You know the old saying – “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.”
One of the joys of writing about politics is seeing that truth in action.
I walked to Fresno City Hall on Thursday. I soon found myself in the waiting room of the Mayor-City Council offices. Someone had a radio tuned into a news program (sounded like NPR). The volume was low, but I could hear that the topic of discussion was the national economy.
The Dow is above 25,000. Nasdaq is above 7,000. The S&P 500 is above 2,700. Anyone with a stake in American equities – which, one way or another, is just about everyone – has to be jumping for joy.
The gist of the radio report? Credit for these record numbers goes to lots of folks … as long as they’re not named Donald Trump.
That got me to thinking about a contract approved by the City Council last month. City Hall rehired Campbell Strategy and Advocacy to be its lobbyist in Sacramento.
The one-year deal is for $180,000, with an option for an extra six months.
Campbell has represented Fresno’s interests in the state capitol since mid-2016. We didn’t have a paid lobbyist for the preceding four years. The Great Recession put us on a spending diet.
John Ellis, Mayor Lee Brand’s governmental affairs manager, wrote the staff report accompanying the contract.
“All functions of the City are significantly affected by state legislative votes and administrative actions in Sacramento,” Ellis wrote. “From funding and revenue streams that can help ensure the City’s General Plan is effectively implemented, to support for local road, transit and trail programs, to policies that can help or hinder City efforts to address homelessness and work toward building a better City, what happens in the state Capitol affects the entire state.”
Campbell was touted as having the smarts, energy and influence to make sure Fresno remains a player in the Darwinian world that is Sacramento.
Campbell “has deep relationships with the Governor’s Office, key legislative leaders and committee staff, and the Governor’s cabinet members,” Ellis wrote. “Fresno remains its sole City client, and the Campbell team’s familiarity with the budget and legislative negotiating process and key actors in that (arena) have proven – and will continue to prove – beneficial for the City.”
All fine and dandy. Taxpayer-funded lobbyists asking taxpayer-funded politicians and bureaucrats to return some of those taxpayer funds to the original source is the way the world works. There’s little profit in getting worked up about a reality beyond change.
But what exactly did Campbell do over the past 18 months to merit its continued feeding at City Hall’s trough?
Ellis gave three examples in his report. In each case, Ellis wrote, Campbell “helped the City secure the money by coordinating meetings with the appropriate State agencies, following up to stress City priorities, and meeting with the Assembly Speaker’s office, budget subcommittee chairs and Capitol staff.” Campbell also “tracked the appropriations to ensure the money slated for the City stayed on track.”
The first example occurred in August 2016. City Hall got $8 million in Transit and Inner City Rail Program funds.
The second example came in September 2016. City Hall was told it would get more than $20 million from the Affordable Housing Sustainable Communities fund.
My favorite was the third example. Fresno (in November 2016) got $70 million in cap and trade money. That was half of $140 million that was available statewide.
Fresno, with about 1.3% of California’s population, got 50% of a huge pot of money designed to serve the entire state. The usual narrative is we get less than our fair share. This time we appeared to get way more than our fair share.
The implication is obvious, although Ellis’ report doesn’t come right out and say so: Campbell Strategy and Advocacy is one heck of a lobbying firm.
Then I thought: Wait a second!
Isn’t this particular pot of cap and trade money supposed to be used for projects that protect and improve the environment?
Isn’t Gov. Jerry Brown’s bullet train project supposed to be the ultimate in “green” transportation projects?
Isn’t it true that while Fresno has only 1.3% of the state’s population, it is slated at this point in the project to have 100% of the bullet train depots?
Isn’t it true that the Governor needs to have that first bullet train station be such a wild success that it silences all of those “train to nowhere” critics?
Isn’t it true that the neighborhoods near H Street/Mariposa Street, proposed site of that historic first-ever bullet train station, are in huge need of revitalization?
Might it not be in the Governor’s interests to send a bunch of money to Fresno to ensure that City Hall can make everything surrounding the bullet train station picture-perfect?
Might it not be possible that the Governor and his advisers would recognize this course of action without the help of a paid lobbyist?
I answered yes to all these questions. I wondered again why City Hall is paying $180,000 for a Sacramento lobbyist.
Then I remembered that old saying.