Bordonaro’s well-placed friends
March 29, 2010
(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series about San Luis Obispo County Assessor and Republican politico Tom Bordonaro.)
By KAREN VELIE
Amidst allegations that San Luis Obispo County Assessor Tom Bordonaro has reportedly used his office and his foundation to enrich his friends, including some employees of a state agency that is responsible for overseeing his office, these same state employers said Bordonaro’s office did its duties with “integrity.”
Such a conclusion, CalCoastNews has learned, has brought to the forefront suspicions that some employees with the state Board of Equalization (BOE) have a financial and political conflict of interest in dealing with Bordonaro, a political powerhouse who is currently chair of the Republican Party in San Luis Obispo County.
The BOE is a state agency that performs regular audits on assessor offices statewide as part of its mission of making sure property taxes are assessed in a uniform manner.
Speculation that the BOE may have performed a whitewashed review of Bordonaro’s office have been fueled by charges that:
— Some high-ranking BOE officials travel annually to a plush Hawaiian resort for a political confab organized by Bordonaro’s political non-profit foundation.
— During their most recent review of Bordonaro’s office, BOE inspectors did not uncover that Bordonaro had underreported his own business assets or that he has allegedly asked his staff to provide assessor office favors to some of his friends.
— At least one member of the governing BOE panel and one ranking BOE staffer may have benefited financially by arranging the regular junkets for Bordonado’s foundation to the Hawaiian island of Maui.
The BOE review found no problems with business and property assessments by the assessor’s office of San Luis Obispo County.
“I don’t believe the BOE is capable of overseeing assessor offices in any level of detail that assures accountability,” said Lenny Goldberg, president of Californians for Tax Reform. “I think the BOE should have a much stronger role. There is a lack of accountability and oversight in the system.”
The conduct of the Assessor’s Office under Bordonaro’s tenure has left some in the know wondering what’s really going on.
“Bordonaro’s connections to people with the BOE make one question the accuracy of the audit,” said a county employee who asked to remain unnamed to protect his employment. “The BOE is a stand alone entity that is supposed to provide oversight.”
Among the concerns raised by critics and others is how, for example, after assessor employees rejected a Proposition 60 transfer they were asked to reevaluate their work. They originally rejected the request because it did not qualify through a specific formula.
But later, staffers were asked repeatedly to rework the numbers because the homeowner was the girlfriend of Bordonaro’s banker.
Bill Leonard, a former Republican lawmaker from Southern California and until recently a member of the BOE’s governing panel, and Barbara Alby his former deputy and a current panel member, have been under fire for their connection to the Pacific Policy Research Foundation, a non-profit founded by Bordonaro.
The foundation’s primary purpose for soliciting donations is to pay for a one-week junket to a Hawaiian luxury resort in Maui for lawmakers and lobbyists.
On March 9, Leonard stepped down from his seat on the BOE and was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as the secretary of the State and Consumer Services Agency, pending Senate confirmation. In addition, Alby was appointed to fill Leonard’s seat on the BOE.
As board members, Leonard and Alby have a $250 limit on donations they can accept. However, Bordonaro’s foundation is not required to reveal its funding sources.
Businesses such as PG&E, Indian gaming tribes and Eli Lilly and Co. have all donated to the Pacific Policy Research Foundation.
Attendees in Hawaii discuss policy issues until around 12 noon and afterward are free to enjoy the many amenities at the $300-a-night resort.
Bordonaro serves as the Pacific Policy Research Foundation’s president; and its board includes his wife, Martha Bordonaro; Sherry Leonard, wife of Bill Leonard; and Republican state Sen. Roy Ashburn of Bakersfield, the anti-gay lawmaker recently arrested for DUI after leaving a gay bar.
In 2008, the non-profit solicited $365,000 in donations. Approximately $300,000 went toward conference expenses, according to the group’s tax returns. Sherry Leonard and Barbara Alby, who are partners in Pacific Events, received between $25,000 and $44,000 a year each for organizing the annual conference.
BOE spokeswoman Anita Gore said that Leonard’s and Alby’s affiliation with Bordonaro’s foundation did not influence the survey of his office.
“They had no involvement in the survey,” Gore said. “It was done at the staff level.”
Upon a request for more information about the survey, Gore provided CalCoastNews with a list of the 15 BOE staff members who worked on the two-month survey. The staffers included chief Dean Kinnee, property appraiser Benjamin Tang and Sally Boeck, a supervising property appraiser with the BOE.
Leonard and Alby were not on the list.
Following a CalCoastNews interview with Gore and Chief Deputy Alan LoFaso, both high-ranking employees of the BOE, someone from the state office warned Bordonaro that CalCoastNews was looking into suspicions that he and a number of his associates had not received accurate assessments.
LaFoso told CalCoastNews that he had mentioned the suspicions to two members of the BOE’s governing panel.
“I did not think they would say anything,” LaFoso said.
The next day, some “inside sources” told CalCoastNews that Bordonaro arrived in his office and began reviewing employee files of Assessor Office personnel.
“To the extent anyone has provided me with information in confidence, I intend to respect those wishes,” Bordonaro said when asked who in the BOE had given him a heads up about possible under-assessments.
This is not the first time Bordonaro has been the center of controversy.
In 1994, following Bordonaro’s successful run for state assembly, the Fair Political Practices Commission fined him for failing to disclose loans he received during his campaign.
In another contentious campaign for Congress against Democrat Lois Capps in 1998, Bordonaro received a reprimand after he tried to influence the vote by phone banking under a false name claiming to be a Democrat.
During an investigation by the Federal Elections Board, it was determined Bordonaro created the “Central Coast Democrats for Honest Representation.” His election staff then sent out a phone message that slammed Capps and asked voters to elect Bordonaro.
Even though the Federal Elections Board concluded that the allegations of “fraudulent misrepresentation” against Bordonaro were factual, they took no action against him.
In 2006, while serving as the San Luis Obispo County assessor, Bordonaro founded the Central Coast Taxpayers Association, a group primarily focused on promoting a Wal-Mart in Atascadero. Both the association’s vice-president and agent for service of process were also, at the same time, performing public relations duties for Wal-Mart.
Mike Brennler, the former mayor of Atascadero, sent complaints asking both the Attorney General’s Office and the Grand Jury to investigate allegations that Bordonaro was using his office as assessor to promote his Wal-Mart advocacy association.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s thanked Brennler for his letter and asked that he take his complaint to county government officials, who are “primarily responsible for citizen complaints against their employees or agencies,” according to the letter.
“At the very least I feel Bordonaro breached the assessor’s code of ethics because he commingled his official title and duties with the advocacy of a private business,” Brennler said. “I felt the evidence was strong in that regard.
“When the Attorney General suggested submitting the matter to the grand jury, I did just that. But apparently the matter was not addressed. I will argue the people of our county were not served by such inaction.”
In San Bernardino County, during the same time the BOE was performing a review of that county’s assessor office, their county grand jury was investigating reports of egregious behavior by the assessor and some of his high ranking staff. The BOE found that overall office operations were handled correctly in the San Bernardino Assessor Office.
However, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors commissioned an investigation that resulted in allegations the office was used to enrich the assessor and his allies and to create a political operation at taxpayer expense. [TheSun]