Brian Jones spending taxpayer funds for ads during election campaign

State Senator Brian Jones is spending taxpayer funds on ads and promotional events of himself during an election campaign.

State Senator Brian Jones, a Republican candidate for Congress in San Diego County’s hotly contested 50th District, has used taxpayer funds to distribute announcements, host promotional events, and blitz social media with targeted advertisements in the middle of his congressional campaign and just weeks before voters cast ballots, a California Political Review investigation has revealed.

The California government-funded communications – ostensibly to promote more than a half-dozen events – displayed Jones’ name prominently and repeatedly, giving the state lawmaker a critical, and controversial, tax-payer backed advantage in his congressional campaign.

It is unclear how much money in taxpayer funds Jones has spent on self-promotion. California Political Review has filed a Legislative Open Records Act request to identify all taxpayer-funded expenditures by Jones’ State Senate office on promotional activities, social media ads and campaign-style mailers.

State Law Bans Campaigning with Taxpayer Funds

Jones’ actions are raising serious legal and ethical questions at a time when state officials have stepped up enforcement of illegal campaigning with public resources.

Under state law, it is illegal for elected officials “to use or permit others to use public resources for a campaign activity.” In addition to a ban on direct spending for advertisements and mailers, the provision includes a ban on government employees’ work hours and the use of other government assets, such as computers, video cameras, and office buildings.

Over the past year, Jones’ Senate office has purchased Facebook advertisements that have resulted in as many as 137,000 impressions with Jones’ name, likeness and image.

Last fall, after he had formally announced his campaign for Congress, Jones spent between $100 and $199 of government funds on sophisticated Facebook advertisements to promote a November “legislative open house” event, The ads, which ran for a full month, included 10 references to Jones and garnered as many as 6,000 impressions.

According to publicly-available records posted on Facebook’s Transparency page, Jones has used at least $500 in government funds to sponsor social media advertisements, a figure that does not include the production cost, staff time, venue fees, or amount of money spent other forms of voter contact.

“We need to get our spending under control,” Jones promises on his campaign website under a heading on his Fiscal Responsibility.

Brian Jones Copies Tax Hike Playbook

Jones’ actions echo recent scandals in which government officials in Los Angeles and San Francisco have been caught using government resources to promote tax increases.

In 2018, the Fair Political Practices Commission found that Bay Area Rapid Transit officials had violated state law by using government resources to campaign for Measure RR, a $3.5 billion bond measure and property tax hike on the 2016 General Election ballot.  The FPPC asked the state attorney general and local prosecutors in Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco to bring criminal charges against BART officials.

“BART used YouTube videos, social media posts, and text messages to promote Measure RR,” the FPPC wrote in its December enforcement action.

In 2017, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission against the County of Los Angeles for spending more than $1 million to promote Measure H, a half-cent sales tax increase.

“While public funds can be used for informational material that is balanced, it cannot engage in electioneering,” Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, told the Los Angeles Times.

Last year, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed a similar complaint challenging Los Angeles Unified School District’s use of public resources to support passage of Measure EE, a school parcel tax.

Prop 73: Voters Ban Newsletters and Mass Mailings

It is not known whether Jones also distributed physical mailers as part of his taxpayer-funded promotional campaign. However, Jones’ state office distributed a flyer for an East County Town Hall event in August. Buried in fine print at the bottom of the flyer was an important disclaimer: “Printing and/or redistribution of this flyer, other than by email, is prohibited.”

By including the disclaimer and transmitting the flyer electronically, Jones’ office had exploited a loophole in state law. Proposition 73, a 1988 voter-approved ballot measure, explicitly bans state and local officials from sending newsletters and mass mailings at public expense.

Although the social media advertisements and promotional flyers do not directly reference his congressional campaign or the March 3rd primary, campaign experts say that the taxpayer-funded advertisements provide little-known candidates, such as Jones, with an unfair, government-funded advantage by boosting name identification.

“Your name is the name of the game,” State Senator Quentin L. Kopp, a co-author of Prop. 73 famously quipped.

Hypocrisy: Jones Claims to Be Taxpayer Watchdog

This isn’t the first time the state lawmaker has been accused of abusing taxpayer funds for his own personal benefit.

In 2016, an Associated Press investigation revealed that, while serving in the State Assembly, Jones had collected $840 in per diem payments for days when he didn’t show up for work. Under state law, per diem payments are intended to compensate lawmakers for living expense while performing official duties in Sacramento, such as attending a floor session or committee hearing.

While spending government funds on self-promotion, Jones has sold himself to voters as a fiscal conservative and taxpayer watchdog. He has frequently published YouTube videos criticizing government spending with the tagline, “Are you kidding me!”

“Taxpayer dollars being spent throwing big parties during working hours,” Jones says in one such video. “Are you kidding me!”

Comments

  1. The Captive says

    Is Brian Jones kidding us ? or is he conning us? Why is he doing this and not answering for it? Still waiting for an answer too.

  2. I can’t figure out whether you think you are helping Issa or Omar …. do tell who you hope to help with these allegations in the midst of voting?

  3. Bill Brough has done the same thing.

  4. LEE J DE MEO says

    Get over it. Jones is allowed to spend taxpayer money to promote events where he meets his constituents of his State Senate District.

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