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U-T also collects county slush money

August 17, 2010 - 6:21 pm


Yesterday, the San Diego Union-Tribune‘s “Watchdog” team published a story that analyzed how $315,000 in San Diego County public money funded faith-based organizations.

What the U-T might also have examined is how the newspaper itself will benefit from Neighborhood Reinvestment Program grants (aka, the Board of Supervisors’ “slush fund”). Thanks to Supervisor Ron Roberts and the Century Club of San Diego, the U-T has picked up an exclusive $45,000 advertising contract, more than half of which will be funded by tax dollars.

Do not be confused: The Century Club is not a gathering of fraternity brothers who can drink a shot glass of beer every minute for 100 minutes. The club is the civic organization that, for 48 years, has organized and promoted San Diego’s annual PGA Tour event.

It used to be called the Buick Invitational, but for 2011, it will have a new title sponsor. The Jan. 24 through 30 tournament will be called the Farmers Insurance Open. (Clarification: 2010 was also called the Farmers Insurance Open when the company stepped up at the last minute.)

The Century Club asked Roberts to sponsor a $25,000 grant to help pay for the tournament’s $45,000 rebranding campaign. On June 29, 2010, the Supervisors approved the request. The Union-Tribune is the sole media outlet that will be paid out of the grant.

According to the application form (pdf), the media buy includes:

  • Eight-inch advertisements in the U-T‘s Sports section that will run on Dec. 13 and 20 and Jan. 10. $3,540 each.
  • E-mail blasts to 31,689 U-T subscribers on Dec. 15 and Jan. 12. $1,792 each.
  • 110,000 spectator guides that will be published by the U-T and distributed to “select Union-Tribune subscribers” on the Monday of the tournament week. $31,648.

So, in addition to the advertising, the U-T gets to offer its readers an exclusive publication subsidized by tax dollars.

Here’s the irony: Last fall the U-T editorial board railed against this kind of spending, using Roberts’ $20,000 grant to build a “self-reflection garden” at a state prison as a rhetorical conceit:

We wish Slater-Price, Roberts, Dianne Jacob, Bill Horn and Greg Cox would take a trip to the prison and sit in the garden and reflect on the utter inappropriateness of the board doling out more than $100 million in taxpayer-provided slush funds since 1998. They could also reflect on the outrageousness of the slush funds surviving the budget ax that has felled so many much more worthy county projects and programs the past year because of plunging revenue due to the deep recession.

Then, after all this self-reflection, Slater-Price, Roberts, Jacob, Horn and Cox could figure out their obvious course of action: They should kill the slush funds.

It seems to me the editorial board needs to roll up its newly redesigned paper and give its own slush puppies a spanking.

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