By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Villaraigosa raised $1.1 million, one-fourth of it from powerful Westside developers, for his Mayor’s Committee for Governmental Excellence and Accountability, the political team of campaign consultants, opposition researchers and lawyers that helped him win passage of a bill in Sacramento that gave him new powers at L.A. Unified. The mayor registered his committee as the type that gives money to ballot measures, then spent the special-interest money on a Sacramento lobbying blitz instead, said Fred Woocher, an attorney representing L.A. Unified.
If Villaraigosa wanted to spend money on lobbying, he would have had to do so through his officeholder account — which, under city law, can collect only $75,000 per year, Woocher said. Instead, Villaraigosa blew the lid off those fund-raising limits by raking in six-figure contributions for his ballot-measure campaign, said Woocher, who sent a letter to the Ethics Commission and the Fair Political Practices Commission asking for an investigation.
“This sham has permitted the mayor to accept huge campaign contributions from persons with business before the City of Los Angeles — circumventing the intent of city law to prevent precisely such ‘pay for play politics,’ ” Woocher wrote.
Woocher raised his complaint on October 30 in a legal filing that he submitted to a judge in the case filed against Villaraigosa’s school bill. One day later, the mayor’s committee spent its first funds on behalf of actual ballot measures: $25,000 for Proposition H, the affordable-housing bond, plus another $5,000 for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s infrastructure bond package. The two contributions were the first to go toward a ballot measure since the Villaraigosa committee was formed in February. “We filed our papers on the 30th, and they saw that we had nailed them on the fact that they hadn’t spent a nickel on a ballot measure,” Woocher added. “So they put some chump change into some ballot measures.”
Committee treasurer Stephen Kaufman referred questions to Villaraigosa campaign spokesman Nathan James, who described the ethics letter as a “frivolous complaint based on a fundamental misreading of state law.” “The [school] board should rescind this complaint, reject this tactic, terminate its contract with the firm of Strumwasser & Woocher, and get back to its job of educating kids,” said James in a prepared statement.
In an odd way, the passage of Big Reform was perfectly timed, coming in the week when the Tribune Co. ousted top editor Dean Baquet at the Los Angeles Times, layoffs hit the Daily News and the L.A. Weekly, and a “For Sale” sign was tacked onto the Daily Breeze in Torrance. Newspapers are in big, big trouble, and — from looking at the campaign over Big Reform — they aren’t especially relevant.
Newspapers repeatedly pounced on the measure, blasting its brilliant yet evil campaign. But in the end, such whining doesn’t seem to matter much, said Huizar, a newbie at City Hall, who watched the election results at the Biltmore Hotel. “Your average voter pays more attention to the mailers,” he said.
And so Big Reform’s handlers outdid even the most venal pols, who frequently wait months or even years to break a campaign promise. And a campaign rooted in cynicism is now poised to produce its own cynical offspring.