The California Fair Political Practices Commission is investigating phone calls reportedly made by former State Sen. Dick Ackerman to state legislators on behalf of the Orange County Fair Board in the days when the Orange County Fairgrounds was being put up for sale in 2009, FPPC officials confirmed Friday.
The state agency launched its investigation earlier this month following a report on the Voice of OC website, which claimed that Ackerman submitted legal billings to the Fair Board. According to the Voice of OC, records detailed calls that Ackerman made to state legislators in July 2009, about the time when then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger put the 150-acre property on the auction block.
As a state senator from 2000-08, Ackerman was prohibited from lobbying state lawmakers for one year from his last day in office, according to California law. The Fair Board hired Ackerman after the grounds went on sale, relying on him as its liaison with local and state officials.
FPPC officials are investigating if Ackerman's contact with lawmakers like Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) and Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Anaheim) constituted lobbying. Ackerman is not prohibited from lobbying Orange County supervisors or the governor's office, county prosecutors said Friday.
This wouldn't be the first time that authorities investigated Ackerman for illegal lobbying. The Orange County district attorney's office investigated the same claim last year and found nothing.
"We pursued the evidence to the point that we proved there was no illegal lobbying," said William Feccia, the Orange County senior assistant district attorney in charge of special assignments.
"We didn't have those billing records," Feccia said. "We interviewed Mr. Ackerman three times. He seemed very knowledgeable about the law of lobbying he was quoting it to us. He seemed to know the limitations of what he could and could not do."
The district attorney's office launched its investigation following media reports that Ackerman was hired as lobbyist by the Fair Board. Investigators based their inquiries on evidence presented to them, and nothing indicated Ackerman had made calls to state legislators, Feccia said.
Feccia is confident that the FPPC investigation will support his office's findings.
"Frankly, I would be surprised if they find anything," he said.
The sale of the fairgrounds is in limbo.
Gov. Jerry Brown has not announced if he plans to keep the property up for sale, and a bid to buy the land by Newport Beach-based Facilities Management West is tied up in appeals court until at least March.
Efforts to reach Ackerman by telephone and e-mail Friday were unsuccessful.