State highway officials are using their public offices to lend credibility to a public relations front group created by a foreign red light camera company. On September 27, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) held its annual meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio where it celebrated the “special achievement” of the Traffic Safety Coalition. This group, which is run by a public relations firm retained by the Australian photo enforcement firm Redflex Traffic Systems, accepted the Peter K. O’Rourke Special Achievement Award.
GHSA is a non-profit organization that “receives a substantial part of its support from a governmental unit or from the general public,” according to its tax returns. Its primary members are state transportation officials who use GHSA to lobby on behalf of programs that increase the issuance of traffic tickets.
“In 2010, traffic safety camera programs in Illinois were under assault,” the GHSA notice for the Traffic Safety Coalition award explained. “A small but vocal minority of camera opponents were spreading misinformation to media, decision makers, legislators and the general public. In response, the Traffic Safety Coalition quickly assembled a diverse group of safety advocates to conduct a vast education and advocacy program to show how traffic safety cameras are effective at deterring dangerous and illegal driving behavior… Facing opposition from misinformed members of the public and the state legislature, the Coalition worked to reshape public opinion on traffic safety cameras.”
According filings with the Texas Secretary of State, the Traffic Safety Coalition consists of three directors: David Goldenberg, Gregory Goldner and David Smolensky, all of whom are senior staff for Resolute Consulting, a public relations firm based in Chicago, Illinois. Redflex is listed as one of the firm’s satisfied clients.
GHSA’s award material did not disclose the Traffic Safety Coalition’s connection to Redflex. Redflex uses its group to advocate policies that advance its business opportunities through the news media. When comments come from a “coalition” it lends the appearance that the opinions expressed are those of independent, grassroots activists rather than public relations professionals with a direct financial interest in their advocacy.
“At the grassroots level, the Traffic Safety Coalition engaged community members in outreach to legislators and local media outlets, including the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, WGN and Daily Herald,” GHSA explained. “It produced printed materials to explain the benefits of automated enforcement and built an interactive website.”
Though GHSA and the Redflex group claim opponents of photo radar constitute a minority, traffic cameras opponents have proved to be an actual majority winning sixteen out of sixteen election contests, often by substantial margins.