Yesterday, the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) Executive Committee discussed the state lobbying contract that the agency has with Sloat, Higgins Jensen and Associates (SHJA) because of recent FPPC violations by the firm.
If you are unfamiliar with the FPPC violations against Kevin Sloat, who is the principal at SHJA, this article will help fill you in. Sloat was fined a record $133,500 by the FPPC for hosting numerous political fundraisers that counted as “prohibited campaign contributions, and arranging and giving gifts to California lawmakers.” Some of the lawmakers warned by the FPPC for holding events at Sloat’s house include Governor Jerry Brown, Senator Lou Correa (SD-34), Senator Bob Huff (SD-29), and former Assemblyman and current SD-34 candidate Jose Solorio.
OCTA has contracted with SHJA since 2002 for state lobbying and consulting services. Unlike the Transportation Corridor Agencies’ lobbying contracts, this particular contract was approved by the full OCTA board and extended on multiple occasions by the full Board. According to the staff report, SHJA’s services to OCTA include “representation with the Legislature, Governor’s Office, various state departments, agencies, boards, committees, commissions, and staff; advising on state legislation, proposed regulations, and state budget proposals which could have an impact on OCTA; assisting with the preparation of and advocating for OCTA’s legislative program; reporting on state transportation and related developments of importance to OCTA; and updating the Board as specified. SHJA also provides a monthly verbal update on its Sacramento advocacy to the Legislative and Communications Committee.” OCTA’s contract with SHJA lists Kevin Sloat as the contract manager, with several lobbyists that work for SHJA as the legislative advocates.
During their presentation, OCTA staff made it clear that there were many initiatives OCTA was trying to accomplish, and that an interruption in service, i.e. a new lobbyist, may disrupt those initiatives. The staff recommendation was to issue an RFP for the state lobbying services, with a new condition that any FPPC issues be disclosed in the proposals.
Supervisor Todd Spitzer, referencing his time in the state legislature, stated that Sloat is well-respected in the capitol but that this was not a one-time violation. Spitzer noted that it was likely that SHJA would lose credibility as a result of this finding, and that it could have a negative impact on OCTA.
Irvine Mayor Pro Tem Jeffrey Lalloway, who is also the OCTA Vice-Chairman, noted that the situation is similar to the recent one involving Matt Cunningham. Cunningham held two contracts with OCTA, which were suspended after some poorly thought out photos of a teddy bear were published on the Anaheim Blog page that received national coverage. Lalloway attempted to connect the Sloat and Cunningham incident, and thought if one deserved to be suspended (Cunningham), that the other (Sloat) should be suspended as well to preserve the integrity of the agency.
Michael Hennessey, who serves as a public member on the Board, stated that the comparing the Cunningham and Sloat situations was “weighing morality against need.” He stated that “if Cunningham is bigoted toward Latinos, he’s the strangest bigot I’ve met since he is married to a Latina, his children are half Latina, and if you go to a Christmas party at his house, it is largely Latinos.” He went on to note that if Cunningham’s services were absolutely critical (like OCTA staff was attempting to convey with Sloat), his contracts would have not have been suspended as quickly, and the matter would have been brought to the Board, similar to the current situation with Sloat.
After some other comments by the committee members, Supervisor Spitzer motioned to remove Kevin Sloat’s name from the contract entirely, and replace it with OCTA’s primary legislative advocate Moira Topp as the contract manager. Topp is still an employee of SHJA, but the committee felt that the perception of corruption lays with Sloat as opposed to the rest of the firm. Additionally, the motion included a provision that Sloat could not do any kind of advocacy on behalf of OCTA at any level. Finally, the motion called for an expedited RFP for the lobbying services, to be brought to the Board in April. The motion eventually passed with Lalloway voting no. The full OCTA Board will vote on this issue next Monday, March 10th.