Campaigns for both City Councilman Paul Koretz and challenger Jesse Creed are crying foul, claiming the other is being supported by shady, unscrupulous super PACs — unlimited, difficult-to-trace donations.
The Koretz campaign has filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission against an independent expenditure committee (aka super PAC) supporting Creed, the 31-year-old attorney running against the two-term councilman in the Westside's District 5.
The complaint concerns a $15,000 donation made by Creed's aunt, Donna Optican, to the Committee to Protect Our Neighborhoods.
In Los Angeles, there are strict limits on how much money individual contributors can give candidates in local elections. But donations to independent expenditure committees are unlimited, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that these types of independent campaigns are free speech. According to state regulations, independent expenditure committees must identify, in any advertisement, who their biggest donors are. The independent expenditure committees (or I.E.s) also must be independent from the candidate's campaign; no coordination between the two entities is allowed. The California Fair Political Practices Commission considers any I.E. "established, run, staffed in a leadership role or principally funded by an individual who is an immediate family member of the candidate" to be coordination.
It's unclear whether a candidate's aunt is considered to be an immediate family member. That is for the California Fair Political Practices Commission (or FPPC) to decide, and since a complaint has been filed, the board isn't commenting on it.
Earlier this week, Koretz's chief political consultant, Parke Skelton, blasted Creed, writing in an email, “Jesse Creed is trying to make a mockery of L.A.’s ethics laws. We call upon Creed to return the illegal contributions and shut down this committee immediately. We will seek immediate relief from the FPPC on this matter.”
Creed confirmed to L.A. Weekly that he has an aunt named Donna Optican, but said he had no knowledge of the Super PAC or who was giving money to it.
The Creed campaign, meanwhile, has hit back, objecting to an independent expenditure committee supporting Koretz that calls itself the Progressive Growth PAC.
A mailer sent out by the Progressive Growth PAC, supporting Koretz, identifies four major donors: Sunset Health Realty LLC; Elizabeth Place Holdings LLC; Leo Y. Lee; and Rosco Capital LLC. According to documents on the California Secretary of State's website, both Sunset Health Realty and Elizabeth Place Holdings list, as a manager, Ara Tavitian, a developer who, along with his brother Avedis, is building the Reef, a controversial high-rise apartment building in South L.A. Though the Reef is not in Koretz's district, he did vote to approve the project, along with the rest of City Council.
"This is the latest of Paul Koretz's pay-to-play donations, and perhaps the biggest one," Creed said in a written statement. "This type of corrupt politics is exactly what is wrong with City Hall."
According to documents provided by the City Ethics Commission, the Progressive Growth PAC's principal officer is John Ek, the lobbyist who was recently fined by the ethics commission for hosting a $51,000 birthday party and inviting city officials. Ek did not respond to our request for comment. City campaign laws forbid lobbyists from donating money directly to candidates but not to independent expenditure committees.
Koretz is being supported by three other super PACs, the largest of which is run by the L.A. County Federation of Labor. That has earned Koretz some criticism as well, since he chairs the City Council's Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee, which among other things deals with city employee relations and contracts.
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"First of all, I didn’t ask for it, and I didn’t want it," Koretz said when we asked about the super PAC last week. "The I.E. from labor is a little bit cynical and is probably costing me votes."
The mailers from the super PAC, Koretz pointed out, all say "Vote No on Measure S," the controversial ballot measure that seeks to curb large-scale development. While Koretz has recently come out against Measure S, he hasn't been campaigning against it and is somewhat reluctant to have his face and the phrase "Vote No on Measure S" on the same piece of mail.
"I’m assuming that S passes by a good margin in our district," Koretz said. "We’re a slow-growth district."
He added: "That labor I.E. is kind of a disaster. It's clearly not designed for my benefit."