The $31,000 Question
Imagine you're running for mayor of Los Angeles and a
reporter discovers that at least 20 employees at two
related Florida companies have, combined, donated about
$31,000 to your campaign. The reporter telephones these
contributors â€" whose donations, thanks to
city law, are public record â€" and finds that
some of them can't explain why they gave $1,000 to a
politician running for office in a city 3,000 miles away
and others can't even remember writing a check. So the
reporter asks you why these folks in Florida would
give you so much money.
(a) "If there are questions about contributions, we will
look into them immediately and take action."
(b) "They think it's time for a change. People are
supporting me because people have seen over the last four
years we have an administration that's adrift."
(c) "I don't know that anybody's shown that anybody's done
anything wrong yet."
Anyone with an ounce of sense can tell you that the best
response under these circumstances is "a." It was the
answer delivered in writing by Ace Smith, campaign manager
for City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, who is running
for mayor and did face that question this week.
But before Smith could get to him, Villaraigosa himself
answered "b," a peculiar response that managed to be both
relentlessly "on message" and completely off target. (We'll
get to "c" in a bit). What kind of change, exactly, would
these Florida workers want that a future mayor of Los
Angeles could deliver?
That is the $31,000 question.
A quick primer on Los Angeles campaign finance laws: It is
not illegal for multiple employees of a company to donate
to the same candidate. It is not illegal for a company that
does or wants to do business with a city to contribute to a
candidate either. It is illegal to pressure
employees to donate or to reimburse them to get around city
laws capping campaign contributions.
We're not saying that's what happened here. But when two
dozen employees of an out-of-town company whose president
once held a lucrative concessions contract at Los Angeles
International Airport make contributions that many can't
remember and few can explain, it does tend to raise a red
flag. And if it raises that flag for reporters, it should
have done the same for Villaraigosa and Smith, who finally
had the sense late Thursday to just send the money
Mayor James K. Hahn, who specializes in calling the kettle
black, wasted no time in asking the city Ethics Commission
to look into the Villaraigosa contributions. The mayor's
response to questions about criminal investigations into
his own administration's fundraising and contracting
practices, by the way, was "c." Memo to his campaign
staff: It would probably sound better if he dropped the
See the article on Los Angeles Times website