March 10, 2006

It Takes a Village Meathead

Hatched by Dafydd

Here in California, actor-director Rob Reiner has been caught red-handed diverting $23 million of taxpayer money to an ad campaign supporting universal, government-funded preschool -- at the very time that a Reiner-crafted initiative that would set up universal, government-funded preschool began gathering the signatures necessary to get on the ballot.

Actually, this has become a national story, mostly due to the efforts of blogger/broadcaster Hugh Hewitt and reporter Bill Bradley of the L.A. Weekly, a free, left-leaning newspaper that nevertheless is often more insightful, honest, and accurate than the Los Angeles Times. The Sacramento Bee's Daniel Weintraub is also on this story... and his Bee-blog California Insider directed me to this smoking-gun memo.

Here is Weintraub:

The controversial preschool-for-all ad campaign paid for with public funds and timed to coincide with the unveiling of Rob Reiner’s universal preschool initiative had its roots in a 2002 memorandum that laid out a detailed strategy for changing the public’s mind on the issue.

The memo, which you can see in pdf form here, was prepared by GMMB, the same ad firm whose principals have close ties to Reiner and created the $23 million campaign that began airing late last year just as Reiner and his allies began to seek signatures for the initiative that will appear on the June ballot as Proposition 82.

This political ad campaign was paid for by money from the tobacco tax under the control of the Reiner-headed California Children and Families Commission; the money was supposed to be used to "fund education, health, child care and other programs to promote early childhood development for expectant parents and children up to age five." (Reiner continues to function as the CCFC's chairman, even though his term expired a long time ago; Gov. Schwarzenegger has not found occasion to name a replacement yet.)

While it may fall within the mission of of the CCFC to promote preschool, it certainly is not part of the mission -- and cannot by California law be part of the mission -- for the publicly funded CCFC to agitate for passage of an initiative. Taxpayer money cannot be used in political campaigns, not only here but probably in every state in the Union.

That campaign is now so radioactive that even Democratic politicians are calling for a full-blown investigation. Reiner abruptly took an indefinite, voluntary leave of absence from a job that he does not legally still have; and the campaign manager for Prop. 82 has just resigned, after it was disclosed he was simultaneously being paid as a consultant to the CCFC... with (surprise!) taxpayer money:

The campaign manager for Proposition 82, the universal preschool initiative on the June 6 ballot, is stepping aside from his position amid a growing controversy about tax dollars spent on ads supporting preschool.

Campaign manager Ben Austin became a source of controversy for collecting $110,000 as a consultant for First 5 California, a commission chaired by Proposition 82's leading backer, movie director Rob Reiner.

So what ties this all together? Just because a man works both for a political campaign and also for a state-funded agency doesn't necessarily mean that the latter is financing the former, does it?

Enter the memo. This is a memo written by and circulated within the advertising agency that was paid by the CCFC -- clearly spelling out that the purpose of the ad campaign is to get people to support universal preschool as envisioned in Proposition 82.

Here are some juicy tidbits. Remember, the entire campaign that arose from this 2002 memo is paid for by taxpayer dollars [underlining and bolding is their emphasis; blue highlighting is ours -- the Mgt]:

In the past, the campaign has sought to inform parents and caregivers about how and why to improve the early development of their young children. Now we will seek to persuade all adults in California that maximizing early childhood defvelopment benefits everyone, and that they should therefore support state efforts to provide universally available early learning programs....


We must create demand by creating awareness of the problems caused by insufficient attention to the early years. Currently, not enough people see the need for the state to do more, because they don't see a problem. If we offer people the solution to a problem they are not aware exists, they will reject it. We must educate people that there is a problem, thereby leading to demand for improvement....

We must continue our efforts at parental education. It is crucial that we continue to build upon the work we've already done in educating parents and caregivers about the difference they can make in the way their children develop, not just because it is important in and of itself, but also because it will also help to create more demand for improved programs from the state. The more we communicate about the relationship between the early years and future outcomes -- especially in K-12 -- the more we will create demand for a greater level of service from the state....

We must explicitly make the case that all children would benefit from a greater state role in early education -- not just lower income children....


Throughout the research process, it has been clear that the answers we got from respondents depended entirely on how the question was framed.... We must define the issues in the ways most likely to generate support for greater state involvement in early learning....

[W]e want to do everything possible to help people reach their own conclusions, rather than simply force-fed them the information. One of the options we intend to explore are ads that frame questions (e.g.: At what age should formal education begin? What outcome would you expect when one child enters kindergarten able to read, while another cannot?) and then lead people to develop the correct answers on their own.

At this point, the Democrats who control the state of California are still stalling the investigation.

Unfortunately, the audit is going to take four or five months from the time that it starts, and no one knows when it will begin. A vote to expedite the audit fell one vote short of passage in the [Audit] committee.

In addition, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer, refuses either to represent the CCFC or to investigate it, citing a conflict of interest in both cases. We remember the bizarre tactics Lockyer used last year to try to prevent the redistricting proposal from ending up on the ballot; it eventually had to be forced on by the courts over Lockyer's furious objection (it lost anyway). It's difficult not to see a pattern here: attempts by the Audit Commission to stonewall an investigation into CCFC and Rob Reiner, the attorney general refusing to involve himself on any side.

Considering how much money Reiner and his Hollywood friends have spread around the California Democratic Party, it's still an open question whether Reiner's misuse of taxpayer money will ever be investigated at all... despite the clear evidence of intent found in this 2002 memo.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 10, 2006, at the time of 11:57 PM

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