Slater-Price’s Ticketgate Scandal = Need for a Gift Ban

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By Steve Danon

San Diego Union-Tribune investigative reporter Jeff McDonald has just been nominated for a “Golden Watchdog” award by the San Diego County Taxpayers Association for breaking the story how San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Pam Slater-Price has funneled millions of taxpayer dollars from the Neighborhood Reinvestment fund to the San Diego Opera, Old Globe and other arts groups in return of thousands of dollars worth of free gifts and tickets.

While Slater-Price has steered public funds to those art organizations, she has voted to eliminate the Critical Hours Program which provides after-school activities that keep children off the street and out of trouble.  In addition, she has voted to cut positions in the sheriff’s, district attorney and probation departments.  With one in nine San Diego County residents out of work, it is increasingly clear to reset County spending priorities.

These gifts have attracted the interest of the news media and the public because it appears that Slater-Price has sought and received personal benefit, and the recognition of a private philanthropist, through the expenditure of these public funds.  Her failure to disclose these gifts only compounded the problem, leading many to conclude that she tried to hide these exchanges in violation of law and to prevent public scrutiny and accountability.  That is why the State of California’s Fair Political Practice Commission is conducting a full scale investigation on gifts she has received going back to 2006.

This scandal is not just one of hubris, but of self-aggrandizement. Slater-Price should ask organizations which have provided her with personal recognition for contributions of public tax funds to correct their records and public displays to recognize “San Diego County Taxpayers” as the true benefactors of their organizations. This is a serious breach of law and public trust that must be addressed. 

To restore public confidence and transparency, Chairwoman Pam Slater-Price should show some leadership and call for gift ban from any organization that receives public funds from the County’s Neighborhood Reinvestment Program. The perception that she has been distributing public funds for the purpose of receiving gifts and personal recognition damages public trust in County government.   In a spirit of good faith, Pam Slater-Price should not personally benefit from allocating taxpayers dollars and should call for a permanent gift ban and should not further accept any gifts of value. 

Steve Danon is a former member of the board of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and is a candidate for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, District 3 in 2012.

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Comments 13

  1. It’s a mystery to me why the free “Mozart” opera trip to Europe by Pam was not a criminal offense. Common sense would deem this gift a quid pro quo — big bucks from her slush fund in exchange for a free trip to Europe. And that’s an illegal exchange.

    Same goes for Ron Roberts and his free trips to China. Convoluted explanations aside, it’s clear he would never have received those trips without giving hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to the trip provider.

    I’ve never seen a satisfactory explanation of why the DA did not file charges and pursue this. Could it be because t the DA is dependent upon the Board of Supervisors for the funding of her department?

    I know we all love Republicans, but is that sufficient reason to quietly accept such skulduggery? Isn’t this taking the GOP’s Eleventh Commandment a bit too far?

  2. Mr. Rider,

    You have such a no-compromise position when it comes to financial ethics. To my knowledge they did not do this, but hypothetically, what if Mr. Roberts or Ms. Slater-Price used their budget as County Supervisor to run for higher office? Or participated in money laundering with campaign contributions? If they were involved in that kind of skullduggery should we be mad at that too?

  3. Don’t worry Richard, Steve will agree with you on the Price and ignore Ron Roberts… he won’t bite the hand that feeds him.

  4. Michael, I’m not MAD at Slater or Roberts. I’m just suggesting that what they did constitutes a FELONY action, and likely merited prosecution. I get along fine with both of them. Nothing personal.

    BTW, “to your knowledge” they didn’t do what I stated? Perhaps you might want to spend two minutes browsing on the U-T website to first verify if what I’m describing actually occurred. Your lack of knowledge suggests that you are very young, new to the area, or simply incredibly (or perhaps selectively) ignorant of what goes on around you.

    Of course, it is untoward to use taxpayer money to run for reelection. But that is something that EVERY elected politician in the world does. ALL of ’em.

    That “staff” they have is primarily there to make sure they get reelected. Most vote for or bills to support those who in turn support their reelection. And most state and federal legislators use government money to “communicate” with their constituents — a thinly disguised method of using taxpayer money to campaign for reelection.

    Are such advantages of incumbency unfortunate? Yes. Wrong? Well, yeah. Unfair? You bet! That’s why I support term limits.

    But a felony? Nope.

  5. Mr. Rider,
    You misread what I wrote. I presented two “what if” questions and the “to my knowledge…” was included to clarify that Mr. Roberts and Ms. Slater-Price never did what I suggested in the “what if” “to my knowledge”.

    My question was, what if they laundered campaign contributions and what if they used their budget to campaign for HIGHER office (notice I said higher office and not reelection). To my knowledge, they did not do either of these things. Both are hypothetical.

    My point is that you launch some pretty harsh criticism when it comes to these ethics violations, but don’t seem to mind ethics violations from other elected officials. Odd. Some might even say hypocritical.

    You may have a point about my youth. It might have caused me to write something that was unclear to you. Then again…perhaps you just misread what I wrote due to your advancing years?

  6. You really are a naive lad, aren’t you Michael? You suggest that it’s unusual and unethical for politicians to use taxpayer money to run for “higher” office — as if that is different than running for reelection.

    Really? REALLY? You don’t think that when a city council critter like Juan Vargas or Christine Kehoe decides to run for State Assembly that they are not using taxpayer money to run for such an upgrade?

    Most candidates who look to step up are running largely in the same jurisdiction as the office they currently hold. Hence most of their efforts in their last term are designed to lay the groundwork for their next race. Hence Vargas and Kehoe in the lst half of hte 1990’s gave away San Diego’s financial future in exchange for labor’s support in their 2000 races for state assembly seats.

    And my apologies for picking on just those two. It’s the same for MOST candidates who run for higher office. Their staff is used to appease voters and special interest groups. “Town Hall” meetings are really propaganda mills for officials to help win current or future offices. Mailed communications are used the same way. And let’s not forget that they are getting their full salary and benefits while running for higher office — something many in the private sector would have difficulty pulling off.

    But lets get back to my basic point — you’re talking about “ethics violations.” I’m talking about FELONIES. Most politicians commit ethics violations. A much smaller group likely commit felonies.

    I know that this fine point is lost on you, so I’ll leave you to suck on your sour grapes. Don’t they taste great?

  7. Richard:
    Michael is trying to make a point about Joel Anderson, so I don’t know why he just doesn’t say it. He is further trying to suggest that by focusing on the ethics violations of those you mention, without noting that Mr. Anderson spends money to send public communications to his constituents, you are a hypocrite. Note, however, that he ignores the fact that a candidate he was supporting has numerous documented ethics violations. Speaking of hypocrisy.

  8. Mr. Rider,
    Perhaps I am not naive, just young enough to not be jaded and resigned to the activities of the less principled. I hope that does not come with really old age…does it?
    Again you misread me. I did not suggest that it is unusual for politicians to use taxpayer money to run for higher office. I plainly stated it is wrong. You brought up running for reelection as opposed to higher office and should probably be a separate discussion.
    Vargas and Kehoe are Democrats. Why don’t we leave the bad ethics in that party where it seems to thrive and make sure the Republican Party runs a much tighter, more ethical ship? This is part of my point. When you are right, you don’t have to be unethical to win. That is the advantage conservatives always have.
    I wholeheartedly agree with your original point about taking Regan’s 11th commandment too far. One of the reasons I have voted Republican since my 18th birthday is because I want to support the party that is clean and ethical. Although no person or group can be perfect, I intend on spending the rest of my voting days doing everything I can to make sure the party stays clean and ethical. Even when it is tough because it may mean being vocal about a popular candidate who made a very large mistake.
    But your original comments are tough to take seriously if judged by comments you made in past discussions where you supported a candidate who was not prosecuted by the DA for ethical violations that could have been a felony and is a Republican.
    That is my point. I don’t think I can be clearer. Please refrain from twisting my words if you choose to respond.

    Mr. Zone,
    I’m not rehashing that discussion. You voted for a guy who knowingly laundered money. My grapes are sour now, but discussing the issue in the open was the right thing to do. Rostra was the perfect venue (I will direct you to look up the Latin definition of Rostra). But a majority of voters ultimately decided his indiscretion did not matter to them or they just didn’t hear about it.

  9. Michael,

    You seem to be somewhat of a hypocrite yourself. I mean you continue to bring up the issue of Joel Anderson (indirectly) yet you were one of the BIGGEST supporters on this blog of Jeff Stone. Not once did you admit that Jeff Stone had serious ethical issues and many more of them than Joel Anderson.

    So you see we all make mistakes in life. The question should be do you truly dislike Joel Anderson because of his acceptance of campaign contributions over the legal limit or is there something else?

    I know the answer and it is something else. Like a little kid who did not get his way, you not only want to take all your toys and go home, but you want to make certain that you continue to call your target names.

    Well it is time to grow up and realize that yes, sometimes politicians do things that we do not like. Yes Joel violated the law and paid a $20,000 civil fine (not criminal) and even gave all the money back.

    Yes he sent out mailers which are perfectly legal and approved by the Assembly Rules Committee before they are mailed out. Guess what, so did most of the legislators in California. If you do not like the fact that elected officials can do it then start an initiative and get signatures to change it.

    Your candidate in the race lost and it was not even close. Stone was substantially more ethically challenged than Anderson and you were so blinded by your despise of Joel that you supported a candidate with such a low standard for ethics.

    So the voters decided that they liked Joel’s leadership in Sacramento and would forgive him for the campaign finance issue. Your candidate lost and his serious ethical issues contributed to that loss.

    When are you going to post comments that directly or indirectly criticize Stone’s numerous ethical breaches?

  10. No, Mr. Rider, I am going to stay on topic and post comments that point out that your original post was totally hypocritical. Ethics violations and felonies are OK when it is your guy, but not OK when it is someone else? You could not be guiltier of the exact thing you are accusing everyone else of doing.

    As for the rest of your response…it’s funny to me…when you can’t win the debate, attack the debater, right? Calm down a little. Take a breath.

    I didn’t blindly do anything. Before the election I participated in every discussion. Most of the time I was asking questions rather than resorting to some of the name calling that went on. I stayed on topic and discussed the issue. When it stopped being any kind of fruitful discussion, I stopped. Much like I should probably do here.

  11. It should be noted that Richard Rider and Red Rider are two different commenters. Red Rider posted the most recent one. We knew that it would eventually probably cause some confusion, but this may be the first time that the two have been commenting on the same entry.

  12. To bring this to closure, Michael counts ethics violations and unfair actions of incumbents as being the same as criminal felonies. I don’t. We agree to disagree.

    Any bets on whether or not Michael was up for a staffer or patronage job if his guy won? Nahhhh.

  13. Come on, Mr. Rider. We both know that your response has nothing to do with the original discussion. Everyone reading this knows the same. Just a couple months ago you said you didn’t care about someone’s morals or whether or not they broke the law (as long as nobody gets hurt). You only care if they vote against taxes.

    Now here you are from atop your very high horse admonishing everyone who reads your post for not being tougher on Republicans Roberts and Slater-Price. You accuse them of being felons and everyone turning a blind-eye simply because they are Republicans. Even if they are guilty of what you describe, they hurt nobody, Mr. Rider so by your standards we should let it go.

    I agree with you that if anyone breaks the law it should not be overlooked no matter their position or party. Or even past accomplishments. But given your past statements, how are you the person to launch this criticism?

    PS Thank you for the vote of confidence on being a welcome addition to the staff of a State Senator. My guess is you are impressed with my commitment to excellence when it comes to issues of ethics?

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