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"It was a splendid population - for all the slow, sleepy, sluggish-brained sloths stayed at home - you never find that sort of people among pioneers - you cannot build pioneers out of that sort of material. It was that population that gave to California a name for getting up astounding enterprises and rushing them through with a magnificent dash and daring and a recklessness of cost or consequences, which she bears unto this day - and when she projects a new surprise the grave world smiles as usual and says, "Well, that is California all over."

- - - - Mark Twain (Roughing It)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

350 sham California commissions suck down tax dollars

"Corruptus in Extremis"

  • The Democrat legislature keeps funding sham commissions so their buddies can have cush jobs and expense accounts.

(Aljazeera America)  -  More than 350 commissions, committees, councils and boards call California home, but few citizens and elected officials know exactly what they do.
Take the Senate Advisory Commission on Cost Control, for example. Its goal is to find new ways to reduce costs and improve efficiency in state programs, according to its website. When America Tonight asked legislators if they knew of the commission or what it does, none did.
America Tonight looked into the track record of the group and, beyond a few reports, it was difficult to find out exactly what the commission does, despite hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses and salaries.
Since 2010, more than $150,000 was spent on travel by the commission, which is composed of 13 appointed unpaid commissioners and one salaried executive director.
One bill racked up more than $2,600 in rental cars, although the identities of the renters and the purpose of the rentals remains unclear. Another invoice showed American Express travel bills for $70,000. Some records were completely blacked out, including the purpose of travel, making it difficult to figure out how money was spent, who spent it and why.
It’s also unclear when the commission meets. Its website has no dates, minutes, agendas or schedule. But a public records request revealed that the commission met once in 2010 and again in 2013. An agenda item on the 2010 meeting was to “make the Legislature aware the commission exists.”
“I think it’s pretty clear you are not doing anything if the Legislature doesn’t know you exist,” said Doug Johnson, an expert on state government and a fellow at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College. After looking at the expense reports and the commission’s website, he added, “This is way up in the absurdity ranks. It looks like they didn’t do anything. And the title of the commission is classic — the Cost Control Commission. And they are spending money and not saving it.”
“I think it’s pretty clear you are not doing anything if the
Legislature doesn’t know you exist.”

Doug Johnson
Fellow at the Rose Institute Claremont McKenna College

Across the U.S., states have had to do their fair share of belt tightening, and California is no exception. But America Tonight has discovered one area that hasn’t felt much of a squeeze: hundreds of obscure committees, commissions and councils — some claiming to help cut government waste.
But some groups, like the Cost Control Commission, may be doing anything but that.
Melissa Kludjian, the commission’s executive director, was a paid staff member before recently retiring. She defended the commission’s performance to America Tonight, saying the Legislature is to blame for not acting on the commission’s reports. The website shows the commission generated six studies since 2003, mostly done by academic institutions.
“I think it’s a bogus, sham commission, and I’m embarrassed by it,” said Laura Chick, California’s former inspector general of stimulus funds. “There is a state auditor that is looking for cost savings. There is an office of finance looking for cost savings. It’s redundant, and it’s doing nothing.”
The Cost Control commissioners are appointed by the Senate Rules Committee, which is chaired by Senate Pro TemKevin de Leon. When America Tonight asked him at the Capitol what the commission has accomplished, he was unable to answer.
One legislative unit that got de Leon’s attention in December was the Office of Oversight and Outcomes. It was a legislative unit staffed with three former investigative reporters whose mission was to improve transparency and accountability within government. During its five years, the group produced 27 reports on various issues, many of which led to state Senate hearings and prompted reform legislation, according to a report by the group. Despite that record, de Leon eliminated the office late last year, calling it a cost-cutting move.
Seat on some of California’s 350 committees, commissions and councils have long been considered soft landings for termed-out legislators or places to put a friend or allies. Some positions are full time and come with a salary and benefits, but the vast majority are part time or volunteer. 
In 2005, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to eliminate 88 commissions and committees but had little success.
“He thought it would be an easy win, and it didn’t turn out that way,” Johnson said. “This was personal. This was ‘The governor tried to fire personal friends of the legislators.’”
When Brown became governor, he consolidated and eliminated several boards and commissions in his 2012–13 budget, but the state still has well over 300 commissions, committees, councils and boards.
While many do good work, Chick is concerned that nobody is seeking accountability from those hundreds of commissions.
“It’s criminally wrong to be wasting public dollars that are so desperately needed in other ways. And it upsets me that other officials are upset and they go, ‘Oh that’s just the way we play the game.’ No! That’s not the game we should play!”
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