California Independent Voter Project (IVP) is a non-profit organization that purports to educate citizens and energize decline-to-state voters to participate in public dialogue and elections. The problem is that IVP is the parent organization of a web of subsidiary organizations with officers and directors anything but independent.
IVP and its related entities, Independent Voter Network (IVN) and Independent Voter Contact (IVC) Media LLC, are rife with officers and directors who are former legislators, staffers and lobbyists. Public records show that former State Senator Steve Peace is an officer of IVP, as are David Takashima and Daniel Howle, both having worked for Peace as chiefs of staff.
The independence and allegiance of IVP and IVN also appear to be for sale to the highest bidder.
During the June 2010 primary election, IVP and IVN were found to be front groups for Pacific Gas & Electric, which spent nearly $50 million to support the failed “Yes on 16” campaign. The “independent” IVP and IVN were caught operating out of the same campaign office as the “Yes on 16” campaign – so much for true independence.
IVN has now ventured into local San Diego politics, as recently reported by KPBS’s Peggy Pico and Claire Trageser. Chad Peace, son of former legislator Steve Peace, was featured as the organization’s founder along with “independent San Diego voter” Whitney Benjamin. Had this appearance on KPBS been an actual news report, a little bit of digging would have found that Benjamin is a close childhood friend of the Peace Family, rather than the “independent” voter she was reported to be.
Benjamin is the wife of Alex Benjamin, a college roommate of one of he Peace boys while attending Stanford University. Her parents are also neighbors and best friends of the former legislator.
Chad Peace is also listed as the president of IVC Media LLC, which actively works for various political campaigns and causes, raising questions as to his objectivity and independence. Failure to make these disclosures calls into question the independence and true motives of those involved.
Being a non-profit organization, IVP, the parent organization of IVN, is not required to disclose the identity of its funding sources. The only requirement by the Internal Revenue Service is that the organization discloses the total income to the organization. Most recently available tax records show that IVP received over $2.2 million in funding with most of it coming from grants and contributions.
A check of public records gives a clue as to one possible source of IVP’s funding. Records with the California Secretary of State show that Vigo G. Nielsen, Jr. is a past-president of the organization and current president of Foundation of Independent Voter Education (FIVE). FIVE is the publisher of website content for IVP and IVN. A prominent Sacramento lobbyist, Nielsen is well connected with public utilities, oil and gas interests and other causes supported by Charles Munger, Jr. including California ’s “Top Two” primary.
California’s regulatory watchdog has taken notice of organizations like IVP, which until now has not been required to disclose the identity of donors that contribute to the organization in support of any political causes. The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) recently filed a petition with the Court of Appeal requiring an Arizona non-profit to disclose the identities of individual donors as a result of an anonymous $11 million donation being made to influence two California ballot initiatives.
It is estimated that for every four dollars spent in politics, one dollar now goes through non-profit organizations, which are not required to disclose donor identities. The outcome of the lawsuit will set precedence in determining if the FPPC has jurisdiction and authority to require organizations like IVP to come clean and reveal the true identity of funding sources when those funds are used for political purposes. In the case of IVP that may further complicate its “independent” status, especially if it is found that in addition to politicians and lobbyists running the organization, the donors are also politically active in the state.
Only time will tell if IVP will be required to disclose the identities of its financial donors after the November election. One thing is for sure, San Diego voters cannot trust the impartiality of IVP and IVN since their services are clearly sold to the highest bidder. In the meantime, selecting the next mayor of America’s Finest City should be based on the character and record of each candidate, not on the recommendation of a discredited organization.
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Derrick W Roach is a licensed private investigator that serves in a volunteer capacity as secretary of the Republican Party of San Diego County. He is also chairman of the RPSDC’s Election Integrity Committee and the official nominee for State Assembly to represent District 80. Follow Roach on Twitter and Facebook.