In this ongoing series, the Weekly will be profiling the lobbyists San Clemente believes are taking taxpayer money from the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA). First up is former US Congressman for OC’s 43rd and 48th District and Ice-T Troll for the TCA, Ron Packard. According to Globe Newswire, San Clemente believes the TCA has paid Packard’s lobbying firm Packard Government Affairs $804,285 at a rate of $60,000 per year. The TCA has refused to release documents accounting for Packard’s paycheck.
In June 2018, the city of San Clemente began a lawsuit against the TCA. According to a Globe Newswire report from August, San Clemente accused the TCA of concealing public documents detailing millions of dollars the TCA has spent on lobbyists and lawyers to build the SR-241. The TCA did turn over some of their financial records at the outset of the lawsuit, but San Clemente claims that crucial financial records have yet to be released. Some of the crucial documents include: 17 months of invoices from the politically connected lobbying firm Venture Strategic worth an estimated $5,890,977, four years of hourly billing statements from Venture Strategic subcontractor and lobbyist Curt Pringle & Associates worth an estimated $144,000, and a detailed list of reimbursements for TCA Board Members who are paid up to $7,500 annually for attending TCA meetings. San Clemente argues that the TCA has been wasting taxpayer money on lobbyists and legal fees while not building any new roads. In short, the TCA is as purposeless and expensive a fine arts degree.
Packard has been a troll for the transportation industries since he was elected to Congress in 1982. Packard’s website–which humbly refers to him as The Honorable Ron Packard– says that Packard’s peak performance in Congress took place while he was a member of the House Public Works & Transportation Committee, now known as the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Packard is well known for his affiliation with Ice-T. No, I’m not talking about The Godfather of gangster rap: Ice-T is the nickname for the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) which helped give rise to toll roads. His biography on Packard Government Affairs’ website states, “The pinnacle of his service on this committee was his leadership role in the design, drafting and ultimate passage of the original Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), which was signed into law in 1991. That historic legislation continues to shape national transportation policy today.”
Indeed it does. When ISTEA was signed, President H.W. Bush was facing scrutiny from the Republican Party for raising taxes on infrastructure and gas, even though he famously vowed, “Read my lips–no new taxes.” Under the ISTEA, the federal government would pay less to maintain its roads by recruiting private companies to build and maintain. In exchange for paying for roads, private companies would be allowed to collect tolls. Bush hoped the ISTEA would sway public support by reducing government spending, and private companies–like the TCA– hoped the bill would bring them loads of cash at taxpayer expense. According to an article on the ISTEA written by Richard Weingroff for the Federal Highway Administration, the bill allowed federal-aid highway funds to be used for projects on toll facilities to a much greater degree than in the past , and didn’t require toll facilities to cease toll collection after their bonds were repaid. In short, Packard and ISTEA gave private toll companies more access to federal funds and ensured that they could continue tolling inevitably as long as they helped to fund roads.
Since Ice-T, Packard’s trolling has been well documented. The Weekly’s Matt Coker wrote about the former Congressman in a 1998 article titled “Ron Packard, Military Whore.” Coker’s article detailed how Packard’s deep connections with military and transportation groups influenced government spending, and Packard’s bank account.
Coker wrote, “Less visible but just as important as that support are Packard’s friends in the hugely lucrative transportation construction industry. As a member of the Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, Packard has publicly vowed to fight for more federal highway funds for Orange County. Having a say on those disbursements has made the congressman a good guy to get in your corner if you’re, oh, building a 16-mile, $644 million, natural-habitat-decimating toll road through South County. And transportation firms were the top PAC contributors to Packard in 1997-1998, doling out $51,980. They get what they pay for: when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers recently refused to sign off on extending the last leg of the Foothill Toll Road through pristine portions of San Clemente because of concerns that it might not alleviate traffic-but certainly would damage the habitat of myriad threatened and endangered species-Packard came to the transportation corridor’s rescue. In [July 1998], he reportedly filed an amendment that stated the agencies’ concerns about traffic are frivolous and outside their jurisdiction. The new Packard language amended a transportation appropriation bill to restrict agency comments to those matters over which the agency has jurisdiction.
“’I will not stand by while federal regulatory agencies raise frivolous or illegitimate issues designed solely to kill this much-needed project,’ Packard reportedly said. The Army Corps of Engineers dropped its concerns soon after.”
Packard and his company aren’t registered as lobbyists in OC as of July 2018, however they do list the TCA as one of their clients. The partners with Packard Government Affairs have a proven track record of turning profits while lobbying California transportation agencies. Managing Partner and teenage heartthrob Donald J. Polese is probably the second most experienced staff member with Packard. As Polese’s company biography states, “Prior to his service with Mr. Packard, Mr. Polese was the Legislative Director in Washington D.C. from 1985 to 1991 for Honberger & Associates (now Walters & Associates) and lobbied for several Southern California local government agencies, including . . . the San Diego Metropolitan Transit Development Board and the North San Diego County Transit District.”
Additionally, Packard’s Senior Associate and Director of Grants Caroline Thompson helped to secure $800 million in federal and state grants for transportation, economic development, and homeland security grants. Prior to her time with Packard, Thompson was responsible for federal, state, and local government relations for San Diego’s North County Transit District which she helped create. Thompson also helped secure multi-million dollar grants, advised the agency’s nine member board, and advocated on behalf of the transit agency’s interests.
If the TCA really wants to build a toll road all the way to where OC meets San Diego County, then they need lobbying trolls with experience in both the transportation game and with south OC politics on their payroll. For my money, nobody could provide this better than the Ice-T Troll who once represented San Clemente’s district in Congress and helped give agencies like the TCA the power to toll eternally. If Packard gets his wish the TCA will never have to pay off their multi-billion dollar debt, and Packard Government Affairs will continue to collect their $60 thousand a year paycheck forever and ever Amen.