The Associated Press has revealed emails suggesting that California’s state transportation agency staff coordinated with opponents of the gas tax repeal to target California’s U.S. House Republicans.
Videos of a Caltrans contractor distributing pro-gas tax flyers created an outrage when posted on YouTube in late August.
Now, the AP reports that the California State Transportation Agency coordinated activities with the Sacramento public affairs firm of Bicker, Castillo & Fairbanks to arrange news conferences and other promotional events in support of a 2017 effort for state legislation to raise gas taxes and vehicle license fees by $55 billion over the next 10 years — supposedly to repair bridges and roads.
After the bill passed, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation in April 2017, Bicker, Castillo & Fairbanks continued to coordinate with the department to plan events and support a social media campaign in opposition to efforts to gather signatures to qualify a gas tax repeal for the November 2018 ballot.
After the “Yes on Prop 6” campaign collected over 1 million signatures by June to qualify for the November ballot, the firm continued to work for an anti-repeal coalition that expanded to include the League of California Cities and the California Chamber of Commerce.
The AP obtained 200 Transportation Department emails from 2017 and 2018 through a California Public Records Act request. The communications suggest that state employees were coordinating with a coalition of unions, construction companies, and local government groups that stood to gain financially from higher gas taxes.
The AP interviewed several experts that warned that the state agency’s alleged coordination with the political coalition was unethical and may have violated campaign law prohibitions against using public resources for political campaign purposes.
The emails reveal that the Department of Transportation and the lobbyists also discussed issuing opinion pieces to target Republican U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa and three other California GOP members considered vulnerable to the Democratic Party’s so-called “blue wave.”
The law firm and the California Department of Transportation spokesman told the AP that the communications were appropriate to educate the public about the new transportation law.