Race Brings Donor Issues to Fore

*Mayoral candidates, Hahn included, raise bundles from those with City Hall business, despite his push for a ban on such donations.

By Noam N. Levey and Patrick McGreevy, Times Staff Writers

Candidates running for mayor of Los Angeles are raising thousands of dollars from city contractors, developers and others who do business with City Hall despite Mayor James K. Hahn's contention that such political contributions should be banned to restore the public's faith in municipal government.

Hahn and former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, who have raised the most money in the campaign, together took at least $50,000 from city contractors and their employees, according to a review of campaign finance statements from the first six months of the year.

And they took a total of more than $250,000 from companies and individuals with real estate and development interests. At least $45,000 of that money came from donors with business at City Hall, the review shows.

State Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sun Valley) and Councilman Bernard C. Parks took far less from donors with city business. But the two men, who have criticized Hahn's fundraising, have accepted checks from donors who have issues pending before them.

"It's business as usual," said reform advocate Paul Ryan of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. "It's to be expected, even if it is disappointing."

Six months ago, as prosecutors opened criminal investigations into city contracting, Hahn proposed to end much of that kind of giving, arguing that a ban on contributions from contractors and developers with interests at City Hall would "fundamentally reshape the political culture."

The mayor's proposal would ban donations from firms with city contracts and developers seeking land-use permits â€" as well as their executives and majority owners.

Because contributions from city contractors would be prohibited only from the time the city sought bids until six months after a contract was awarded, some of the contributions from contractors in the first half of this year would have been allowed even if the ban were law.

Nonexecutive employees, potentially including some law partners, in companies with city contracts would also have been free to make donations.

The mayor continues to back the sweeping reforms, which the Los Angeles Ethics Commission is scheduled to consider Tuesday.

"I am disappointed that it seems to have got caught in a fog here, and other people are playing politics with it," Hahn said last week.

But the mayor, who leads all candidates with more than $1.5 million in the bank, has refused to limit his own fundraising unless the law is changed. "Nobody is going to unilaterally disarm," he said.

Hahn's decision to keep the donations has prompted several of his opponents to accuse him of hypocrisy.

"If he was sincere in that viewpoint, he'd let his actions speak louder than words by returning them," said Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, who officially entered the race Monday and did not raise money in the first six months of the year.

All of the mayor's serious challengers have focused attacks on Hahn's practice of raising money from donors with city business.

When he entered the race in April, Hertzberg announced that he would take the "For Sale" sign down from City Hall and "put to rest the notion that this city awards contracts to the powerful few who donate to political campaigns."

Hertzberg and Alarcon have expressed support for more limitations on campaign contributions. Parks has said he does "not necessarily" support the additional limits.

But like Hahn, none of the challengers would commit to refusing money from donors who had business at City Hall.

In the last six months, Hahn has taken more than $150,000 from contractors and from development and real estate interests.

Hahn received $8,500 from executives and employees of City National Bank, which does business with the city airport and community development departments.

He accepted $1,000 from consulting firm Camp Dresser & McKee, which has done more than $15 million worth of contracting on the proposed LAX modernization, and $500 from Bruce Baltin, head of the local office of PKF Consulting, which the city has hired to conduct a financial analysis of a downtown hotel project.

And Hahn took more than $13,000 from attorneys who work at law firms that have contracts with the city. (Most of these contributions would not be banned under Hahn's proposal.)

J.H. Snyder Co. executives and their relatives gave Hahn $5,000 as the firm begins work on the city-subsidized NoHo Commons commercial development in North Hollywood.

Executives with Williams and Dane Development, which is pursuing a downtown residential project, gave $3,000. And South Park RPO, which has been seeking city approval of a condominium project at 11th Street and Grand Avenue, gave $500.

Hertzberg's campaign, which raised more money than any other campaign in the first six months of the year, earlier publicly renounced donations "from people who want to do business with the city."

But Hertzberg has accepted more than $140,000 from development interests, including at least $35,000 from major developers and real estate companies that do business with City Hall.

Among his biggest donors are executives at Arden Realty, the commercial real estate firm that negotiated last year with the mayor's office to sell the city a downtown office tower. The company and its executives â€" including Chief Executive Richard Ziman, who is a Hertzberg campaign co-chairman â€" gave the Hertzberg campaign $17,500.

Hertzberg also took $11,000 from officials at Related Cos., one of the country's largest developers and a finalist for the $1.2-billion Grand Avenue redevelopment project.

And he accepted $4,250 from officials at property management firm CB Richard Ellis, which recently brokered the city's purchase of another downtown office building.

The Hertzberg campaign has also taken money from several city contractors, including ABM Industries, the parent company of Ampco System Parking, which contracts with the city's airport agency.

And like Hahn, Hertzberg has accepted thousands of dollars from attorneys who work for law firms with city contracts, led by $13,450 from 23 attorneys in his own law firm, Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw.

Campaign finance chairman Dan Weinstein said last week that the attorneys who gave to Hertzberg were friends and that although some of Hertzberg's donors might have business with City Hall, none had been promised anything for the contribution.

"Everyone who gives to Bob Hertzberg does not expect anything in return. There is no quid pro quo," Weinstein said.

Parks and Alarcon, who have raised far less than Hahn or Hertzberg, have likewise taken less from contractors and development interests.

But Parks, who raised about $80,000 in the first six months of the year, accepted a $1,000 donation from Wal-Mart, which is a leading opponent of an ordinance expected to come before the City Council this week. The ordinance would limit so-called superstores in Los Angeles.

Parks also received $2,000 from a Safeway executive and his wife; the supermarket chain that owns Vons has supported the ordinance in the past.

"I don't think there is anything wrong as long as the people who give understand you are not returning your vote for that," Parks said. "Because you are also taking money from people who happen to have an opposing view."

Alarcon, who on the campaign trail has accused Hahn of presiding over a corrupt administration, has not relied on donors who do business with City Hall.

But the senator, like many state lawmakers, has taken tens of thousands of dollars from donors with a direct interest in his work in Sacramento, particularly on workers' compensation reform.

Alarcon, chairman of a committee that deals with workers' comp issues, took more than $50,000 from attorneys and law firms, many of whom specialize in workers' comp claims. And Alarcon's biggest single donor â€" at $7,000 â€" was the California Applicants' Attorneys Assn., a political action committee representing workers' comp lawyers.

Alarcon also accepted at least $8,000 from trucking companies and their political action committees, which also have been lobbying hard for workers' comp reform.

The senator argues that his situation is different from Hahn's because his office is not being investigated.

"The bottom line is there are no allegations of impropriety," he said. "If there were a federal investigation, then I'd say there was a double standard."

See the article on Los Angeles Times website

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

   Become a Clean Money Member