Earlier this month a San Diego based group “The Transparency Foundation” released a fifty page report documenting widespread use of taxpayer funds to support “lobbying, issue advocacy, and political activities.”
Entitled “Follow the Money: San Diego County,” the report alleges “extensive coordination between government agencies and these Left-wing groups for both funding and policy development, with no apparent control on their lobbying and political activities.” The report claims the funds are being made available through government contracts and grants, as well as through “in-kind use of government staffing resources under the guise of membership on ‘advisory’ working groups.”
In a series of detailed exhibits, the report focuses on ten “so-called non-profit, non-partisan groups,” Alliance San Diego, Center on Policy Initiatives, Environmental Health Coalition, Mid-City Community Advocacy Network, PANA, Youth Will, San Diego Pride, Sand Diego LGBT Community Center, San Diego Organizing Project, and Climate Action Campaign. The report alleges these organizations each have engaged in some or all of the following activities: Targeted get-out-the-vote efforts, and lobbying for partisan political agendas, including expansion of government welfare, union mandates, tax increases, defunding the police, government subsidized mass transit, government subsidized housing projects, expanding rights for illegal immigrants, rent control, “Green New Deal” environmental regulations such as a mandate to force homeowners to retrofit their homes to eliminate natural gas appliances, and more.
The nine month investigation documented over $6.6 million in taxpayer funds diverted to these ten organizations in San Diego County during just one fiscal year 2020-21. But this is probably a small fraction of the total. The authors explain that the $6.6 million only represents “the amounts of contracts and grants directly verified by our investigation.” Significant diversions of funds to the ten organizations the investigation focused on may not have been discovered, as well diversions of public funds to other organizations that are not among the ten that were investigated. Also not included in these figures is “whatever share of over $100 million in statewide Covid-19 funding for ‘community-based organizations’ that was routed through several foundations and private health contractors.”
The chairman of The Transparency Foundation,” Carl DeMaio, in an email, said “outright non-compliance by local government agencies on our public records requests lengthened the time it took to produce the report.” This noncompliance was noted in the report, where they state “Given the opacity of local government financial reports and the difficulty our investigation encountered in getting several local San Diego County government agencies to comply with our requests under the California Public Records Act (CPRA), we believe the total amount of taxpayer funding going to Left-Wing groups in San Diego County is substantially higher than what this report captures.”
Using public funds to support partisan political activities is illegal, but illegality is difficult to prove when the parties involved refuse to respond to CPRA requests, and because there is significant grey area when interpreting what constitutes partisan political activity. While some actions appear to have been blatantly partisan, others may be explained away by public officials as fulfilling a nonpartisan obligation to provide public information, public education, or public services. But other findings in the investigation are equally troubling.
Quoting from the report, “Our investigation failed to find any contracts or grants awarded during 2021-2022 by Republican-controlled city councils or school boards in San Diego County to groups that could be considered conservative, let alone groups engaging in lobbying, issue advocacy, or political activity. In fact, conservative organizations that filed 990s and operate primarily in San Diego County did not have government funding streams — either because they refuse to accept government funding or no government agency considers them for funding. In stark contrast, our investigation found significant funding being provided by Democrat-controlled city councils and school boards to Left-wing groups.”
Another key finding was that left-wing organizations in San Diego County operate in a highly integrated manner. For example, they worked together to target specific communities with “civic engagement” and “get-out-the-vote” where the result of their targeted efforts would benefit Democratic candidates in local elections. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with nonprofits working together to address various challenges in a specific community. Depending on the nature of their nonprofit charter, there also may not be anything wrong with them pursuing partisan objectives. What’s wrong is if their activities are funded by taxpayers, or, as the investigation claims, some of these groups failed to register as lobbyists, or failed to report campaign contributions.
The investigation goes on to enumerate additional findings, many of which appear to explicitly violate laws governing nonprofits and campaign finance, and many as well which if not explicitly illegal, are unethical insofar as they violate the reasonable expectation that government agencies, which are funded by all taxpayers, should not support partisan political activity that is only supported by one partisan fraction of all taxpayers. To clarify these points of law and to further the investigation they started, The Transparency Foundation concluded their report with five recommendations:
(1) Ban government agencies from supporting political groups, (2) compel government agencies to provide complete information on their diversion of funds to political groups, (3) convene a San Diego County Grand Jury to investigate the use of taxpayer funds by groups that engage in lobbying, issue advocacy and political activity, (4) convene a Congressional committee to conduct an oversight hearing on the misappropriation of Covid-19 funds using San Diego County as a case study with follow up by the Inspectors General of federal agencies that were involved, and (5) have the California State Auditor investigate which organizations received over $100 million in statewide Covid-19 funds and what were the deliverables and results associated with the funding.
What The Transparency Foundation has done in San Diego County exposes what is likely a systemic and perennial process in California at large. It is another example of how the cards are unfairly stacked in favor of Democrats in this one-party state. If any of the many policies implemented by Democrats were not worsening failures, it might be possible for some people to condone this corruption. As it is, every Californian, no matter what their party affiliation, should realize that what is marketed as enlightened politics has become a political machine, serving only itself.
This investigation, and its recommendations, should set a precedent for reform minded activists to follow in every city and county in California.
This article originally appeared in Epoch Times.
Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
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