After making donations of just a few thousand or hundreds of dollars to help send local politicians off on the annual One Voice lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., area companies reaped millions by securing local government contracts.
The San Joaquin Council of Governments, the organization that coordinates One Voice, received $17,500 in donations for the annual lobbying trip, which took place last month. Of the 14 companies that contributed, the majority - eight companies - were developers or construction consulting firms.
SJCOG staff say sponsorships don't automatically translate into contracts and critics of the trip argue they're not convinced the lobbying effort even is that successful in bringing federal dollars to the county.
Sponsors of the trip are often doing business in the and public sector. For example, in the past three years the city of Lodi paid One Voice donor Teichert Construction $2.3 million to widen Kettleman Lane.
"Just because someone is contributing resources, it doesn't mean something is unethical," said county Supervisor Steve Gutierrez. "However it does cause the general public to look at those kinds of relations with a jaundice eye."
Besides Teichert, which contributed $500, SJCOG also received:
• $5,000 from Richland Planned Communities, Inc.
• $1,000 from Parsons Brinckerhoff Construction Services, Inc.
• $1,000 from Fehr and Peers Transportation Consultants
• $1,000 from AKF Development LLC
Granite Construction also chipped in $500 and SJCOG received $250 from Quincy Engineering and $100 from Derivi Construction and Architecture.
One Voice sponsorsThese companies pulled in millions in public funding during the last three years after contributing sponsorships to the annual One Voice trip.
Granite Construction: $1.38 million
Teichert: $2.03 million
Parsons Brinckerhoff: $2.6 million
Granite Construction: $5.5 million
Teichert: $7.3 million
Fehr and Peers: $291,727
San Joaquin County (including 250 special districts and
the San Joaquin Council of Governments)
Granite Construction: about $20 million
Quincy: roughly $2 million
Parsons Construction: $410,131
Fehr and Peers: $74,565
Granite Construction: $10.98 million
Sources: City Accountant Cory Wadlow (Lodi), Spokeswoman Connie Cochran (Stockton), Auditor-Controller Adrian Van Houten (San Joaquin County) and Development and Engineering Director Bill Reeds (Tracy)
How much these companies made off the private sector is difficult to determine, but how much cities and the county paid them is not.
Tracy officials doled out $74,565 to Fehr and Peers in the last three years.
"They do a lot of work for us as they are our primary transportation consultant," Development and Engineering Services Director Bill Reeds said.
During the same time, the city paid about $10.98 million to Granite Construction to remodel Central Avenue.
Reeds said Quincy Engineering is now working on a I-205 interchange, a project that will cost about $200,000. The city is using federal transit funds; money that SJCOG officials say was the result of the One Voice trip.
SJCOG Director Andy Chesley and CFO Steve Dial said that while the potential of future dollars for developers is part of their incentive to donate money to the trip, no members of his agency personally benefit from the donations.
Dial said the selection processes of the county, special districts and cities to find contractors - almost all projects are advertised and go to the most stable and lowest bidder - are all ethical.
"It's a well-documented public process," Dial said. "We don't believe that by … them giving money to the One Voice Trip they are given any preferential treatment."
Lodi Public Works Director Richard Prima and Community Development Director Randy Hatch said Fehr and Peers is now doing a traffic analysis for a project that would annex 400 acres to the city for a 2,000-home subdivision and for the city's bid to attract a Blue Shield call center. Derivi Construction is now in the process of installing a bathroom and locker room at a city building, Prima said.
None of the cities or the county contracted with AKF Development in the last three years. The company deals primarily with the private sector. AKF recently built Spreckels Park in Manteca and a 293-unit apartment complex south of Highway 120.
The same was the case with Richland Planned Communities, which is the main developer around Lathrop.
Don Troppmann, a senior consultant for Richland in Roseville, said his company gave SJCOG $5,000 with no strings attached.
"We think the principles of the council of governments serve the region very well," he said. "The One Voice trip expands their abilities to serve the region well."
He said the money was used to buy breakfast for the delegation, and that the money only helps the company indirectly.
"The benefit to Richland is that not only does the COG trip support transportation projects but it also helps the businesses in the region," he said. "It makes the region a better place to do business."
Gutierrez, who is very vocal about his opinion the One Voice trip is a waste of taxpayers' money, said appearance is the key when it comes to SJCOG accepting checks from developers.
But Chesley said his agency makes it clear to developers that a donation or sponsorship is not a promise of future business. Companies that are not awarded a contract don't have to support the One Voice trip the following year, but that usually doesn't happen.
"If they do business that way they won't do a lot of business anyway," he said.
First published: Saturday, May 6, 2006