FIRMS, UNIONS HAVE STAKE IN KEEPING COUNCIL MEMBERS IN OFFICE
The Daily News of Los Angeles
Special interests bankrolling a November ballot measure to give Los Angeles City Council members an extra four-year term have also contributed $129,000 to council members’ political campaigns and officeholder accounts, according to city Ethics Commission records.
The contributions have come over the past four years from a cadre of unions, individuals and companies that do significant business with the city. As a group, they have contributed $144,500 to extend council members’ terms.
A. Jerrold Perenchio, who served as chairman and chief executive officer of Spanish-language television network Univision until it was recently sold, has given $25,000 to Proposition R on the Nov. 7 ballot and has personally contributed $4,000 to sitting council members.
KB Home has added an additional $10,000 in support of the measure, while the company and its employees have given $6,250 to council members’ coffers.
And $7,500 has been donated by the law firm O’Melveny & Myers and its political action committee. The firm and its employees have spent $33,200 on current council members and have received more than $8 million in the past five years for providing outside legal advice to the city.
Backers of the proposition, which includes an ethics-reform package, have said it should be judged on its merits and not on who is financing it.
But watchdog groups said the contributions underscore “business as usual” at City Hall as special interests spend big bucks to protect their investments.
“Of course, the special interests want to maintain the status quo as long as they can. They know what they have and how to wield influence. They know how the game works,” said Doug Heller, executive director of The Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights, a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer and political accountability group based in Santa Monica.
“They give money to the politicians and they give money to initiatives that will preserve these politicians in power. It’s what happens when you have a political structure that depends on money.
“Money flows and money talks.”
Ethics Commission records also raise questions about the influence of lobbyists in supporting the measure. Some provisions of Proposition R would make restrictions on lobbyists part of the City Charter, not just city policy.
Change of plan
Last month, the Yes on Measure R campaign accepted $7,500 from O’Melveny & Myers and its political action committee. The firm, a longtime registered lobbyist, ended its city lobbying activities Aug. 1.
Stephen J. Kaufman, the campaign’s treasurer and counsel, said the campaign will not accept contributions from lobbyists.
But Kaufman said it would keep the O’Melveny money because the law firm has stopped its lobbying.
“I think there’s a big difference between a big law firm in the city with many functions … that is very distinguishable from firms solely in the business of lobbying,” he said.
But Jason Lyon, co-chairman of the campaign opposing the measure, said being a registered lobbyist in the recent past is a relevant issue.
“They don’t have a case pending before the city, but they have in the past and will in the future,” he said.
Pacific Energy Group LLC, developing a deep-water terminal and distribution system for crude oil at the Port of Los Angeles, has an in-house registered lobbyist.
The term-limits campaign accepted a $5,000 check from the company to support Proposition R.
David E. Wright, executive vice president of corporate development for Pacific Energy Management LLC, the managing general partner of Pacific Energy Group, is registered as a lobbyist with the city.
Kaufman said the company was allowed to contribute because it’s not a lobbying firm.
“They’re a lobbyist employer. If we started looking at every lobbyist employer, it’s just about everyone,” he said.
Pacific Energy Group’s project is expected to cost the company $315 million and the port an additional $50 million. With a Byzantine regulatory process and the need for Port Commission and City Council approval, Wright said council longevity is critical.
“With a project this long, you hate to see change in leadership if you can avoid it. It takes time for people to come up to speed on these projects,” Wright said.
Pacific Energy Group has contributed $6,500 to sitting council members’ campaigns and officeholder accounts, and has a cadre of lobbyists and public-relations firms talking to council members and other officials on the Pier 400 Project.
That includes Evelyn Fierro, former chief of staff to Rep. Jane Harman, D-El Segundo, who also contributed $500 to Proposition R and has given $1,000 to San Pedro-area Councilwoman Janice Hahn.
“It’s the things that people do in the city to try to get attention on large projects,” Wright said.
Hahn has so far received the most political backing from Proposition R supporters or their employees, at $23,300. That’s followed by $15,575 for Tony Cardenas, $14,450 for Tom LaBonge, and $13,800 for Eric Garcetti.
Other contributors to Proposition R include companies controlled by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, owner of the downtown Staples Center. His firms have contributed $25,000 to Proposition R, while sending $5,275 from the firm and their employees to council members’ campaigns or accounts.
AEG is committed to investing about $1 billion on a sports and entertainment center across from Staples. A linchpin of the project, which AEG calls l.a.live, is a 54-story hotel and condominium complex the City Council agreed to help fund with up to $300 million in a below-market-rate loan, tax breaks and fee waivers.
Two of the city’s largest and most influential unions — United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Local 112 and the Los Angeles Police Protective League — together have spent $32,500 to support Proposition R.
The firefighters union has spent $28,250 on current City Council members’ political efforts, while the police union has contributed $16,500, records show.
Growth of city
Bond Capital Ltd., which completed a $160 million project incorporating the TAV Celebrity Theater at Sunset and Vine in Hollywood, has two other condo projects in Hollywood and a mixed retail/residential project in Chinatown.
The company also has contributed $10,000 to back Proposition R, as well as $6,500 to current council members.
“The politicians who become elected start to understand the process of government and then they’re out of office,” said Larry Bond, chairman of the real-estate investment and development firm.
“Look at the growth of the city. We’re not talking repairing potholes, but a major economic region and what’s the best way to create housing, jobs, employment growth and keeping the economy growing in a positive way. It takes politicians years to learn the process, and by the time they get up to speed, they’re campaigning for re-election.”
Torrance-based JCC Homes has developments throughout the region and contributed $5,000 to the Proposition R campaign. The company and its employees have backed Councilwoman Hahn with $8,900 in contributions. JCC President Greg Delgado said the firm is supporting the measure, mainly because of Hahn.
“She’s termed-out at the end of this term, and we think she’s a great leader and would like to see her remain in office, in general,” Delgado said. “A new person might not have the same capabilities she has. It would be a shame to lose her.”
Jeffrey Shell, president of Comcast Corp.’s programming group in Philadelphia, contributed $500 to the Proposition R campaign, saying he was asked to contribute by his friend Tim Leiweke, president of AEG.
“It had nothing to do with my employment here. I’m good friends with Tim Leiweke, and to tell you the honest truth, he gave me a (brief) explanation on the proposition and why it was important. I don’t remember what it was, but it seemed sensible and I decided to give. It was a personal favor to a friend.”
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