Failures of California’s “First 5” Commissions (and other additions to our Blogroll!)

You may have noticed – well probably not – that I added a few new blogs to our “blogroll” at the bottom of our front page (and removed a few.)  Most notably I added “Flopped 5” which despite its silly-sounding name is a devastating, thorough, and beautifully written assault on California’s First 5 Commissions. (Also known as the “California Children and Families First Commissions”)

And if you remember hearing about those Commissions on this blog, it was due to our friend Tony Bushala’s multi-part, cross-posted exposé of former “conservative” blogger Matt “Jubal” Cunningham‘s extensive paid publicity work for this bloated liberal program – an exposé which probably helped propel Matt to his retreat and current shameless immersion in well-paid behind-the-scenes “consulting” work.  We won’t get into all that right here, except that it explains the disquieting juxtaposed image to the right.

Just in case you don’t know what California’s “First 5 Commissions” are, I will crib (with a bit of liberty) from the intro of the Flopped 5 blog:

In 1998, California voters (barely) approved Proposition 10 under the financing and social pressure brought forth by actor/director Rob “Meathead” Reiner;  thus, Proposition 10 is also referred to as “the Meathead Law”, a nickname that sometimes shows up in articles on the topic.  Proposition 10 added a 50 cent tax per pack of cigarettes and a similar tax on other tobacco products. Revenues from the measure were supposed to be used to fund a variety of education, health, and childcare programs to promote early childhood development from the prenatal stage to age 5.

Since its inception, this program has pulled in $7.5 billion – about $590 million a year, which has dropped more recently to $500 million as smoking becomes less popular.  20% of this money is administered at the state level, and the other 80% goes to the commissions in each of our 58 counties – “public foundations” with very little oversight or accountability, whose misdeeds, tomfoolery and hinkiness are exhaustively documented on the Flopped 5 Blog.

Also well documented is the conflicts of interest and self-dealing that were built into the program from its inception.  As well as all the anecdotes of abuse and foolishness you could shake a stick at.

I say a blog that takes a critical look at a multi-billion dollar public program which itself spends $34 million a year on mass media, “consultants,” and propagandists like Jubal, just to keep the public and lawmakers feeling warm and fuzzy about the program, is by definition invaluable, and worthy of the place on our “state blogroll” that they requested.

I believe we liberals should be the first to call for the discontinuation or radical reform of our originally well-intentioned programs when they morph into something much worse than envisioned.  Even Mr. Reiner (a conservative bete-noir) has begun to distance himself from the commissions.  As the authors wrote me, “We have been amused at that and think that Reiner might turn on them at some point – telling folks that this agency is not what he had in mind – in part, our website is designed to help him get there.

What could and should be done about the First 5 Commissions?  That half-billion a year, along with the billion they have in reserves (unspent largely due to incompetence, not thriftiness) is sorely needed either in the general fund or in Medi-Cal.  But when Governor Brown and the legislature tried to make that happen, they were shot down by a judge, who ruled correctly that a program created by a popular initiative could only be discontinued by a popular vote.

But even short of all that, the Flopped 5 blog already seems to be spurring reform – their study on possible institutional racism in the system, in the apparent favoring of latino kids and neglect of blacks, seems to have led to policy changes in certain counties;  while their exposé on First 5 Contra Costa distributing lead-contaminated toys has spurred that board into action, if tardy and insufficient.

The Flopped Five blog includes this poll, asking what you think should be done with the funds;  it assumes the reader agrees the commissions should be abolished;  here are the results as the poll stands now:

It’s nice that the vast majority of Flopped Five readers are concerned with Medi-Cal, and only a quarter of them yearn for a return to the days of cheaper cigarettes.  Still, this would be a more useful poll – for taking after you check out their site:

[poll id=”313″]

Also, if you have any arguments or criticisms of what is on the Flopped 5 site, leave them here, as they don’t seem to have a comment section there.



California Political Review

Halfway To Concord


Talking Points Memo

Glenn Greenwald

Daily Kos

Hullaballoo, by Digby

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.