Saturday, November 10, 2012

Money makes the world go around

     I seem to have lost interest in playing OC Rat Bastard Bingo, but I will mention this further observation of such creatures cavorting through OC history, past and present. This one involves early Tom Fuentes associate Arnold Forde and—anti-matter to Fuentes' matter—Larry Agran, Irvine politician and Democratic political boss extraordinaire.

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Early model Forde
     FORDE. One of the names that popped up again and again during my inquiries—earlier this year—into the early career of political operative Tom Fuentes was one Arnold Forde, now 76, a political consultant. Here's some background:
     …[D]onning one’s historian’s cap in hopes of identifying a meaningful narrative, with beginning, middle, and end—it appears that one will not go too far wrong in starting with the 1969-1970 campaign of Ron Caspers to challenge and replace 5th District Supervisor and Republican Alton Allen. At least as far as the Republican establishment was concerned, Caspers seemed to come from out of nowhere. But he had money. More specifically, he had “Dick [Richard O’Neill] and Doc [Louis Cella]” money. And he had the talents (the ruthless and clever methods) of Arnold Forde (and later Butcher-Forde) plus the uncommon energy and ambition of young Tom Fuentes. Most importantly…, Caspers had a vision of how county government should operate. That vision was actualized after his 1970 election, when “Caspers made the contacts and set the ground rules for developer participation in the grand scheme of patronage carried to an exponential degree” (Tom Rogers). —The Bold and the Ruthless, DtB
     Caspers set a new standard by employing, not merely stunningly unscrupulous campaign tactics (some of these, of course, were already familiar), but also advanced, computerized, data-driven campaign approaches associated with the consulting firm Butcher-Forde. These approaches have come to be considered essential. —Orange County Incomporruption, DtB
     "When Butcher and Forde brought professional management and a fierce competitive drive to Orange County campaigning, they were challenging decades of friendly, folksy clannishness. They have been called amoral and their campaign tactics deceptive. And the accusations have not been hurled exclusively by their candidates’ opponents." —"Butcher and Forde, wizards of the computer letter," California Journal, May 1979.
     An Orange County Superior Court judge has criticized the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. and two of California's best-known political consultants for "hoodwinking" the public with fraudulent fund-raising tactics in the 1980s.
     Superior Court Judge Donald E. Smallwood said this week that the anti-tax Jarvis group, along with consultants William Butcher and Arnold Forde, raised money from the public under false pretenses to put more than $1.5 million into the consultants' pockets.
     "There is something terribly wrong when huge sums of money can be raised in the course of political campaigns, transferred to a parent or sponsoring organization and then funneled back to the political consultants," Smallwood wrote.
     Smallwood's scathing assessment of the mid-1980s fund-raising techniques of the tax-fighting Jarvis group and Butcher and Forde capped one of the county's most complex and secrecy-shrouded legal cases.
     The judge wrote that although he found the conduct of Butcher and Forde "reprehensible" and they had "facilitated" campaign reporting violations by the Jarvis group, they could not be held liable under the Political Reform Act. —Tax Group Guilty of Campaign Violation : Courts: Judge also scolds Howard Jarvis organization and political consultants for fund-raising tactics (LA Times, 5/11/95)
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     AGRAN. Now let’s shift to 2012 and, really, the last dozen or so years. Here’s something from ace investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley, published 9 days ago (Larry Agran's Great Irvine Election Robbery, OC Weekly, Nov. 1, 2012):
     First elected to the City Council 34 years ago, [Irvine City Councilman Larry] Agran's aggressive, nanny-state liberalism made him a lefty hero and a target for ridicule among OC Republicans. For nearly two decades, there wasn't anything fake about the contemptuous battle between the two camps.
     Agran, now 67, continues to speak as though those days still exist, when he was a rebel outsider fighting for the little guy against powerful, moneyed interests. He utters passionate lines memorized during that era, but nowadays, the words are hollow. The outsider became the entrenched insider 12 years ago, when his political machine took over the city, its coffers and one of the biggest prizes in California municipal history.
     The federal government's gift of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station to Irvine put Agran's 3-2 council majority in control of land worth tens of billions of dollars, an end-of-the-Cold War move that inexorably altered the local political landscape. Agran became the gatekeeper to the potential spoils of more than 4,700 acres of prime Southern California property now called the Orange County Great Park.
     The Republican real-estate developers and businessmen who'd funded bitter campaigns against Agran didn't just suddenly become silent about their old foe. They became his primary source of campaign revenue. It helped that members of Agran's machine—hamfisted operatives such as the late Ed Dornan—let the business community know the newfound mutual-admiration society depended on their generous donations to Agran's numerous political bank accounts.
     Generosity bred generosity. With typically more than double the campaign resources of his GOP challengers, Agran's Democrat operation has won six consecutive elections in a city with a majority of Republican residents. The price of such an arrangement is corruption: a long list of lucrative, no-bid city contracts has been given to the very businesses that pump as much as $50,000 at a time into Agran's campaigns.
     And then Moxley continues:
     Please don't forget this alarming fact, even if the FBI looks the other way: Arnold Forde, Agran's top political consultant, pocketed $120,000 per month in taxpayer funds for more than half a decade to do public relations for a local public park that still has not been completed.
     Just sayin'.
     Moxley goes on to explain Agran's curious relationship with Fuentes' associate Adam Probolsky. Probolsky was Fuentes' little helper on the night of Tom's coronation as trustee back in July of 2000. (At the time, his partner was Steve Sheldon--now heading a big local PR firm--the son of the Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition.) He's been involved in the IVC Foundation. He once took one of my classes—to spy on me, I guess (he dropped). He's been involved in Irvine politics in recent years. And now he's Agran's pal.


• Adam Probolsky Orange County Register Journalistic BJ for Larry AgranExplained! - Matt Coker - Nov. 2, 2012

• Orange County Republicans Outraged That DA Tony Rackauckas Aided Larry Agran's Campaign - R Scott Moxley - Nov. 8, 2012

• Larry Agran Blasted By 3 Former Close Allies As Corrupt & Unworthy of Irvine Mayor's Job - R Scott Moxley - Oct. 18, 2012

• Remembering the future of Orange County’s Great Park - Nathan Callahan, Feb. 28, 2002

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