Legitimate PR or Felonious Political Advocacy?
by Jack Hickey

San Mateo County Community College District

June 23, 1999
Board Meeting Summary

"Voted 5-0 to place a $148 million bond measure on the November ballot to repair, renew and renovate facilities at the three Colleges. Chancellor Joe Johnson told the Board that the bond recommendation is a culmination of more than three years of study, debate and decision making, ..."  Part of that decision making was to conduct a $25,000 taxpayer funded Survey of Voters (October 1998), which apparently guided the direction of future decisions.

Since that date, the SMCCCD has placed Bond Measure information on their website.    I made an e-mail request to the Chancellor, seeking to level the playing field by listing SMCCCD candidates on that same webpage, to provide important points from the other side of the issue.   The response to that request was to add a nondescript reference to the Register to Vote icon.  The playing field is still crooked. (see info from California Attorney General)

The Stanson Court also noted that if a state agency or department has authority to disseminate information relating to its activities, it may spend funds to provide the public with a fair presentation of relevant information. The Court found that "it would be contrary to the public interest to bar knowledgeable public agencies from disclosing relevant information to the public, so long as such disclosure is full and impartial and does not amount to improper campaign activity." To be fair, a pre|sentation must consider all important points and provide equal treatment to both sides of the issue.

They also launched an expensive ($250,000 contract with Bay Relations) multi-media PR campaign unassociated with their educational or cultural offerings.  That effort included $100,000 for a mailing of the slick brochures shown below.  This is in addition to advertising their classes - Barbara Christensen of the District informed me that these mailings go out three times a year to 250,000 households.  

In addition to the expensive, taxpayer funded PR mailing, the Chancellor and Members of the Board importuned the Foundation which bears the same name as the District, to "Grant" $40,000 to the Citizens for Higher Education Committee.  This committee was formed to support the $148,000,000 Bond Measure (Measure A) on the November ballot. 

Additionally, the District obtained 30,000 voter registration forms from the Secretary of State.  Only 1.8% of these resulted in new voters for the November election.  What was the purpose of mailing these forms so close to the Bond election?  Could this be "electioneering" by a public agency?  Or, are they hiding behind the Associated Students?  Is this surge of civic responsibility in the spirit of the "Motor Voter Act" (amended by HR6), or self-serving.  Why did the Associated Students at Canada College opt out of this scheme?

Here's another question:  Was the timing of the Spring Schedule mailing (one week prior to the Bond election) coincidental?  Or, was it carefully chosen to influence the vote?  Is that an "improper practice" which the Legislature has been Constitutionally directed to prohibit? 

CALIFORNIA CONSTITUTION ARTICLE 2 VOTING, INITIATIVE AND REFERENDUM, AND RECALL SEC. 4. The Legislature shall prohibit improper practices that affect elections and shall provide for the disqualification of electors while mentally incompetent or imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony.

Is the San Mateo County Community College District engaging in Political Advocacy?
Are they spending Taxpayer Dollars on this Political Advocacy?
Misappropriation of public funds is a FELONY!


424.  Each officer of this state, or of any county, city, town, or district of this state, and every other person charged with the receipt, safekeeping, transfer, or disbursement of public moneys, who either:   1. Without authority of law, appropriates the same, or any portion thereof, to his own use, or to the use of another; or,   2. Loans the same or any portion thereof; makes any profit out of, or uses the same for any purpose not authorized by law; or... Is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three or four years, and is disqualified from holding any office in this state. And,


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Above is the cover of a slick PR I received today (30 July 1999)
Click on the image to view the contents.
Chancellor Johnson
confirmed that this was a mailing from the SMCCCD

Inside the slick mailing are three heartwrenching testimonials to the goodness of the Community Colleges.  This follows the parade of supporters at the above mentioned meeting (at which I was the only spokesperson opposing the bond, and proposing an alternative to more taxes).  Latest polls show Community Colleges two notches ahead, with motherhood and apple pie in a close tie for second place!

It has since been determined from information provided by the Chancellor's Office, that the ongoing PR campaign is being performed under a $250,000 (budgeted amount) contract with Bay Relations signed on March 11, 1999 (pre-dated as February 1, 1999). Cost breakdown: Consultation fees - $42,000, "Focus Groups - Four community groups with selected demographics - $16,000", "Direct Mail/Other Print Media - $90,000-$100,000",  Electronic Media Execution $90,000-$100,000.  This contract followed a $25,000 "Survey of Voters" performed for the District by Godbe Research & Analysis.  That survey is dated October 1998. View Godbe's report to the Board.

I am accustomed to SMCCCD mailings, and those of Canada College in whose sphere of influence I reside.  I look forward to their published course offerings, and Community events.  As mentioned above, mailings go out three times a year to 250,000 households.  

I am adamantly opposed to tax dollars being expended for "government speech" aimed at influencing an election!

While the SMCCCD has cleverly avoided advocacy of a bond measure in their PR mailing, there is no doubt in my mind that the intent is there.   If the Focus Groups mentioned above were directed at voters, there is a serious problem.    Political Advocacy Watch is being formed to monitor these things, and report possible illegal activities to proper investigative authorities.

On 19 August,   I received their second slick mailing. 

Click on image to view contents.

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In an effort to ascertain the targeted audience of the PR mailers, this author requested a copy of the mailing list.
The Districted denied that request.

I then made a Public Records Act request
That Public Records Act request was denied! 
I have since submitted another PRA request.


One man's response to the Slick Brochures

by Jack Hickey


So says the slick mailer!

There are a few Checkerspot Butterflies who might disagree with that statement! 

Where was the PR when construction of Canada College and its sprawling parking lots destroyed habitat in one of three remaining Checkerspot colonies?  And, when Paul Ehrlich and company inadvertently destroyed their Jasper Ridge habitat, that left only the Checkerspot colony at Edgewood Park.  The modest proposal for a much needed public golf course on that site was buried in environmentalist excesses as the Checkerspot was elevated to endangered status.

Retribution is in order.  A bond measure is not.

Other questions:  Are civil rights being violated under color of lawFirst Amendment, freedom of speech.  Do they get to speak with our dollars, while we are effectively silenced?  Does this involve multiple conspirators, a consideration for Rico Act crimes? 


***************** FLASH *****************




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