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The Los Angeles Times on Rob Reiner

Monday, February 20, 2006  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

On February 1 I wrote in part:

The word out of Sacramento is that the Los Angeles Times is digging into Rob Reiner’s First Five Commission and that the Public records Act requests are flowing in to the offices of the California First Five Commission which Reiner heads….

If the Times does its job, we’ll learn exactly how much has been spent on the campaign just concluded and since these campaigns began, as well as where it was spent, and whether there is crossover betweeen Reiner’s political consultants and the media consultants cashing the taxpayer-funded checks.

The paper’s investigation into the Reiner-driven First Five State Commission “public information” spending is in today’s paper, above the fold on the front page:
TV Ads Put Focus on Reiner
Some ask whether the tax-funded spots helped tout the producer’s June preschool initiative.

Here’s what we learn.

Under Reiner’s leadership, the commission has:

‘ Spent $23 million for the “Preschool for All” ads, which ran from November to mid-January, making it one of the largest state-funded advertising campaigns ever in California. In January, Reiner’s new initiative, also called “Preschool for All,” qualified for the June ballot as Proposition 82.

‘ Given $230 million in advertising and public relations contracts ‘” including the preschool ad blitz ‘” to firms that helped Reiner create the First 5 commission. As companies competed for the business, Reiner wrote a letter recommending one firm, which won.

This is the core of the article, but it simply isn’t followed up on. What did the 23/230 million buy? What was the strategic planning behind the campaigns? Where’s the State Commission’s review of the ad campaign and its objectives? How do you measure effectivness of such ads, and is this what the supporters of the initiative expected their tax dollars would go to?

Incredibly, the article does not quote a single county Prop 10 Commissioner from among the the more than 500 such officials statewide. (There’s a Prop 10 Commission in every one of California’s 58 counties.) Rob Reiner’s campaign attorney is quoted as saying everything is legal in the use of the $23 million, and quotes Reiner himself on the need for ads:

Written to his specifications, the law dictates that 6% of the tax revenue be allotted to communications efforts.

“This is a big state,” Reiner said, noting that ads are costly. “We knew the programs weren’t going to be successful unless people knew about them and how important they are.”

Many assumed that the 6% would go almost exclusively to anti-smoking campaigns. The $23 million touting preschool has both critics and supporters within the Commissions, but mostly critics, including me. Incredibly, the Times could not find one of them to discuss how the money might have been better used.

Nor could the Times find any way of breaking down the $62 million:

First 5’s lead public relations consultant is the Rogers Group of Los Angeles. The firm billed the Proposition 10 campaign $230,000. Its First 5 contracts extend to 2008 and will total $62 million. The company must distribute about $30 million of that amount as grants to community organizations.

The commission awarded Rogers an initial contract in 1999 without soliciting bids and two later ones in a competitive process. In its written bid for a new contract last year, Rogers noted that its president, Lynne Doll, was “a lead strategist on the communications efforts” for the Yes on 10 campaign.

So, what groups got the $30 million, and to do what? What did the other $32 million buy.

The piece is an editor’s nightmare, throwing in Reiner explanations and absolutions of Reiner without ever laying out in detail where the $230 million has gone.

The article’s greatest failing is that it simply does not focus on the heart of the controversy. Reiner is the sponsor of Prop 82, which seeks to raise 2.4 billion from from a 1/7% tax hike on Californians making more than $400,000 anually. To get 82 qualified, Reiner’s forces had to collect 598,000+ signatures prior to January 18 of this year.

The article notes that the ads paid for with tax dollars “coincided with his launch of a ballot initiative that would tax the rich to fund preschool for all California 4-year-olds.” But it never mentions that the ads were running throughout the crucial period when necessary signatures were being collected from voters. Nor does the arrticle compare the overall size of the ad campaign and its intensity with any other previous campaign run by the Commission. A reader who hadn’t followed the story would never guess that the barrage of ads coincied with the approach of the signature collection deadline.

“Resign, Mr. Quackenbush.” That was the Times’ editorial position after six weeks of intensive investigative reporting by the paper into the former California Insuranmce Commissioner’s operations, including mixing of his political activities and his state duties, and expenditures on questionable public information camapigns.

Will the paper dog Reiner as it dogged Quakenbush? From this love tap of a piece, the answer is obvious.

The other unreported aspect of this situation is that Rob Reiner’s appointment as Chair of First Five expired long ago. He is a “hold over” appointment, and Arnold could replace him tomorrow with a professional from the health services or education community.

The $230 million spent on public information campaigns and the $23 million spent to support Reiner’s pet project of universal preschool, is a lot of money, money which could have accomplished a lot of things for the children it was intended to serve.

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