As far as fundraising goes, the battle over Prop 21 the car tax increase disguised as a "save the parks" initiative has been a classic David vs. Goliath struggle.
In this case, the part of Goliath is being played by the "yes" side, in that as of this writing they have raised over $6.5 million to get out their message. David, being played by the "no" side, has raised a paltry $74,000. But just as in the ancient tale, David has a little something extra besides his sling and a small bag of stones-the support of the already overtaxed citizens of California.
Out of the $6.5 million the "Yes on 21" folks have raised roughly $4.7 million has come from five huge environmental foundations–The Nature Conservancy, the California State Parks Foundation, the Save the Redwoods League, the Peninsula Open Space Trust and Sempervirens Funds.
A quick review of their financial statements reveals that they receive donations to fund their work from individuals, trusts, bequests and in some cases, state and federal grants.
Now when I hear the term "state grants," I also hear government funded. And when I hear government funded I then hear taxpayer dollars.
One organization Sempervirens whose stated mission is to save the Redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains says on its website they are funded, "With support from our donors and with public matching funds…".
When I dug a little deeper and looked at their 2009 Financial Statement, I found this slightly different description of these mysterious dollars.
"Receivables for State matching funds are not recorded in the Fund’s financial statements until formal approval is received from the State."
Both of these statements raise some interesting questions that the "Yes on 21" side needs to answer.
Where do all these "public matching funds" come from? Are they taxpayer dollars? How come they don’t state in their financials how much they have received from the state? How come on their website they use the benign term of "public" matching funds yet in their financials they are "State" matching funds?
And finally, if they are receiving taxpayer dollars through this matching fund program, are they laundering those same taxpayer dollars into a political campaign?
Don’t get me wrong — these folks do a lot of fine work in protecting the natural beauty of California. But if they are in any way using taxpayer dollars to fund this campaign, the voters have a right to know.
Their massive fundraising effort also begs the question.
If they can raise that kind of money in a short period of time to fund this tax scheme, imagine what they could do if they really set their minds to it. I’ll bet they could raise the kind of money needed to refurbish the parks in no time flat. If you combine that with the money the taxpayers already pay to the state’s general fund to fund the parks, perhaps we could solve the existing problem.
It would be an excellent example of a creative public-private partnership working to restore our parks, with no additional tax burden on the people of California.
Now that is something that would get my ‘yes’ vote. But as long as Prop 21 remains a scheme to put a regressive tax on all California businesses and individuals I will vote ‘no’.
(Full disclosure: The author is working for the No on 21 campaign)