Did Gabino Aguirre Flout Code of Conduct?

JULY 21, 2011


New evidence obtained by CalWatchDog.com raises new questions about whether Dr. Gabino Aguirre, a member of California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission, violated the commission’s code of conduct and possibly state law by failing to disclose his association with a redistricting special interest group. The Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), a politically active community-based organization, has submitted its own redistricting proposals to the commission and mobilized its staff members and volunteers to testify before the commission.

The Commission’s Code of Conduct, which is “considered binding on any person serving the California Citizens Redistricting Commission in any capacity,” sets forth restrictions on the behavior of commissioners. Among the code of conduct’s mandates, commissioners shall:

* “Speak the truth with no intent to deceive or mislead by technicalities or omissions”;

* “Disclose actual or perceived conflicts of interest to the Commission”;

* “Disclose information that belongs in the public domain freely and completely”

That second requirement, the disclosure of a perceived conflict of interest, appears to be a much higher standard of disclosure than the state regulations, which CalWatchDog.com initially cited in its first investigative report on July 15. State law requires all redistricting commissioners to complete a supplemental application, in which applicants must: “Describe the professional, social, political, volunteer, and community activities in which you have engaged that you believe are relevant to serving as a commissioner, as discussed in Regulation 60847.”

Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the commission, failed to respond to two emails and a phone call requesting clarification about the policy.

CAUSE’s Maps

At a May 26th meeting in Northridge, Maricela Morales, CAUSE’s co-executive director, made a 25-minute presentation to the redistricting commission in which she presented the organization’s proposed maps for Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura Counties. Yet, at no point during the presentation did she or Commissioner Aguirre disclose any prior relationship.

Just five days prior to CAUSE’s presentation to the commission, Morales and Aguirre testified on the same panel at the 2011 California State Conference of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Aguirre appears to have been aware of the commission’s high standard of disclosure. According to the Ventura County Star, he promised conference attendees, “We have an open and transparent process where everything we say and everything we do is in front of the public.”

Last week, CalWatchDog.com first reported on Aguirre’s long history of involvement with the special interest group, a fact that was never fully disclosed on Aguirre’s application to serve on the commission. The Spring 2008 edition of CAUSE’s newsletter lists Aguirre as a member of its “Advisory Committee,” a position he retained until July 14, when CAUSE removed Aguirre’s name from its website.

Aguirre, who has repeatedly ignored CalWatchDog.com’s phone calls and emails requesting comment, is also listed in the Summer 2007 edition of CAUSE’s newsletter as the organization’s first Grassroots Supporter for a contribution of between $1-$499.

CAUSE Involvement

CAUSE is directly involved in the political process and organized “Get Out the Vote” efforts in the June 2010 primary and November 2010 general elections.

“In the weeks leading up to both the June 2010 primary and November 2010 gubernatorial election, CAUSE had conversations with over 40,000 new and infrequent voters in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties,” the group explained on its Web site.

Aguirre’s relationship with CAUSE could impact the redistricting process by offering favorable treatment to incumbent Democratic Assemblyman Das Williams. According to his campaign website, Williams previously served as the organization’s legislative analyst and led “the group’s efforts to stop a proposed Wal-Mart development in Ventura.” In the same Spring 2008 newsletter that listed Dr. Gabino Aguirre as a member of the CAUSE Advisory Committee, Williams made a plea for CAUSE volunteers to “gather signatures to qualify” and assist with the campaign to ban the big-box retailer.

CAUSE, which bills itself as a community-based organization, boasts of its strong ties with organized labor and progressive causes. In the December 2006 newsletter, the headline for a front page story reads “CAUSE Strengthens Ties with SEIU.” That’s the Service Employees International Union, one of the most radical of state unions. It recently funded a massive campaign calling for tax increases.

Under the website section titled, “Campaigns,” CAUSE described its preparation for a the June 2011 special election on the tax increases: “CAUSE and our many community and labor partners are now focusing moblizing volunteers to participate in phone banking and precinct walking around the critical upcoming June 2011 special election.” However, the June 2011 special election never was held as Republicans held fast in the Legislature to their opposition to tax increases.

Even Democratic politicians, including Gov. Jerry Brown, have been attacked for failing to meet the group’s extreme left-wing views. CAUSE’s Web site admonished volunteers of the repercussions from failing to mobilize voters:

The result: this year, the Governor of the state of California is trying to cut millions of dollars out of the Ventura and Santa Barbara school systems, eliminate the CalWORKS program for unemployed job seekers, and eliminate in-home services for the elderly. These cuts disproportionately impact poor and working people, and California’s small businesses. The Governor has NOT proposed asking California’s wealthiest citizens and largest corporations to delay their own tax breaks, or to pay their fair share to support essential services.

Redistricting Involvement

CAUSE has been one of the state’s most active organizations involved in the redistricting process. On February 2, 2010, CAUSE hosted a seminar to educate its members on how to apply for and be selected for the redistricting commission.  The group also mobilized volunteers to speak at commission hearings throughout the state.

Its activism appears to have paid off. Tony Quinn, a former Republican staffer and expert on redistricting, believes the current maps for the Central Coast are “very close to those proposed by CAUSE at the first public hearing in San Luis Obispo last winter.”

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