Tonight on the Martha Montelongo Show: Norberto Santana of the Voice of OC(EA) on a story he broke regarding allegations that Former State Senator Dick Ackerman had lobbied his former Orange County colleagues in the CA State Legislature in violation of State law.
Several local bloggers had previously alleged that Ackerman was lobbying for the sale of the OC Fair Grounds, but they were lacking a smoking gun until now. Santana uncovered records that are certainly compromising to both Dick Ackerman and to O.C. DA Tony Rackauckas, who appears to have covered for Dick.
Last week a judge stepped in to slow down the sale of the OC Fairgounds to a private developer as reported by the Voice of OC(EA). Seems hizzoner wants some time to look into all the allegations of hanky-panky that have been swirling around for the past year.
More allegations of monkey business at the fair that creates a pattern of obfuscation, disingenuousness, and misfeasance that goes back well over a year.
But wait, hasn’t Tony Rackaukas already blessed the doings with his benediction? Yep, but despite our do-nothing DA’s whitewash of the entire 2009 Summer of Fair Love, lots of people have lingering questions about the role of some of OCs leading repuglicans in this whole mess.
Those doubts are fueled by a guy named David Padilla, a Fair trustee who apparently didn’t go along with his colleagues who were busted trying to create their own entity to acquire the property. As reported in the Daily Pilot, here, and the Voice, here, Padilla, who was recently removed from the Board by outgoing Governor Schwarzenegger, still has lots of unanswered questions himself. And even a few assertions.
One of the most intriguing parts of the story was this:
Among the things the board does not know are details of the activities of the law firm of Nossaman LLP through former State Sen. Dick Ackerman as well as the activities of the county’s lobbyist, Platinum Advisors, which has close ties to county GOP Chairman Scott Baugh.
Padilla was the only board member to respond to public inquiries and records requests for information on the role of both individuals. Padilla said earlier this year that he was told Ackerman was only paid $19,000 for his work.
“I have recently determined, after months of inquiry, they were paid over $150,000 for services I have not been able to get answers for,” Padilla said. “It was my intention to continue to press for the details on both these issues.”
We know that the DA has found nothing untoward in Ackerman’s behavior, despite Ackerman’s own morphing tale, but $150,000 grand would pay for a helluva lot of schmoozing with the Guv, and it’s about time the public found out exactly what Dickie Boy was up to in Sacramento during those long hot summer days of 2009, including billings, invoices, and diaries.
A cynical person said the other day that when he was born, OC District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ mom pushed him out along with a can of white paint and a four inch bristle brush.
It’s common knowledge around town that T-Rack, as he is fondly known, rarely, if ever, pursues political miscreants, but in the case of the OC Fair Board and its odd behavior in the summer of 2009 he had no choice. See, the State AG refused to handle the issue due to a conflict of interest and dumped the investigation back to OC, where Rackauckas was waiting with paint and brush to work on his next masterpiece.
After almost a year the DA coughed up a 50 page recitation of the facts. Or to be more precise he regurgitated what was told to him by the individuals involved and subsequently passed it along as Gospel. Of course there were no depositions, no testimony under oath, or any other annoying and time consuming probative truth-getting-at devices.
According to OC’s own Picasso, the Create-Your-Own Board crew exercised poor judgment, but, since they obviously had nothing to gain from the sale except for a few miserable tix, no harm done, get it? After all, the fact that the real estate could be worth nobody-knows-how-many millions to people behind the scenes was not an issue to the DA because the new Board was to have served without compensation. And after all the DA isn’t a mind-reader, right?
So nobody did anything wrong – even though the Fair Board members clandestinely created their own non-profit to buy the Fair with the help of former State Senator Dick Ackerman, paid for The Flack with public money (later reimbursed after the fact) and also hired Ackerman, not to lobby the Legislature, oh, no for that would be illegal, but rather as a mere “consultant” to go up to Sacramento to feel out the Governor on his seriousness to sell the OC Fair property. Just talking to the Guv’s crew ain’t lobbying per the Government Code, and the Dickster is home and dry, right?
Here is the DA’s report, on page 15, quoting The Dickster:
Mr. Ackerman stated that he and the OCFEC “had absolutely no input into the language [of the bill] whatsoever.”
Um, yeah, right, T-Rack. But then there’s the problem of some acutely embarrassing words right out of Ackerman’s own mouth. Here he is in an October 23, 2009 article in the Daily Pilot in which Mr. Consultant tries to explain away his activities:
“In order for the fair to be sold, it would require budget language to authorize the state to sell it,” he said. “I did some preliminary work to get the language in the budget.”
Well that’s just swell, Dick. That language sure wasn’t going to write itself and then jump into the bill on its own, now was it? Working to get language into legislation is exactly what lobbyists do. In fact, that behavior may well serve as the very definition of lobbying. And it certainly doesn’t square with what the DA says Ackerman later claimed was his job.
And finally, note that in the report Ackerman says he had “no input.” Strike as non-responsive, Dickie-boy.
The issue isn’t whether you are a failed lobbyist, but rather that you were doing it in the first place!
I also wonder if the DA’s investigators even bothered to ask OC legislators like Assemblyman Jim Silva, just who it was was lobbying him heavily, as he indicated to OJ Blogger Vern Nelson, last year. Did he talk to Mike Duvall, who also opposed the sale? Naw, why bother.
Aw, Hell, who really cares anymore? It’s not like anybody expected Rackauckas to actually look into a case where the principals didn’t sport gang tats.
Personally, I think you have admire the certain peculiar of skill set required to be able to define something by describing all the negative space around it, and coming to the conclusion that there was really never anything there in the first place.
I came across some choice nuggets in a Daily Pilot article about the OC Fair Fiasco. Apparently the DAs office is at least going through the motions:
the county district attorney is investigating the activities of the fairgrounds’ board, said Susan Schroeder, public affairs counsel at the D.A.’s office.
Well that’s good news – unless your name is Ackerman. At least there’s no overt stonewalling. But in a move that should be just as alarming to the Fair Board, County Counsel Nick Chrisos:
now has instructed the five supervisors to not interact with members of the Orange County Fairgrounds’ board of directors, Supervisor John Moorlach confirmed in a phone interview Thursday. Brooke De Baca, a county spokeswoman, said Thursday that Chrisos could not comment because of attorney-client privilege.
“This has been one of the more heart-rending directives that I have received, as many of the Fair Board members are long-time dear friends,” Moorlach said in an e-mail sent out Wednesday.
Moorlach wouldn’t say more or explain what was behind the counsel’s directive to the supervisors.
Yesterday a truly weird balloon was lofted over the dismal, cratered landscape of the Red County. It was another one of those the Fair Deal is Dead, I Don’t Care Once way or Another, Privatization is Good blog posts done by Matthew J. Cunningham. But Lo and Behold, he finally got around to actually discussing the activities of the Fair Board members who created a “Foundation” behind the scenes so that they could buy the Fairgrounds from themselves.
Here’s the first sparkler:
However, the OC Fair Board directors — or at least most of them — constituting themselves as the directors of a non-profit that would buy the fair was a very delicate political dance that has proved impossible to pull off. Not conducting the non-profit’s initial meeting in public was mistake and a PR black-eye, which fed into sale opponents’ message of “secrecy and corruption.” They have been beaten so badly with the Bad PR stick it’s doubtful their efforts buy the fair ground will ever succeed. At this point, better to stanch the bleeding and pull the plug.
So the real problem is not that they conspired to sell the Fair to themselves, and met secretly to discuss fair business, i.e. The Sale; no, rather that they couldn’t perform a “delicate political dance.” They have earned a “PR black-eye.” And have been beaten with the “Bad PR stick…” Oh, the poor misunderstood Foundation, er Fair Board.
It gets even better:
I do think the Fair Board directors have been unfairly assailed, and do not deserve the pitchfork treatment they’ve received. Sale opponents could and should have been able to mount a sound public policy case without resorting to throwing allegations at the wall in the hopes somehting would stick. Assemblyman Jose Solorio — who not so long ago voted to sell the fairgrounds — could have refrained from this kind of purple rhetoric: “misinformation and misrepresentations, conflicts of interests, questionable legal and ethical activities and a potential constitutional barrier regarding the sale of the property.”
Aha! Poor Fair Board as victims, unfairly assailed, with pitchforks no less (note: PR stick has morphed into pitchfork!). Oh yes, a mob has gathered to demand that such niceties as open meeting laws and conflict of interest rules for government appointees are upheld. Well, anyway, that’s a new approach. Wonder if it will work. And the subtle turn of the Fairground sale opponents into the actual villains of the piece is classic PR schtick, that of course nobody is going to fall for.
Here is Mr. Cunningham trying to disarm through humor. Bad strategy when this sense was apparently strangled in his crib:
If I had a dollar for every time I heard or read accusations of “conflict of interest” or “illegal lobbing,” I could put a down payment on the fairgrounds myself. But I have yet to see anyone produce any evidence to substantiate what are very serious accusations.
Well of course he hasn’t seen any evidence to substantiate anything. He obviously hasn’t looked for any. But others have, such as Nick Chrisos, the County Counsel, and the sequence of events point to the Board using public resources to incorporate itself as the “Foundation,” and hire Dick Ackerman to work to get AB22 passed; and then later (finally) in public, and as the Fair Board, hire a “consultant” (Ackerman’s firm, again) to go lobby the Governor for favorable conditions in the Request for Proposals from would-be buyers.
But our boy’s not done yet:
After funding a “Derail the Sale” campaign that has subjected the OC Fair Board directors to a hail of abuse, it will be interesting to see if Tel Phil Enterprises approaches the Fair Board for yet another rent reduction — and how such a request will be received. I think Tel Phil’s role has been one of the most interesting, and least remarked upon aspects of this imbroglio — after all, it isn’t often you see a government lessee going after its landlord.
A hail of abuse! Outrage: the old stand-by. Go on the offensive and attack! But wait, that won’t work – that will just make the ignorant pitchfork wielding villagers even madder! And nobody gives’s a rat’s ass about “Tel Phil.” Big plop sound.
And in conclusion:
In the meantime, there’ll be much sturm und drang that’ll will provide enough blog fodder for everyone, but in my humble opinion, were already at the Appomattox stage of this war.
Sarcastic sturm und drang. Blog fodder. Appomatox. In other words, lots of aimless speculation, and the deal’s done anyway, so break it up folks, go on home, nothing to see here!
But let’s hope this is not the end of the story. Many wars are followed up with legal proceedings to hash out things like reparations and responsibility. Let’s hope the end comes only after legal investigation into the doings of the Fair Board/Foundation and their “consultant” Dick Ackerman; and only after a plausible explanation is given as to why the public was billed over $19,000 to pay for legal/lobbying services that benefit the Fair Board directors who are also Foundation members.
Over the week-end we read some interesting things about the surreptitious “Fair Foundation” and their publicly paid lobb….er, consultant, Dick Ackerman. It transpires that the State AG, Jerry Brown has pulled the plug on legal support for the Fair Board, arguing quite reasonably that the Board majority are members of the clandestine Foundation, and that the taxpayers ain’t gonna pick up the tab to defend their misfeasance. Now they’ll have to pay for their own lawyers, thankfully, and we won’t.
We also learn that Ackerman’s law firm was paid over $19,000 in public funds to do something (not lobbying of course – that would be illegal). We would dearly love to see the billing statement with dates and activities.
Honorary Fringer Vern Nelson has an excellent post this AM over at the OJ blog.
The helpful folks over at the OC Progressive have posted a fun run down here, passing along info gleaned by the Daily Pilot via a public records request.
Despite all the obfuscation and dust kicking up by Foundation apologists, it seems like the truth will emerge.
Today Red County blogger Matt Cunningham ran true to form, wasting thousands of keystrokes on another weirdly irrelevant post about the OC Fair, once again failing to even mentioning the fact that Fair Board members met in secret to organize a “Foundation” to buy the Fair; that a few days later they voted to hire a “consultant” to lobby the Governor’s office to include beneficial language to a potential RFP ( paid for by the public); that the so-called consultant (not publicly chosen by the Board), Dick Ackerman, was legally barred from lobbying at the time; that the County Counsel, Nick Chrisos has written a letter to the State Attorney General’s office (a facsimile of which was posted on this site) questioning the above mentioned activities; and that the AG has dumped the business into the lap of OC DA Tony Rackauckas. All pretty interesting stuff, you would think, especially for a blog that’s supposed to be about OC politics.
In his latest post Cunningham claims to be neutral on the sale issue, but nobody is buying that load of horseshit. It’s clear he is up to his old misdirection routine – high-stepping for the OC Repuglicans at their very worst.
Searching Cunningham’s own blog archive reveals that he was himself a proud recipient of Fair Board largess, and that he brushed off the misfeasance of Board members who directed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free food, drink, and tickets to their pals – pals like Mike Carona, and even to small fry like Cunningham himself.
Is this the only reason Mr. Integrity has failed to even make mention of the funny stuff? Probably not given the fact that some GOP high rollers and Central Committee members are part of the backroom cabal that was obviously playing fast and loose with their authority. His man-crush Dick Ackerman is the “consultant” who seems to have been already hard at work getting the enabling language into the AB22, and who was then then hired to lobby Arnold to get preferential conditions into the RFP.
This fine paragon of virtue has based his little career on looking the other way while his buddies were misbehavin,’ but he can’t seem to understand why he is such an object of derision by so many people, and why some folks are just sick and tired of the Repuglican misrule in this County.
I would do a count-up to see how long it is until the Red County actually does an honest post on the Fair saga, but why bother? I already know it’ll never happen.
A while back we did a post on the deafening silence in certain quarters about the shenanigans being perpetrated by members of the Orange County Fair Board in their effort to buy their own Fair: you know, sort of embarrassing things like meeting in secret, using public funds for their own gain, employing an illegal lobbyist.
At the situationally ethical Red County blog not only had nobody said a word about it, their #1 undertherugsweeper, Matthew J. Cunningham was doing weird posts on the motivations of sale opponents. Of course he took umbrage at our disrespectful behavior. More high-pitched, hysterical girly shrieks: Fringe! Fringe!
When Mrs. Cunningham goes into spin mode (we all know now what that means – divert attention, change the subject, etc.) there is usually a self-interested reason. In this case we suspected that he was simply running cover for his repuglican buddies on the Board who had previously hosted him for scrumpdiddlyumtious fair chow and drinkies; and of course it wouldn’t do to talk about the activities of the Fair Foundation “consultant”- one Dick Ackerman. At least not without a script prepared.
Then someone sent us this fun factoid: the URL ocfairfoundation.org is owned by someone named Scott Graves, the same name as Matt J. Cunningham’s former blog publishing boss at – Red County. Hmm. Same guy? Is Cunningham’s old boss designing the website for the “Foundation?” That would figure.
Suddenly we have to wonder just how many of Orange County’s Repuglicans have their fingers stuck into the Fair Pie, and when, if ever, the centro-sphere motormouths will ever even mention it.
On a post today at the dismal Liberal OC blog (almost as self-righteous and irrelevantly noisy as Red Klownty) our old pal and sanctimonious prig Matthew J. Cunningham shares these gem-like comments, reiteration of charges he made against me a few weeks ago.
Great post, Dan. A portrait of Pedroza’s true, amoral nature in action.
Among other things, it clear Pedroza is an accessory to Bushala’s violation of Section 18320 of the California Elections Code.
Well folks, Cunningham seems to think if he keeps repeating something maybe somehow it will turn out to be true. It is very clear that my ownership of the Daly for Supervisor URL is intended to make a clear and unadulterated political statement: Daly is a career politician. Too bad Cunningahm can’t seem to grasp this pretty simple point. This is protected political speech and is in no way intended to shake down or extort anything from Daly – which is the intent of the law. Of course “Jerbal” never bothered to inform his readers that he has his own interest in the matter: his godfather John Lewis has gambled big trying to get the Democrat Daly’s vote on the Board of Supervisors, and Cunningham has been running interference on that issue since early in the year; what’s good for Lewis is good for Cunningham, especially in light of his cowardly refusal to support Chris Norby in the 72nd election.
Anyway, the Lewis URL is not for sale: I’ll be putting it to good use myself, thank you very much!
In closing I would like to reflect upon the irony of moral outrage from aself-interested hack like Cunningham who is perfectly satisfied to turn a blind eye to perversions of justice and decency perpetrated by his pals in the Diocese of Orange, the behavior of Mike Carona, the promotion of a candidacy by a woman who didn’t live in our district, and most recently his running cover for his buddies on the Fair Board (and their lawyer Dick Ackerman). Gosh they were just so generous with the food, drinkies and tickets!
We’ve been tracking the Sell the Fair (To Us) Movement recently and noted that Dick Ackerman had already admitted to being hired by an insider Board cabal whose intent was to get the State to sell the Fair – to themselves.
A couple days ago word leaked out that the County had gotten into the act, possibly to forestall the sale of the Fair, and to own it themselves.
Attached is a copy of letter sent by the County’s top lawyer, Nick Chrisos, to the local Attorney General representative. You’ll notice that Chrisos spends no time fingering the Board and it’s lobbyist, Dick Ackerman. Chrisos wants the AGs office to open an investigation. Why? Because by the time the Board got around to hiring Ackerman’s law firm on July 29th 2009, to help pull and persuade the RFP, they had already hired them to create their non-profit “Foundation,” with the intent of buying the fair themselves. Apart from the evident open meeting and conflicts of interest, Chrisos wants to know about what public expenditures were made by the Fair Board to hire lawyers to work for the benefit of their own foundation.
POST UPDATE: Click here to download the Chrisos letter.
As they say: hilarity ensued. We’ve been told that the AG tossed the issue into the lap of the OC District Attorney. Why? Because the State AG represents the Fair Board! DA Tony Rackaukas has been signally dilatory in going after criminals who don’t have gang tatoos so we will have to wait to see what, if anything happens.
In the meantime, here are the Fair Board minutes of the meeting in question:
Check out the language of the motion: go hire “consultants” (Ackerman) to carry out the intent of the Governor and Legislation. What noble public servants! Let’s not fight it. Let’s work with the State!
But let’s not forget the troublesome little problem that Dick Ackerman himself has admitted: being involved with developing the enabling language in the budget bill in the first place. Whose idea was that? And who paid him for that? Hmm.
It’s very difficult to conceive of a scenario in which Ackerman is not involved in this little cabal right up to his eyeballs. Did he lobby the legislature first, and then the Governor’s office regarding the specifics of the RFP? If he did he broke the law since he hadn’t been out of the Legislature for a full year as State law requires. Ah, those pesky laws! Enforceable? Again that’s up to the DA to determine. We are not encouraged.