State Political Watchdog Launches Investigation into Ackerman’s Fairgrounds Dealings

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Tuesday, February 22, 2010 | The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission has launched an investigation into whether contacts former State Senator Dick Ackerman made with current legislators on behalf of the Orange County Fair Board constituted illegal lobbying.

Fair Board members hired Ackerman, who left the state legislature at the end of 2008, as consultant in 2009 while they were attempting to purchase the 150-acre fairgrounds in Costa Mesa through a nonprofit foundation.

The plan crumbled following public outcry against selling the fairgrounds. Nonetheless, all the maneuvering among Fair Board members and Ackerman eventually caught the attention of Orange County Supervisors.

In October 2009, they formally requested county District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to investigate possible conflicts of interest by Fair Board members as well as Ackerman’s dealings. State law forbids legislators from lobbying their former colleagues for a year after they leave office.

After a yearlong investigation, Rackauckas cleared Ackerman and the Fair Board members of any wrongdoing, saying in his report that Ackerman didn’t violate a state ban on lobbying former colleagues because “his contact was not with state legislators.”

However, a story published earlier this month by Voice of OC revealed that Ackerman’s own legal billings show him having interaction with key Orange County legislators before and after key votes that put the fairgrounds up for sale.

“Based on the story, the Committee’s Enforcement Division has opened a proactive investigation into this matter,” said FPPC Executive Director Roman Porter.

Porter declined any further comment on the specifics of the probe.

Ackerman did not return a call for comment on this story. And DA officials have declined to discuss the details of their report.

Several insiders close to the fairgrounds sale were stunned by the tone of the DA report as well as the conclusions. Some — including dissident fair board member David Padilla — said no one from the DA’s office ever contacted them to discuss information they had.

Voice of OC obtained Ackerman’s own legal billings that showed clear contacts with at least eight members of the Orange County delegation before and after votes that authorized the fairgrounds sale.

In addition, Voice of OC also published his contract with a subcontractor to the fairgrounds (which is how the Ackerman was hidden from public view for months). That contract also highlighted Ackerman’s role as a “liaison” with state elected officials.

None of those details were mentioned in the DA report.

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