Monday, March 24, 2014

Ventura County Voters Are Sick And Tired Of Corrupt Careerist And Extremist Tony Strickland… So He's Moving


The Steve Israel "Mystery Meat strategy" precludes DCCC recruitment for many state legislators. Israel doesn't want candidates with voting records, and especially not candidates with records of leadership on cutting edge issues. Actvist, effective progressive legislators like Patrick Hope (VA), Pat Murphy (IA), Daylin Leach (PA), Ted Lieu (CA)-- hated by Israel bankster buddies for his consumer protection legislation-- are not going to be found on any early DCCC programs. All 4 are running on their records and emphasizing their accomplishments as legislative leaders, the exact opposite of the "Mystery Meat strategy" that has seen newspaper editorial boards push back against Israel's ridiculously secretive recruits.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Republicans are also grappling with the whole voting records dilemma. Because of the effectiveness of the Tea Party and the raging Republican civil war, it is much harder for Republican candidates to hide extremist and obstructionist records, primarily because its increasingly difficult to win GOP primaries without a proven record of extremism and obstructionism. Let's take the hotly contested 3-way race in CA-25 for example. Although the DCCC has finally-- grudgingly-- added progressive Lee Rogers to one of their bogus lists, they have not lifted a finger, or proffered a nickel, to help Rogers overcome the two Republican extremists in the race, Steve Knight and Tony Strickland. Strickland is Buck McKeon's handpicked successor and Knight, the most extreme right legislator in Sacramento, was chosen by local Republicans horrified by the thought of Strickland, an especially corrupt carpetbagger. Both have extensive voting records-- voting records that are out of sync with the moderate suburban district.

Last year, I wrote that Knight's voting record would be ultra-conservative if he represented a backward district in Alabama or Mississippi. In suburban L.A., it's just bizarre and a throwback to another century. Widely considered a shill for the NRA and an automaton for the most extreme right-wing proposals that ever come up in Sacramento, Knight was one of only 11 senators who voted against increasing the minimum wage and, despite representing a district with a huge Hispanic population, he was one of only 8 senators who voted against drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants. When the Governor decided to expand Medicaid in line with the Affordable Care Act, only 7 die-hard right-wingers opposed it, Knight being one of them. He was also one of only 8 senators to fully back unregulated fracking in earthquake zones in California. He is vehemently anti-Choice and anti-gay and voted against every piece of legislation promoting equality that has ever come before him. For example, last May he was one of only 9 senators to vote against a bipartisan bill that prohibits tax-exempt status for organizations that discriminate against the LGBT community and he also one one of only seven sociopaths who opposed an anti-bullying bill that passed the Senate with huge bipartisan support. One legislator told me that Knight isn't a bad guy on a personal level but that he's "an inflexible ideologue… probably the single least effective member of the state legislature… Sure, Strickland is no prize but Knight makes even him look almost good!"

But how "almost good" does even Knight make Strickland actually look? A few years ago, long before this race, Joan Trossman Bien took a deep dive into the wreck that Tony Strickland already was for the Ventura County Reporter, Meet the Stricklands. "Tony and Audra Strickland," she writes, "became well-known in Ventura County in 1998. That’s when then-newcomer Tony was elected to the state Assembly representing the 37th District." The two of them are the quintessential careerist politicos, running for office after office and have since become "a permanent fixture on Ventura County’s political landscape," interesting, since he's now trying to run in a Los Angeles County district.
The Stricklands are no strangers to controversy, coming under public scrutiny in recent years by the LA Times and the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) for their creation and funding of separate political committees, as well as their unusual practice of paying each other as consultants from contributions to their various individual campaigns for public office.

In fact, on March 30 of this year, the FPPC fined Tony Strickland $3,000 for violating state law in 2008 with a mass mailer attack on then-opponent Hannah-Beth Jackson that failed to disclose that it came from his campaign. Tony’s campaign said it was a mistake. However, the FPPC concluded that Strickland is an experienced politician, and failure to disclose the source of the mailer was “at worst intentional and at best negligent.”

…Tony was born in 1970 at Fort Ord when his father was in the Army. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Whittier College in Orange County then became a legislative aide to another Republican career politician, state Sen. Tom McClintock of Granite Bay.

Audra also received her BA in political science, only at UC Irvine. And she, too, became a legislative aide to a number of conservative state lawmakers. Not surprisingly, Tony and Audra met at a state Republican Convention in Orange County, and they were married at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda in 1998. Audra spent one year teaching history at a private Christian school. Now married 12 years, when asked by a reporter what her best relationship advice would be, Audra replied, “Ensuring that God is part of our marriage.”

Tony is currently raising money in the form of campaign contributions through one of his many campaign committees, Strickland Senate 2012, Re-Elect Tony. This committee had total cash on hand, as of March 17, of more than $115,600. Tony also has another active committee called Strickland for Controller 2010. As of the same date, records showed the committee was holding more than $24,000.

Tony had other open committees when he started these two committees. Strickland for Controller was activated for his failed 2006 campaign. This committee was not closed until March 17, 2010, and listed nearly 3,000 contributions.

Strickland for Senate, which was opened to collect contributions for his 2008 Senate campaign, is still active and lists nearly 2,000 contributions. All of the open committees can continue to accept contributions even after the election in order to pay the net debt. If there is a surplus, it can be carried over to another committee that has been created for the next election.

Incumbent District 2 County Supervisor Linda Parks said she is confused. “[Tony] has the controller campaign committee, he’s got the Re-Elect Tony Strickland 2012,” Parks said. “Those are two separate offices. How can he run for both?”

Hannah-Beth Jackson, who lost the state Senate race to Tony in 2008, is now a political consultant. Jackson said that she is concerned about distractions from his present Senate office. “It’s very disappointing that someone would spend millions of dollars to win a senate seat and not even care enough about his constituents to fulfill his commitment to the people of the district who desperately need representation,” Jackson said.

With Audra terming out of the Assembly this year, she initially decided to run for secretary of state, opening a campaign committee called Strickland for Secretary of State 2010, Audra. Then she changed her mind and decided to run for Ventura County Treasurer-Tax Collector and opened a campaign committee called Strickland for Treasurer-Tax Collector 2010. Shortly after Audra announced she was running for treasurer, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to mandate certain minimum professional requirements for that office, such as being a certified public accountant or having a college degree in business. Audra did not meet the new standards for the office and was forced to abandoned the campaign.

Then the Ventura County Republican Central Committee announced that if Audra decided to run for county supervisor, they would endorse her candidacy. The seat in Audra’s district, the 4th District, is up for election although it is occupied by Peter Foy, another right-wing conservative. Instead of challenging the incumbent Foy, Audra chose to pursue the Supervisor office for the 2nd District, the seat occupied by incumbent Linda Parks. In order to qualify for the office, a candidate is required to register to vote from a residence within the district no less than 30 days before the filing deadline. Audra rented an apartment in the district and announced her candidacy on Feb. 5. And Audra opened yet another campaign committee called Strickland for Supervisor.

“I think if Audra Strickland is elected she will undo many of the good things we’ve accomplished at the County,” Parks said. “I think Sacramento is broken as a result of divisive politics. Her inability to reach across the aisle and work with her fellow legislators typifies the gridlock in Sacramento that has caused a budget crisis of unprecedented proportions.

The failure of leadership, the partisan nature of her tenure and the special interests that fund her are all unacceptable qualifications for the job of county supervisor.”

Businessman and photographer Larry Janss has deep generational roots in Thousand Oaks and voiced his own concerns over Audra’s candidacy. “Audra is just looking for a job,” he said. “She blows into town, her only line being that she’s serving the people of the area from her experience in the Assembly as a tax-cutter and hard-nosed pro-business Republican. Her voting record in Sacramento doesn’t show anything that she has done of any consequence.”

…Tony is running for state controller, a position with enormous financial responsibilities. According to the secretary of state job description, “The State Controller supervises the fiscal affairs of the state, suggests plans for improvement and management of public revenues, keeps all accounts in which the state is interested, and keeps a separate account for each specific appropriation, showing at all times the balance of the appropriation. The State Controller supervises the state’s fiscal concerns and all claims against it. The State Controller directs the collections of all monies due the state.” The controller oversees a $131 billion state budget and $300 billion in pension funds.

However, Tony and Audra Strickland have fines and violations on financial affairs, both political and personal. Here are some of them.

In October 2003, Sacramento County placed a lien on the Stricklands’ property in Sacramento as a result of delinquent utility charges in the amount of $95.95. In April 2004, a second lien was placed on their property by Sacramento County, also for delinquent utility charges in the amount of $103.88.

In 2004, the Stricklands were three months late in paying their second installment of property taxes for one of their homes in Moorpark. They paid a penalty of $126.86.

In December 1999, Tony Strickland was sued by the secretary of state over failure to report $116,140 in late contributions, a violation of the Political Reform Act of 1974. It resulted in a fine of $6,000.

State Senator Tony Strickland is paid $112,490. Assemblywoman Audra Strickland earns $114,602. Each is eligible for an additional $35,000 a year in tax-free per diem payments along with state-paid vehicle allowance, gasoline and car insurance.

On April 13, 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported that beginning in 2001, Tony Strickland’s anti-tax nonprofit organization California Club For Growth, and Audra Strickland’s consulting firm Golden State Strategies, which was co-owned by their close friend and chief of staff Joel Angeles, had paid each other more than $138,000. The name of Golden State Strategies was changed to 20/20 Innovation, Inc. in 2006. The Stricklands say that Audra sold her interest in Golden State Strategies to Angeles in December 2002. Tony said that Ventura County prosecutors had looked into the payments to each other’s firms and found “no criminal activity.” Tony also said that they had served as paid consultants to each other’s campaigns, adding that it was common for politicians to hire relatives to work on campaigns.

In response, Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles commented that he had “never seen both spouses being paid to work on each other’s campaigns.”

Soon after being fined by the FPPC, Tony put his weight behind SB 739, which bans spouses from being hired and paid for services rendered by their spouse/candidate for a political campaign, precisely what the Stricklands admitted to having practiced for five years, claiming the practice was legal in 2006.  In a press release heralding the importance of the bill, Tony said, “We (politicians) just don’t have a lot of trust, so we need to do whatever we can here in the Legislature to build it back.”

…Both Stricklands have been exposed to Sacramento Republican politics for the past several years. The current collapse of the state’s entire financial foundation has happened during that time.  Ever since the state Constitution was amended to require a two-thirds vote in order to raise taxes, the minority has had control of the budget through its power to prevent a budget from passing. This year, as in numerous previous years, the state is once again hovering on the brink of insolvency.

Yet in a recent press release, Tony opined on the real root of the fiscal disaster. “There’s a reason why we have an ongoing budget problem, and it’s because people are fleeing the state because they’re being over-taxed.”

Cal-Access on the secretary of state’s Web site allows you to view all of the candidates’ reported campaign contributions, donations to others, and expenditures. Major donors, political action committees, political parties and ballot measures are also there. This is where voters can get a much more accurate reading on where special interests are spending their money. It is also a window into the competency and transparency of any one candidate. Warning: Careful inspection of these records is only for the stout-hearted. Sorting through the 14 different campaign committees that the Stricklands have used at various times requires great patience and focus. But the effort can be rewarding.
Political consultant Skelton was posed a hypothetical question about a voter contributing $100 to candidate X and the expectation that the money will be used to pay for that candidate’s campaign.

“Well, that’s a rather naïve assumption, isn’t it?” Skelton said. “When people contribute money, they can expect the candidate to use it to further their political interests. And if that’s contributing to other candidates as a way of building an electoral base, particularly institutions where people are contributing to incumbents who don’t really have a contested race on the horizon. A lot of the time, people want to contribute to an incumbent even though they know the incumbent may be running for some other office and may transfer the money. But they don’t want to get involved in the other race for whatever reason, but the fact that they are contributing to the incumbent’s committee for the office they currently hold gives them plausible deniability.” The contributors can claim they could not have foreseen that the candidate would use the contribution for a different purpose.

Some of the campaign contribution rules are quite complicated. Back in 2000, there was another committee for Tony called Strickland Leadership Fund. According to public records, on October 16, 2000, $25,000 was placed in the Strickland Leadership Fund and was contributed by his Strickland For Assembly fund. A note accompanied this entry: “This check was intended for Assembly was inadvertently dep (sic) in Leadership.”  Still confused on which committee gets which checks, on June 18, 2001, Strickland For Assembly contributed $500 to Strickland Leadership Fund with this note: “Not a contribution. Check deposited in wrong account.” (Secretary of State Web site, Cal-Access, Committees, Strickland Leadership Fund)

According to, 79 percent of all campaign funds raised by California lawmakers between January 2007 and March 2010 were from out of their districts. That means almost four out of every five dollars did not come from the legislators’ direct constituents.

The same organization revealed the top industries that have contributed to the Stricklands from March 18, 2008, to March 17, 2010.

For Tony, the top five industries were: 1) real estate developers and subdividers, 2) property and casualty insurance, 3) securities, commodities and investments, 4) Native American tribes and governing units, and 5) attorneys and law firms.

For Audra, the top five industries were: 1) property and casualty insurance, 2) accident and health insurance, 3) Native American tribes and governing units, 4) landscaping and excavation services, and 5) real estate developers and subdividers.

“Audra Strickland is notorious for the special interest money she gets from casinos, tobacco, oil and developers,” Parks said. “It is a large amount of money and the sources are unsavory. I hope that voters will see that her smear campaign against me is coming from Exxon, Chevron, Sempra, Pechanga  the building industry, and other special interests. We don’t need that kind of Sacramento politics in Ventura County.”
That kind of dirty right-wing money is now being expertly deployed against Lee Rogers in the Stricklands' latest adopted district. Over the weekend, in the L.A. Daily News, Steve Knight pointed out what everyone in CA-25 knows about his fellow-Republican: "Tony has been running for a couple of seats. That would be my question to him. I was born and raised here and I will not run in another district to be a congressman. We’re doing this to help our community. This is my home, where my family and friends live, where I have lived for the great majority of my life. It is my community and I would hope that anyone who runs would want to help their community."

Steve Israel has no interest in helping a progressive like Rogers win this seat and, at least so far, hasn't spent any DCCC money to help him fight back against Strickland's smear campaign. Do you want to help? You can contribute directly to Lee Rogers' campaign here-- and you can chip in to the Blue America PAC where we have some plans to make sure L.A. County voters know what Ventura County voters already know about Tony Strickland. Here's what Strickland had to say about L.A. when he was still running in Ventura County. I bet he won't be running this ad again:

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