Request of CA Attorney General for investigatory inquiry into potential conflicts of interest and any possible criminal activities In Education
Honorable Kamala D. Harris
Attorney General of the State of California
Office of the Attorney General
1300 "I" Street
Sacramento, California 95814-2919
United Public Workers For Action UPWA
RE: Request for investigatory inquiry into potential conflicts of interest and any possible criminal activities
Request for immediate restoration of the Cal-access site and investigatory inquiry into the California Secretary of State’s office deletion of records related to lobbying activity and business entities
Dear Attorney General Harris:
This urgent request comes after the gathering of disturbing information as it relates to the possible siphoning off of public tax dollars to lobbying groups; nonprofits and other business entities. The information, some of which is listed below has been gathered from the California Secretary of State’s website, including the Cal-Access site for lobbying activity which has been mysteriously shut down since November 30, 2011. This shut down is unacceptable behavior to the people of California who have a right to know where their tax dollars are being spent. There will be an immediate call for an opposition to any and all tax increase proposals by Governor Brown’s office until the public has been given full disclosure of how their tax dollars are being spent. The information listed below is just a limited list of concerns. A future list will follow.
The United Public Workers for Action (hereinafter “UPWA”) respectfully requests an investigatory inquiry into potential conflicts of interest with a number of non-profit organizations; elected officials, key policy advisers and various lobbying firms. Governor Brown’s newly appointed education adviser, Ms. Susan Burr has been directly involved in key decisions and policies that have caused serious concern about bias. This involvement has come during her time as a sitting member of the Education Coalition, but also in other roles: currently she serves as acting Executive Director of the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association. The California Superintendents Educational Services Association contracts with the lobby firm School Services of California. School Services of California has a number of school districts, county offices of education, McGraw Hill Education and nonprofits as some of its clients, all of whom lobby the state legislature and other state agencies on education policy issues.
As school districts and county offices of education are public entities funded by California tax dollars, this raises serious concerns about where California tax dollars are going and who is involved in the decision making processes that are suppose to be democratic and open to public scrutiny.
UPWA has also become increasingly alarmed by the composition of key political decision makers as it relates to charter school advocates. While 97 percent of students in California are enrolled in traditional public schools, a large number of non-profit organizations have formed in the category of education lobbying that include clients involved in charter schools and online k-12 school advocacy with major business entity and Wall Street ties. This imbalance has resulted in policy that favors charters and online schools and their clientele (corporate interests) over the 97 percent of students who attend traditional schools. Additionally, the large number of non-profits that have formed has made it difficult, if not impossible, for the public to be fully aware of all the monies involved in campaign finances and more importantly, the monies involved in the advocacy of legislation in education policy. This apparent secrecy thwarts the democratic nature inherent in our political process by not providing full disclosure to the public about who and what entities are supporting or opposing various education legislation. UPWA has become aware of the numerous name changes of various non-profits and the deletions of records of business entities by the Secretary of State’s Office. Examples of some of these deletions include the Education Coalition, with agent for service of process as Ms. Susan Burr; Business and Education Alliance, with agent of service of process Ms. Rae Belisle and Business and Education Alliance, with agent for service of process Mr. Jasques Whitfield. Ms. Belisle was former General Counsel for the Sacramento County Office of Education, a public entity. Mr. Whitfield was the former General Counsel for the Grant Unified School District, which was also a public entity.
Additionally, UPWA has become aware that at least one school board member, Sandra L. Vargas of Washington Unified School District in West Sacramento is an active lobbyist. Ms. Vargas is a lobbyist for K Street Consulting, whose clients include other school districts, a county office of education and the Catholic Conference. Ms. Vargas, an active lobbyist and elected school board member has also owned a lobbying firm, Vargas & Associates which also represents the Catholic Conference. With respect to Ms. Vargas’ role as a lobbyist for the Catholic Conference while at the same time she ran for and was elected to a public school board, this fact raises concerns of Establishment Clause violation under the U.S. Constitution. Both Ms. Vargas and Ms. Burr have potential conflicts of interest under the Political Reform Act (Government Code 87100 et seq. and California Code of Regulations, Title 2, section 18705.3) in that lobbying firms may lobby the State Legislature and other California Administrative agencies on behalf of their clients. The Fair Political Practices Commission has stated that where there is a nexus between the duty owed to the source of income (i.e., salary or trustee) and the official’s public duties, then the public official is disqualified from participating in the decision and from attempting to influence the decision. Such a prohibition would severely limit both Ms. Vargas and Ms. Burr from effectively performing their duties on the Washington Unified School District Board and as the Governor’s Education adviser, respectively. Again with the Secretary of State shutting down the access to the financials and lobbying activity, the public will have zero knowledge of where money is being spent. Only with the online database up and running can the public, not the Government has access to fully research all the numerous entities that exist in the political process.
Additionally, UPWA has become aware that elected official, Sacramento City Councilmember, Kevin McCarty is also an active lobbyist. For the same reasons as stated above, we respectfully request that the Attorney General’s Office investigate the potential conflicts with respect to Mr. Mc Carty’s role as an elected city councilmember and as an active lobbyist for the non-profit- Pre-School California, a fiscally sponsored project of community initiatives. Pre-School California, a fiscally sponsored project of community initiatives has contracted with the lobbying firm Twohig Consulting, who also had Edvoice as a client. Edvoice is a well-known charter school advocacy political action Committee. UPWA is concerned that all key political decision makers have a neutral voice when it comes to the citizens of the state of California, especially with respect to public education policy decisions given the important decisions that the California tax payers will have to make with respect to the upcoming proposal of tax increases by Governor Brown.
Finally, UPWA has become aware that Rocketship Learning has contracted the lobbying firm, School Innovations and Advocacy (SI&A), whose clients include school districts, K-12, Inc (a online schooling company with major funding from Wall Street firms), Orange County Department of Education, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and Santa Clara County office of education. Santa Clara County Office of Education has been approving the expansion of Rocket charter schools in Santa Clara County. Rocket Learning is doing business in California, incorporated in Delaware but physically located in San Juan, Puerto Rico. UPWA has concerns that public funds not be diverted from traditional public school districts, especially to organizations such as Rocket Learning that may have set up a tax haven in another country.
Another lobbying firm, Murdoch, Walrath & Holmes represents the California Charter Schools Association as well as a number of traditional school districts at the same time. They also represent a number of education non-profits. When public education funding is allegedly scarce, a thorough investigation into this lobbying firm’s financial spending and contributions should be carefully reviewed for potential conflicts among their clients.
The above list is not exclusive. Other lobbying firms that should be investigated include but are not limited to Capitol Advocacy, LLC with CSU, office of the Chancellor; Fox Group and Chevron as their clients (The Chevron Corporation is currently appealing its property tax assessment and trying to get a California county to pay them a refund of $150 million dollars which will have a drastic negative affect to public services such as education); Strategic Education Services whose clients include Los Angeles Unified School District and Connections Academy, LLC ; Government Strategies Inc. whose clients include Terry Mc Gann and Opportunities for Learning Charter Schools. Terry Mc Gann is a lobbyist who represents Pearson (a large education testing company), Halliburton and Green Dot Public Schools; The Mc Callum Group with numerous County Offices of Education as their clients; Lobby firms/lobby employers: Branche Jones; Rose & Kindel; Democrats For Education Reform (DFER); Tres Inc., and the lobbying firm of Frost, Davis & Donnelly who represents education coalitions, school districts and educational technology professionals.
Another lobbyist, Teri Burns is also a school board member of Natomas Unified School District. Teri Burns is a lobbyist for the lobby firm School Innovations and Advocacy.
Another potential conflict with respect to a former governmental decision maker includes Dr. Ting Lan Sun, a co-founder of Natomas Charter school. Dr. Sun also served as an education consultant for Cambridge Education LLC at the same time she served as a Commissioner of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing and at the same time she served as a board member of Golden 1 Credit Union, which does business with the state of California, and at the same time she served as a board member of the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE, Inc.). Dr. Sun’s husband also serves as Executive Director of Natomas Charter School. Natomas Charter School receives tax dollars from the state of California.
UPWA immediately demands that the Cal-Access site be fully restored for the public’s use. As antiquated as the California Secretary of State’s Office might suggest the site is, it has been extremely useful in gathering public information as this document elucidates. The public’s trust of governmental affairs has only become more severely hampered by this recent turn of events. The shut down of the Cal-Access site, and all the lobbying activity and financial information that the site provides, it simply unacceptable behavior to the citizens of the state of California.
We are confident that the Attorney General’s Office has the same concerns as UPWA when it comes to lobbying groups, political officials and other tax exempt organizations possibly interfering with the democratic political processes. All California citizens should be fully informed with respect to the financial influences at issue in all legislative decision making and that the democratic political process should be free of any bias or self dealing. UPWA strongly believes that any possible deterrent to future manipulation of California’s political process can only occur through aggressive criminal prosecution for any offenders.
We hope you take this request seriously and we look forward to fully cooperating with you in any way that you fell can be helpful in fully removing the many potential conflicts that might be involved. Feel free to contact me at 415-867-0628 if you have any questions.
National Lawyers Guild
Occupy Oakland General Assembly
Occupy Los Angeles General Assembly
Occupy San Diego General Assembly
Occupy San Francisco General Assembly
Federal Bureau of Investigations
Federal Elections Commission
Richmond Progressive Alliance
The Huffington Post
Dr. Diane Ravitch
The Monthly Review