Fresno Co. GOP uneasy about contract with Measure G consultant

Political consultant's contract a concern.

The Fresno BeeMay 13, 2013 

A contract between Measure G's political consultant and the Fresno County GOP has divided local Republicans, with some feeling it could lead to the same trouble that in 2009 earned the organization a fine from the state's political watchdog.

Some Republicans also say Measure G -- which seeks Fresno voter approval to privatize the city's residential trash pickup -- is not exclusively a Republican-Democrat issue and shouldn't be supported by the county Republican central committee.

The vote to approve the contract was 16-9. A 10th "no" vote -- sent in via a proxy -- was disallowed by county GOP chair Sandra Lakeman.

"That contract really ruffled a lot of feathers," said local Republican businessman Tal Cloud, who opposes Measure G. He is not a member of the GOP central committee.

The contract is between the Fresno County GOP and Clark Strategies Group, whose president is Sacramento political consultant Tim Clark. The five-page agreement makes no mention of Measure G, but instead talks about Clark doing "party building" work and developing an "organizational growth plan, including a fundraising plan."

And that's exactly what Clark said he plans to do.

"I've pursued a contract with the Fresno County Republican Party for several years," he said. "I believe I've seen enough party operations to help them put together an effective get-out-the-vote and volunteer recruiting effort and that sort of thing."

Fresno County has been turning increasingly blue in recent years as Democrats register more voters. In 2000, Fresno County's Republicans were on a roll, overtaking rival Democrats in voter registration totals for the first time in memory. That lead peaked in 2004, but it has largely been downhill since.

"We're tying to build our party, we're trying to get out the vote, and we are using Tim Clark in that endeavor," Lakeman said.

Clark said there is immediate work to be done ahead of the May 21 state Senate special election to replace Michael Rubio. Andy Vidak is the lone Republican in the race. And, Clark said, there is work to approve Measure G as well.

But Clark's contract expires on June 15 -- less than two weeks after the Measure G special election on June 4.

Several members of the Fresno County Republican Central Committee say they feel the organization will be foot soldiers for Measure G and not much else. The members who spoke did so on condition that they not be identified.

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, they say, sold the local GOP on the measure's anti-union and privatization cornerstones, but they since have grown uncomfortable about how the contract for residential trash pickup was awarded to Mid Valley Disposal.

Still, the Fresno County GOP unanimously supported Measure G this year. Fresno County Democrats oppose it. In addition, labor unions are actively seeking its defeat.

Some central committee members also said Lakeman -- who supports the campaign -- gave them only 15 minutes to read the contract before voting on it and has shut off dissent by setting up a "Special Elections Subcommittee" to deal with Clark.

One part of the contract cited by several central committee members is how Clark will be paid.

His fee is $20,000, but the contract says the Fresno County GOP will only pay the money to Clark after he has raised $30,000. In essence, Clark is raising his fee, plus an extra $10,000 for the Fresno County GOP.

Bob Stern, a campaign ethics expert and former state Fair Political Practices Commission general counsel, said the pay structure would pass muster as long as Clark's actual work is disclosed.

For instance, if Clark does Measure G work that is paid with Fresno County Republican Central Committee funds, that must be disclosed in Fresno County GOP campaign finance statements.

Stern said it appears to him as if the Fresno County GOP is being paid $10,000 for "doing nothing" except possibly giving its support to Measure G.

Some local Republicans are concerned that history may repeat itself.

In 2009, the Fresno County Republican Central Committee agreed to pay a $29,000 fine to the state Fair Political Practices Commission for a series of campaign transactions that violated state election law.

But Clark and Lakeman said the contract was reviewed and approved by attorneys. And Clark said he hopes the contract grows into a long-term relationship between his firm and Fresno County's Republican Party.

Measure G

What: Special city of Fresno election to decide whether the residential trash outsourcing ordinance should be adopted

When: June 4

Key dates

May 20: Last day to register to vote in this election

May 28: Last day to file an application for a vote-by-mail ballot

More information

Click here for more info on Measure G or call (559) 600-VOTE, and click here to search contributions to Measure G campaigns.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6320, or @johnellis24 on Twitter.

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