Political Fix (18 August, 2016)

Want to Make Some Major Bucks Without a Real Job?

Remember Christine “I’m not a witch” O’Donnell?

She ran in the 2010 mid-term election as Senator for Delaware to fill Joe Biden’s seat. She was one of those long-shot, Tea Party candidates who won in the Republican primary but got clobbered in the November general election.

Whereas she wasn’t actually a witch, neither was she, it seems, any other profession. She has one of those unique sources of incomes that few laypeople understand, including myself until recently. Ms. O’Donnell has made a career out of running for office and fundraising for her PAC.

Between her Senate campaign and ChristinePac she raised over $7 million dollars, but only had $36,000 left at the end of 2011. Where did it all go? New Hampshire liberals call this Wingnut Welfare, and pointed out that the money did not just support Ms. O’Donnell’s campaign, but also her lawyers, consultants, Comcast, electric company, and her realtor.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) agreed and filed a lawsuit against Ms. O’Donnell. They are charging her with illegally using at least $20,000 in campaign contributions to pay her utilities and rent at a town house where she lived and that also served as her 2010 Senate campaign headquarters.

The FEC wants her to pay the money back and ensure that she doesn’t use any further campaign money from her PAC for personal use. She argues that campaigns are allowed to lease headquarter space and are not prohibited from subleasing space to a candidate for a residence.

In the mean time, she continues to fundraise for ChristinePac.

Making it Local

Hanford Vice-mayor Francisco Ramirez is facing similar charges of living off of campaign funds. Though still being investigated, several independent groups of Hanford citizens accuse Mr. Ramirez of supplementing his income by running for public office.

Both the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) and the Kings County Grand Jury are investigating him regarding his run for city council.

The Kings County Grand Jury just released a report stating that he raised more than $1000 during his campaign but did not file a form 460 as required by the FPPC.

Mr. Ramirez admitted to the grand jury that he personally raised $1024.00 and will file a form 460 retroactively to fix the problem. His critics say that he actually raised in excess of $3000 when running for city council in 2014.

Mr. Ramirez has countered by saying that his treasurer/campaign manager raised that money without his knowledge and kept it. His detractors claim that Mr. Ramirez never had a treasurer or campaign manager, and that he raised and kept the money for himself.

Mr. Ramirez never opened a separate campaign checking account. He used a check cashing service to cash most of his checks next door to his apartment. So the amount he raised campaigning would almost be impossible to trace. His critics also question whether he has a real job, and from where he get his income.

Mr. Ramirez has run for office five times: Kings County Board of Supervisors, Lanare Community Service District Board, Andy Vidak’s seat in the California State Senate, and the Hanford City Council twice. Running for state senate is the only time he filed out a form 460 with the FPPC and reported his donations.

Though Mr. Ramirez is innocent until proven guilty, you get the picture how people can make a career of running for office. If a candidate does not have a campaign manager or treasurer, who knows how much was raised used for personal bills?

Is it legal? That doesn’t seem to matter. What matters is that there is a lot of money to be had in politics, either campaigning for public office, campaigning for a ballot measure, or even holding public office.

Public Money Becomes Their Own Private Economy

Conversely, if you win an election to a high-paying public office, such as state assembly, the gravy train has just started.

The potential for Assemblyman Devon Mathis to make hundreds of thousands of dollars after his 2014 victory did not go unnoticed by political operative Sean Dohtery. He was the former campaign manager of Esther Barrajas, who was the first to announce in 2013 that she was running for the 26th District State Assembly seat, then came in dead last out of six candidates. Somehow, Mr. Doherty jumped that sinking ship and pushed his way into Mr. Mathis’ camp, ousting the assemblyman’s good friend and best man at his wedding, Cole Azare.

Mr. Doherty became Chief of Staff a little more than four months after Mr. Mathis took office. That’s when Devon, with Sean’s help, took the public’s money and made their private economy.

Here are some ballpark figures of the totals.

1. Mr. Mathis’ state assembly salary is $109,000 a year

2. Mr. Mathis’ per diem is $170/day, four days a week. This adds up to $35,000 a year

3. Mr. Mathis’ allotment for hiring staff, which has fluctuated from four to five at any given time, is $250,000 a year. Sean’s portion of that is above $100,000 a year

4. Mr. Mathis and Mr. Doherty raised $176,000 in campaign donations for 2015.

5. Mr. Mathis received $3349.00 a month for his Veteran’s disability payments, which is $40,188 a year

6. Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) gives Mr. Mathis’ family $2,000 a month to pay for his personal medical assistant, who has been identified as his wife, which is $24,000 a year

Out of a total of $634,188 of other people’s money, approximately $400,000 found its way to Mr. Mathis’ and Mr. Doherty’s families.

Kind of puts a new light on why Mr. Doherty’s wrote that bombshell email early in his career as chief of staff. The communiqué informed staff and family that “fundraising must take priority over ALL schedule requests (for meeting with Mr. Mathis)….. If it does not then please understand it will take second place to a fundraising opportunity.”

“Yes on I”: Code for “Send Money to Los Angeles”

While on the subject of taking money out of our collective pockets and giving it to political operatives, let’s talk about HealthCare Conglomerates Association (HCCA).

Recently, the Valley Voice and the Fresno Bee reported on the “Yes on I” campaign offering a raffle ticket to win a $100 gift card if the person turned in a completed ballot.

The Yes on I campaign is trying to pass the $55 million bond measure to finish the hospital’s tower. While doing so they decided to give some monetary incentive to vote – preferably yes.

I wasn’t so struck by the idea that paying people to vote is illegal. What got my goat is that the campaign manager for Yes on I, like so many professional services employed by HCCA, is from Los Angeles.

Hear that sucking sound? That’s Los Angles sucking every last dime out of the hard working people of Tulare.

Andalon and Associates, a public affairs firm in LA, has been hired to run the Yes on I campaign. Paule Consultants, of Winchester, a stone’s throw from Iddo Benzeevi’s stomping ground in Moreno Valley, has been paid for business consulting services. The Monaco Group, a direct marketing and printing company out of Santa Ana, is presumably doing all the flyers for Measure I.

HCCA uses Tulareans’ tax dollars to pay a real estate lawyer from Los Angeles, Bruce Greene, to threaten local newspapers and reject citizens’ requests for public records – all at $500 to $750 an hour. HCCA also hires Sitrick and Company, based in Los Angeles, as their public relations firm to run interference with negative press.

According to Sitrick and Company’s website, “Although the firm has extensive experience in corporate, financial, transactional and crisis communications, it is best known for its work in sensitive, make-or-break situations. Whether helping a client with reputation management, a merger, litigation issues, a restructuring or a criminal indictment, Sitrick And Company works to ensure that clients’ objectives are achieved and its key constituents receive the appropriate communications.”

Criminal indictment? Make or break situations? Really?

Tulare Regional Medical Center has an in-house media and marketing department full of talented and hard working employees such as Melinda Morales. Why can’t we pay her $500 an hour to provide us with the public records we need and deserve instead of being brushed off and handed Bruce Green’s business card?

Why does HCCA need to hire an LA public relations firm instead of using their own? Why does HCCA have to hire Iddo Benzeevi’s real estate lawyer from Los Angeles when we have plenty of talented lawyers in Tulare?

I could go on but you get the point.

Luther Khachigian, a longtime Visalia farmer, whose brother was a speech writer for Nixon, donated $50,000 to the Yes on I campaign. He believes he is helping Tulare build the new tower, which is a noble and generous donation. But did he know when he wrote that check that none of his money would be staying local? That $50,000 won’t even pay for Andalon and Associates “consulting” fees.

The Moral of the Story Is….

If you are supporting yourself through running for office – try your best not to win.

If you are currently holding a high paying public office -try not to lose. You and your chief of staff might not be able to pay your mortgages.

And finally, if you are trying to pass a multi-million dollar bond measure, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose – at least for HCCA.

If the hospital goes bankrupt Benny and Iddo will be able to buy an amazing Tulare asset for pennies on the dollar. If the bond passes, they get a new tower for free.

That’s a pretty good deal — even for Los Angeles

One thought on “Political Fix (18 August, 2016)

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  1. I went to one of Mathes’s so-called public meetings and was singularly unimpressed. However, I think Devon Nunes makes this guy look like the novice he is. And what about Shucklian? You know she’s only in politics cause she has no chance of getting more from her real job. Sad!

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