Ian Anderson 4 p.m., Oct. 17
San Diego State marijuana lobbyist and big back taxes
Sacramento paper breaks story about troubles of fabled mega million-dollar influence peddling firm founded by SDSU alum
One of San Diego's proudest claims to political fame in California's capital is the lobbying and "governmental affairs" firm of California Strategies, founded by Bob White, standout San Diego State alumnus and longtime aide to ex-San Diego mayor, U.S. senator and GOP California governor Pete Wilson.
When bad news hits White's company, word does not come from Republican and fellow SDSU graduate Douglas Manchester’s U-T San Diego mini media empire, but instead the Sacramento Bee.
According to a front page story in yesterday's Bee, White and his lobbying staff have been playing fast and loose with state laws regarding the difference between lobbying and friendly bar schmoozing with legions of freebie-seeking California politicos:
California Strategies is not the only firm in Sacramento that offers clients a variety of services requiring a careful dance along the line that separates lobbying from less regulated forms of advocacy.
But it has been a target of competitors who say the firm’s approach creates an uneven playing field: It has a long list of partners who have deep connections inside government but do not register as lobbyists.
Three of the partners recently admitted crossing the line into lobbying in the settlement with the FPPC. The agreement last month required former gubernatorial speechwriter Jason Kinney, former legislator Rusty Areias and former Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Winston Hickox to register as lobbyists, disclose one client each and, along with their firm, pay a combined fine of $40,500.
The story reported unrest within White's company over paying the legal tab for the settlement, citing the disgruntlement of partner Jim Brulte, the California Republican Party chairman and former GOP legislative leader.
An email that one partner wrote earlier this year shows that tension over money erupted after partners were asked to pay an additional $250 a month to cover the substantial legal costs of responding to the FPPC audit.
“I was unbelievably perturbed when I got the email regarding the additional assessment for our legal costs. In fact, I have had a couple of sleepless nights trying to figure out how I wanted to respond.
"Sleeping on it did not make my anger go away. In fact, with each passing moment I have been getting angrier and angrier,” Brulte wrote in a Feb. 3 email.
Of White, the Bee's account says:
California Strategies founder Bob White had worked for Wilson for three decades. When he quit his job as the governor’s chief of staff, The Sacramento Bee described it on the front page as the end of “one of the longest political marriages in California history.”
White's next political marriage was to super star Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger received big money from U-T publisher Manchester, even as Schwarzenegger was involved in a widely reported sexual harassment scandal.
The firm’s partners were received warmly by the Schwarzenegger administration when they wanted to talk about their clients’ issues.
“They would set the meetings, then have a lobbyist on the staff show up to do the advocacy work.
Technically that probably was legal, but it’s certainly skirting the spirit of the law,” said a former Schwarzenegger administration official who didn’t want to be identified publicly disparaging an influential firm.
White uses both Republicans and Democrats; the Bee reported yesterday that ex-Gray Davis aide Kinney and ex-Democratic Assemblyman Rusty Areias had back tax problems with the IRS.
The IRS has filed liens of more than $840,000 against Jason Kinney for federal income taxes he owes from 2007-2010. The public records show that an additional $207,000 in liens against Kinney have been released in recent years as he paid off state tax debt to the California Franchise Tax Board.
Kinney said he’s working on paying off the debt, but was unable to say how much remains. The amount of a lien reflects taxes owed at one point in time but is not lowered as someone pays down the debt. The lien is released when the back taxes are paid in full.
Several federal and state tax liens against Areias totaling more than $3 million have not been released, according to Sacramento County records. The file also shows that more than $346,000 of tax liens against Areias have been released in recent years.
According to a report filed by the local office of California Strategies with the San Diego city clerk's office October 4, during the second quarter of this year the firm's Craig Benedetto and Ben Haddad raised $22,550 for GOP city council candidate Chris Cate and $12,550 for his fellow Republican Lorie Zapf, a council incumbent running in a new district. U-T publisher Manchester backs both.
Major California Strategies clients here include Clear Channel Outdoor, which is seeking to loosen the city's restrictions on billboards, rental car giant Enterprise Holdings, which wants to influence local tax decisions, and the San Diego Alternative Health Association, a pro-medical marijuana retail group.