Burson's CA voter push on hold amid probe

SACRAMENTO, CA: A voter-education initiative the California secretary of state's office awarded to Burson-Marsteller is in limbo because that office is under scrutiny.

SACRAMENTO, CA: A voter-education initiative the California secretary of state's office awarded to Burson-Marsteller is in limbo because that office is under scrutiny.

The office awarded Burson a $7 million contract to educate voters, and drive voter registration and turnout. But the state legislature, the Department of Finance, and the governor's office are withholding the federal funding for the program, Carol Dahmen, communications director for state secretary Kevin Shelley, confirmed.

The state auditor is looking into whether state grant money was illegally diverted to Shelley's 2002 campaign, as well as into whether his office has improperly used federal funds for the voter initiative.

Critics have accused Shelley of awarding no-bid contracts to political allies using money from the federal Help America Vote Act. While the Burson contract uses funds from that law, it was not a no-bid contract, and an agency review was held before awarding it to Burson, Dahmen explained.

So right now the initiative is in limbo until the state government releases the funding to the secretary of state, said Dahmen.

When, and if, the funds are released, Burson's offices in Washington, DC, and Sacramento will work together on the initiative. The agency is working on similar voter-education programs in South Carolina and Ohio, said Richard Mintz, chairman of Burson's US public affairs practice.

"We're still hoping to ramp up activities this fall as quickly as possible," said Mintz.

Burson's Sacramento office has also hit a hurdle with another contract.

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority recently postponed awarding a public education contract to the agency to make sure the entire VTA board had all the information about it, in light of criticism from the San Jose Mercury News.

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