Jon Coupal- Columnist
is an attorney and president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers
Association -- California's largest taxpayer organization with
offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. [go to website] [go
to Coupal index]
Grants Lack Accountability
Sacramento under the radar pork…
[Jon Coupal] 3/25/05
Taxpayers have learned to be cynical about bills introduced
in the Legislature. Many pieces of legislation are frivolous
and even those that sound good are often not what they seem.
More times than not, a bill will seek to advance a hidden policy
agenda that would be rejected out of hand if done aboveboard.
Worse yet are those bills which -- when carefully analyzed --
are exposed to be special interest laws designed to give self-serving
campaign contributors an advantage over their competitors. The
third category of bad legislation is reflected by those bills
which are simply silly.
In his campaign to reform state government, Governor Schwarzenegger
has criticized the Legislature for ignoring the state's important
business while spending time on silly bills. Legislation currently
being considered would ban cosmetic surgery for dogs, provide
condoms to prisoners, and prohibit ice cream trucks from double
Of course silly bills are nothing new. Last year a bill was
introduced to require public buildings to accommodate Feng Shui
-- an ancient Chinese art of design and architecture which is
supposed to create a harmonious energy flow in a space. A few
years earlier, the State Senate considered a bill to designate
the banana slug the state mollusk. Then there was the bill sponsored
by Willie Brown that would have granted a liquor license to a
nudist colony. Few taxpayers will be surprised to learn that
the colony's owner was a major contributor to Brown's political
campaigns, although, in fairness, it must be noted that there
is no record of mollusk contributions to the banana slug bill's
While some bills become
widely known because they are the butt of jokes, much more
insidious are those low profile measures
that allow lawmakers to dole out money to favored causes or supporters
with little or no scrutiny. These "gifts" of public
funds are often referred to as "pork."
The recent resignation of Secretary of State Kevin Shelly put
the spotlight on the dangers inherent in pork barrel politics.
Although Shelly was under fire for mismanaging his office, he
is the subject of an ongoing investigation into the circumstances
surrounding his helping secure, while a member of the Assembly,
a $500,000 state grant to build a community center in San Francisco.
The facility was never built but backers contributed heavily
to a Shelly political campaign.
You can bet the farm that this abuse of state grant money is
just the tip of the iceberg.
A just-released study
of 20 grants undertaken by the office of State Controller Steve
Westley has raised serious questions
about nine of them. "We found problems across the board
in the way these grants have been administered," said Westley.
The controller's report found an appalling lack of oversight
in the administration of grant money. In many cases grant recipients
failed to provide documentation of how the money was spent and
evidence was uncovered showing funds were spent in ways that
were inconsistent with the purpose of the grants.
Among those grants singled out for criticism was $221,625 to
the Colour Me Freedom Foundation. The money was to be used to
establish a memorial for the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and
Cesar Chavez at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles. However,
all the foundation has to show for the money is a portable building
used by the school for storage.
Of $30 million in state grants provided to the Western Center
for Archeology that is building a museum in Hemet, at least $606,000
may have been misspent, including pay to a board member for work
that was never completed.
Although for years the majority in the Legislature has stifled
efforts to raise standards for the way in which grants are approved,
the recent publicity given to examples of fraudulent misuse of
taxpayer grant dollars has created an opportunity to change the
system to bring accountability to the process. Assemblyman Joel
Cancimilla (D-Pittsburgh) has introduced a bill to clean up the
grant distribution process. AB 725 would require grant recipients
to clearly state how the money would be spent and would hold
The intent behind this bill is certainly something taxpayers
can applaud. CRO
is an attorney and President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers
2005 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers association