Pay-to-Play Returns

*Trial of PR executives may shed light on City Hall corruption


It all seems so long ago: The Hahn administration, Deputy Mayor Troy Edwards, P.R. giant Fleishman-Hillard and its crooked deal with the Department of Water and Power.

Remember? This is the scandal once known as "pay-to-play."

It's the scandal that ultimately forced Fleishman-Hillard to enter into a face-saving $5.7 million settlement with the city, and which helped to bring down James Hahn's political career.

But just because the voters dumped Hahn doesn't mean the scandal is over - or that the sort of corruption it exposed doesn't still continue.

That's what makes the trial, starting today, of two former Fleishman-Hillard executives so important.

To recap: Fleishman-Hillard, which funneled campaign donations to Hahn and provided him with free P.R. advice, got a sweetheart, $3 million-a-year deal with the DWP. Why a public utility - one that has a monopoly in its market - needed that sort of high-powered advice was a mystery. But an even bigger mystery is why the firm didn't simply find make-work to do for all that cash. Instead, it overbilled the city.

That caught the attention of Controller Laura Chick, as well as county and federal prosecutors. And now, two years later, the company's former L.A. chief, Doug Dowie, and John Stodder, a senior vice president , face felony charges.

Whatever the outcome, the trial should be useful for showing us how the dirty deals in City Hall - though often technically legal - rely on a presumed quid pro quo.

A federal court jury will decide the fate of Dowie and Stodder, but whatever the verdict, the real culprits - city officials who benefited from their "free" advice, and actively helped, or deliberately turned a blind eye to, what was going on - should not get off scot-free.

It's hopeful that this trial will yield useful information for investigators trying to get to the heart of "pay-to-play." All public officials responsible, whether still in office or not, need to be held accountable. That way, future leaders might learn a lesson about the peril of betraying the public trust.

See the article on Los Angeles Daily News website

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