Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Rob Reiner's Commission Taps into California $$ to Boost Ballot Campaign

As Dan Morain reported in the Los Angeles Times last week, a California Commission headed by Rob Reiner may have violated the state ban on using public funds for political campaigns.

The First 5 California Children and Families Commission was created by Prop 10 in 1998 in order to promote early childhood development. The initiative increased the tax on cigarettes, with 80% of the proceeds going to counties and 20% going to the First 5 Commission. Noted actor/director Rob Reiner was the impetus behind the initiative and the Commission's first chairman.

Reiner is also backing Prop 82, a "Preschool for All" initiative which raises income tax on the wealthiest Californians in order to pay for universal preschool. Here's where Reiner gets into trouble. As the Preschool for All campaign was gathering signatures to put what would become Prop 82 on the ballot, Reiner's First 5 Commission spent $23 million to run tv ads with the theme and words "Preschool for All".

In other words, the First 5 Commission used state money to buy ads which supported the signature-gathering drive for Reiner's private ballot campaign. Reiner recused himself from the Commission's decision to run the ads, but considering his influence over the First 5 Commission, the ad campaign in support of Reiner's initiative at least smacks of impropriety, and may have violated California's general prohibition against using public funds for private political campaigns.

The First 5 Commission has also doled out some $230 million in contracts to pr and advertising firms that worked on Prop 10, adding to the sense of cronyism and self-dealing by the Commission. A former member of the California Fair Political Practices Commission has asked the FPPC to investigate, as has state Senator Chuck Poochigian of the California Attorney General.

Reiner has since temporarily stepped down from the Commission pending the vote on Prop 82 in June.

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