for District 5, serving Oxnard, Colonia, Ocean View and El Rio.

“The unwarranted spending by the current board on dubious lobbyists with little or no accountability must stop. As a trustee, I will be an effective advocate for public education in Sacramento and our nation’s capitol,” Lisagor said.

Jan. 16 Roll Call article:

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Anonymous the Chupacabra said...

And SBCAG spent how much on actively campaigning and spending taxpayer dollars on Measure D, and now for A. Whether you agree with the measures or not the slick mailers sent at Taxpayer expense, the signs suddenly popping to let us now where the money was from, opinion polls etc was taxpayer money.

Of course SBCAG is from majority Democratic controlled local governments, if we are supposed to be upset by the GOP monkeys down south. Then surely the outrage over SBCAG not just using taxpayer cash to lobby, but campaign was jsut as bad if not worse.

How much taxpayer money was spent to convince us to vote yes on D which was defeated, and just a guess but the City of SB probably pays money to lobbying firms in Sacramento with ties to the Democratic Party.

PS Didnt the Clintons and Michelle Obama see cash from WalMart Sarah?

10/17/2008 9:06 PM  
Blogger Sara De la Guerra said...

I don't really care about the Wal-Mart contribution (it's not even that much at $3,600) -- it's whether a public agency is paying for an employee to get contributions for a candidate....not good.

10/18/2008 7:35 AM  
Blogger Don McDermott said...

All of this is a fascinating read. Long distance Congressional Earmarks, No Child Left Behind, Lobbyists and Politicians. There also seems to be long lingering of 1990s far extreme right wing stealthy infiltration and resulting entrenchment.

10/20/2008 8:11 PM  
Anonymous Throw the Bums Out said...

Chupacabra said: "Of course SBCAG is from majority Democratic controlled local governments, if we are supposed to be upset by the GOP monkeys down south."

Let's see, last time I counted SBCAG was pretty evenly divided between the Dems & the Reps.

On the Dem side:

On the Rep side:

Let's try some facts, not party bashing.

Personally, I really don't care what political party someone is, but spending Ventura taxpayer dollars to lobby for a partnership with an evangelical Christian College in Indiana is just so wrong if defies belief.

Thanks for alerting us to this problem. Throw the bums out.

10/25/2008 11:03 AM  

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