Political Fix (21 April, 2016)

The Tail Wagging the Dog

How do elected officials navigate the treacherous waters of accepting big business donations without having to return the favor? Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is slamming Hilary Clinton daily about Wall Street’s donating to her campaign. She claims to be hard on Wall Street and wants stricter regulations. Mr. Sanders says Wall Street owns her.

The same issue of big donors is raging in Assemblyman Devon Mathis’ campaign to keep his 26th District seat. It all started with the Tulare Local Health Care District (TLHCD), a missing $55 million, and $7,700 in donations to the Mathis campaign. On December 31, Healthcare Conglomerates Associates, (HCCA) the company that manages the Tulare hospital for a cool $225,000 a month, donated $3,500 to the Mathis for Assembly 2016 committee. On March 16, Mr. Mathis received another donation for $4,200 from HCCA.

Whether these issues are related is up to the reader to decide.

Tulare resident Alberto Aguilar sent a letter to Mr. Mathis on December 28, asking him to request the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) do an audit of TLHCD’s handling of an $85 million dollar bond approved by voters in 2005. Mr. Aguilar was a member of the bond oversight committee and said that, after many hours of analyzing data, he discovered there was $55 million missing. The bond oversight committee repeatedly requested information about the missing money, but TLHCD withheld the financial data.

According to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, “Any member of the Legislature or a committee of the Legislature can request an audit by submitting to the Committee a request letter addressed to the Chair of the JLAC.”

On receiving Mr. Aguilar’s letter you might think that Assemblyman Mathis would be jumping up and down and stomping his feet over the missing $55 million of his constituents’ money. That isn’t something legislators hear every day, or ever.

Yet quite the opposite happened. Mr. Aguilar never heard back from Mr. Mathis or anyone in his office. After not hearing from Mr. Mathis, Mr. Aguilar wrote Mr. Mathis again on January 24, asking if he had requested the audit.

After no response from his second letter, Mr. Aguilar called Mr. Mathis’ office and inquired about the status of the audit. According to an April 7, article in these pages, Mr. Aguilar reported that, “He (Mathis) said he won’t do it because he owes Dr. Benzeevi a favor,” Aguilar said. “Apparently, he’s (Benzeevi) helping him (Mathis) with a hospital in the Sierra.”

Dr. Benzeevi is HCCA’s chief executive officer.

After seven months of non-communication with the Valley Voice from Matt Shupe, director of communications for Mr. Mathis, he finally responded to us by saying, “At no time did Assemblyman Mathis say that he owed Dr. Benzeevi a favor nor did he refuse to look into a JLAC audit as has been alleged.”

Let’s give Mr. Shupe the benefit of the doubt that Mr. Mathis said no such thing.

So then where is the audit?

His slogan is “People Over Politics” because it certainly is not “People Over Money.”

Even the Tulare County Grand Jury demanded that the TRMC board release “without delay a full accounting of how the $85 million in general obligation bond money was spent on an unfinished medical tower.”

What say Mr. Mathis?

Because no audit has been forthcoming, Mr. Aguilar has been forced to solicit the help of Assemblyman Luis Alejo of Salinas who has been kind enough to request a JLAC audit for his constituents in a similar situation.

Why does Tulare County, a Republican district full of fiscal conservatives proud of the fact that they count every nickel, have to ask a Democrat legislator to find our missing $55 million? How did this happen?

There are probably more reasons than I know, but here are two hypotheses.

According to Central Valley Medical, a magazine put out in 2013 by the Foothills Sun-Gazette, HCCA is a start-up conglomerate formed by developer Iddo Benzeevi, his brother, Dr. Benny Benzeevi and Jim Doty, a partner in a healthcare network in Texas.

In a lengthy BuzzFeed article about political corruption in Moreno Valley, the author talks about the relationship behind developing warehouses and campaign contributions. The article states that the city estimates that Mr. Iddo Benzeevi owns or controls about half the developable land in Moreno Valley and helped build a political machine there.

“And he did not hesitate to pour money into campaigns against those who questioned his new plans,” said the BuzzFeed article. One of Iddo Benzeevi’s victims was former Moreno Valley Councilman Frank West, who dared to question one of Mr. Benzeevi’s developments during a city council meeting. Mr. West then lost his next election to the city council. “Those still on the council, he said, could hardly miss the point: ‘If there wasn’t total compliance with Benzeevi’s plan, he had the resources to remove you,” said the article.

Maybe this point wasn’t lost on Mr. Mathis, either.

Another possible influencing factor in not requesting an audit could be Mr. Mathis’ Chief of Staff, Sean Doherty. On analysis of Mr. Mathis’ campaign donations in 2015, a total of $176,989 was raised. This is according to his campaign finance disclosure forms known as Form 460. Of that amount, $106,512.63 was paid out in expenses. Of that amount $61,759.29 went to Willow Grace Productions owned by Mr. Doherty’s wife, Judith Doherty.

Mr. Mathis can’t use campaign donations to pay his mortgage, but Mr. and Mrs. Doherty sure can. Maybe Mr. Doherty does not want to stop the gravy train by vexing a major donor with a

stupid audit, and this major donor has a proven track record of ousting elected officials who speak against him.

When it’s all said and done, Mr. Doherty needs the money to keep rolling in and he needs Mr. Mathis to keep his job.

That begs the question: Is Mr. Mathis making the decisions or is Mr. Doherty?

I reached out for advice from a person who has a job similar to a chief of staff. His response was “Devon is being played.”

Getting back to the missing $55 million, what happens if Assemblyman Alejo writes the letter requesting that JLAC do the audit of TLHCD? It will make Tulare County look like a bunch of hicks that can’t take care of their own business.

Mr. Mathis is personally well-liked and has a large base of those who love him.

But he is not running for Mr. Congeniality–he is running to represent the constituents, taxpayers and voters of Tulare, Inyo and parts of Kern counties. If he can’t do that, then he needs to step aside.

Sign of the Times

When it rains it pours, and complaints have been rolling in about Mr. Mathis of a different sort than campaign finance. The complaints coming in have been about his signs. Some pretty mad residents and business people have called the Valley Voice, complaining about Mr. Mathis’ small but ubiquitous campaign signs.

The sign ordinance states that a candidate can only clip one sign to a business’ sign, and only with the business’ permission. It also states that only one sign per candidate is allowed per parcel. Of the dozens of businesses hosting Mr. Mathis’ signs, none could we find have given him their permission. Not only did he have this done without permission, but often there are two or three of his signs clipped to the top and bottom of the businesses sign making it hard to read.

He also has put multiple signs per plot. On the corner of Mooney and Visalia Parkway, multiple signs are tacked up on both sides of the street.

One disgruntled businessman said that of all the candidates Devon Mathis was the worst when it came to violations.

“Mathis either does not know what he is doing or knows he is not supposed to do it and is putting them up anyway. Either way it makes me mad.”

A campaign manager for another campaign said that it’s a campaign tactic to hire a vendor that will put the signs up everywhere and hope the residents and property owners will not complain.

But he said this tactic is usually used by unknowns to get some name recognition.

But why would Mr. Mathis do it as an incumbent and a candidate with the most campaign cash?

He has a few of the nice looking large signs that he and his volunteers put up. But the vast majority are these poorly designed small signs the size of a record album.

A level of sophistication is expected from our elected officials who represent us in Sacramento or Washington DC. But Mr. Mathis’ signs are tacked onto chain link fences, wired to abandoned poles and sitting in abandoned fields. This doesn’t say to his constituents “I’m running a classy, well-organized campaign.”

Why would an experienced candidate resort to the guerilla tactics of an unknown and where are his legions of volunteers that ushered him into office in 2014?

Has anyone seen Chris Christie?

The subject of Donald Trump’s running mate finally surfaced in a USA Today article and is a subject that I have given a lot of thought.

I have to admit all of my initial predictions of Mr. Trump’s running mate were wrong. Mr. Trump wants to win, so it makes sense that he pick a candidate from the establishment to counter the fact that he is an outsider.

All of my predictions were not from the establishment, but fringe candidates, like Mr. Trump was once considered. My list included Sarah Palin to attract the women vote, but most women do not like her. I then thought of Kayne West which would do the double duty of giving Mr. West a jump start on his 2020 presidential campaign and get the Black vote for Mr. Trump. But then I realized that the two men’s egos would not fit in the same stadium.

Finally I thought of the perfect match, “Call me Cait.”

Caitlyn Jenner is a conservative Republican who could counter the fact that Mr. Trump spent most of his life being a Democrat. Donald and Cait could share hair tips, compare manicures, and go tanning together in between stump speeches.

Can she make Mr. Trump more appealing to the female voter? Seeing as Cait spent most of her life enjoying all the privileges that come with being a man, I don’t think so.

Who Mr. Trump is seriously considering are the mainstream figures, such as Scott Walker, Marco Rubio and John Kasich.

Seeing as none of these politicians will ultimately say “yes,” I predict that Mr. Trump is going to choose someone few of us know, a conservative Republican who is seen as the salt of the Earth, who just can’t pass up the opportunity to run as vice president.

Then one lulu of a secret is going to come out that was missed during the vetting process, because we know how well Republicans vet their vice presidential candidates.

No one really knows who Mr. Trump will choose, but we all know who wants to be chosen, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Though he proclaimed four years ago that he would make a lousy vice president because he is a leader, we saw a few cracks in that story as Mr. Christie seemed to be thoroughly enjoying trekking around in The Donald’s private plane.

John Kasich has said to USA Today, “I’d be the worst vice president the country ever saw. You know why? Because I’m not like a vice president. I’m a president. You know?”

The difference between him and Mr. Christie is that Kasich is telling the truth.

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