Last Tuesday, Councilman Kevin McKeown requested that his colleagues vote to ask city staff to look at additional campaign financial disclosure regulations involving City Council members who’ve received campaign contributions from a person, company or entity with business before the council — primarily development, zoning and land-use issues. He suggested requiring verbal disclosure of those contributions when their items are before the dais for review or approval.
McKeown’s request was shot down 6-2 with Councilman Bob Holbrook absent. The vote went exactly as I expected. “Yes” votes were from McKeown and Bobby Shiver, who did not accept contributions from developers. Pam O’Connor, Terry O’Day, Gleam Davis and Mayor Richard Bloom, who’ve accepted developer or developer-related largess (in each case, well into the thousands of dollars) voted “no.”
O’Connor, who has a long history of receiving campaign contributions from developers and special interests, played the “what if” game by asking about people with a stake in a development who are “not obvious.” What if we have people “who have a real monetary interest in a project not happening,” as opposed to someone directly backing a project?
O’Connor claimed it was hard to remember her contributors. Maybe not every $100 or $250 contributor, but how can she forget Macerich, who has supported her generously with nearly $5,000 in contributions from employees and associates since 2005?
By the way, Macerich’s next project is the redevelopment of the Albertsons/Big 5 property at 3105 Wilshire Blvd. They’ll need a development agreement from the council because of the predicted size and scale of the project. And, they need O’Connor’s support.
Or Hines (who is seeking a development agreement for the defunct Paper Mate property on Olympic Boulevard) and its associates who contributed $4,250 in 2008, $250 in 2009 and another $3,500 in 2010 to O’Connor? Or NMS Properties, Luzatto/Village Trailer Park, Maxser and the Edward Thomas Collection (Shutters and Casa del Mar hotels) and others that have contributed $1,000 or more over just the last two years?
Gleam Davis voiced a number of reasons why trying to regulate disclosure wouldn’t work. She asked about someone who works for a company doing business with the city who gives money to a candidate on their own and not because they were influenced to give by the company. She also wondered if she would have to list everyone who contributed to an independent committee that endorsed her such as the hundreds of people who contributed to Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights.
Davis concluded that if “a columnist with the Daily Press didn’t seem to have problems finding campaign figures” nobody else would. But, my research last week still took a few hours and listed only those contributors identified with specific developers and their partners. I didn’t spend time Googling all the “retired,” “businessman,” “housewife” and “real estate professional” contributors to see if they were possibly connected to key developers. Most likely, some developer affiliates contributing to campaigns slipped under the radar.
Davis and others know very few voters will bother to do the research let alone try to figure out who the contributors are and their connections to deep-pocketed business interests.
Calling it a “feel good measure,” Terry O’Day opined that who contributed to a campaign “distracts from the real substance of the issue” (project). He also had problems trying to determine out of his hundreds of campaign contributors “who is in and who is out?” If O’Day can’t figure it out, how would the average voter do it?
McKeown reminded his colleagues that these were all questions for staff to address. However, Bloom responded that it would be a never-ending process and that many issues would never be resolved. “The debate will go on and on,” he predicted.
O’Connor cut to the chase. She charged that this was not an issue of transparency. “There’s political motivation, here” she stated and went on to suggest that contributions could be “characterized as nefarious” and encourage “actions that could be used to politicize the land use issues in front of us.” As if they aren’t already.
O’Connor also raised the other issue of who is trying to influence a council person ”by talking to us” (as opposed to giving money) which is not in the public record. She opposed McKeown’s proposal because “it doesn’t go far enough.” Cough.
I guess council members could oppose everything that comes before them because of unintended consequences, or that the proposal being voted on “doesn’t go far enough.” If that were the case, nothing would get done.
Revealing who is trying to buy influence will be left up to the media. With that coverage comes reporting, interpretation and comment. Being that most of our elected officials dismiss comment, especially criticism, it will be business as usual.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.