Voice of OC continued in 2014 to impact Orange County government and politics at all levels — from cities to county government to school districts. Below are our staff’s top picks for our most high impact investigations this year.
Mayor Pulido’s Property Swap
An investigative report by former Riverside County District Attorney Grover Trask, commissioned by the city of Santa Ana and made public only under the threat of a lawsuit by Voice of OC, concluded that the 10-term mayor broke the state’s 1974 Political Reform Act on multiple occasions.
More grave is Trask’s conclusion that the property deal would very likely constitute a willful violation of state laws that could earn Pulido prison time and bar him from holding public office.
Yet Pulido again demonstrated his longevity in November when he won an eleventh mayoral term by a 20-point margin.
Investigations Into Top County Officials
This year, our reporters also alerted the public to more than a million dollars in questionable no-bid contracts at the county Parks department involving friends of top officials.
County officials have now engaged an outside attorney to review the actions of Chief Operating Officer Mark Denny, who was the head of the Parks department at the time, and other officials.
With Denny slated to take over as CEO early next year, the story has important implications and continues to heat up.
It’s the second, known ongoing probe into a county official, with Brian Probolsky, a top aide to Supervisor Lisa Bartlett and elected member of the Moulton Niguel Water District, is also under investigation by county Human Resources.
Big Money in Local Elections
In the lead-up to the November election, our reporters gave the public a glimpse of how business and special interests influence elections.
This year Disney doubled what it spent on elections in 2012, pouring at least $671,000 into political action committees financing Anaheim city council campaigns and tens of thousands more into an initiative aimed at changing the city’s electoral system, according to a Voice of OC analysis.
In Irvine, a slew of political action committees spent hundreds of thousands of dollars,funneled through a circuitous route, to keep the city council’s Republican majority in power.
Voice of OC also followed independent expenditures pouring into races from committees and parties across the state, often making it difficult to track the original donors.
Many county-level parties outside of Orange County received big donations from well-heeled donors, with much of that money eventually making its way into the races for the 34th state Senate and 65th state Assembly races.
With Democrats’ supermajority at play, candidates on both sides of the aisle attracted big money previously unseen in local races.
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