Donors to Turnout Initiative Linked to Sales Tax Campaign

Council President Herb Wesson
Council President Herb Wesson
Herb Wesson / via Facebook

On the face of it, it's not obvious why Garment Line, a Vernon-based clothing manufacturer, would care about voter turnout in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, on Feb. 4 the company donated $25,000 to Citizens for Increased Voter Participation, the committee that has been organized to support Charter Amendments 1 and 2 on the March 3 ballot.

The amendments would shift L.A. city and school board elections to even years, aligning them with state and federal elections. Supporters say the move would increase turnout. Opponents say the measure would make campaigns more expensive, which would work in favor of special interests.

Garment Line's stake in the matter remains murky. The owner, Michael Chang, did not return a call seeking comment. But the contribution fit a pattern: Most of the committee's donors also supported Measure A, the failed 2013 initiative that would have raised the city's sales tax.

And there is another connection between the two measures. If the city moves its elections to the presidential cycle, the City Council will have an easier time passing future tax increases.

Both ballot measures originated with Herb Wesson, the council president. And many of the businesses that contributed to both campaigns have business before the council.

Among those companies are Clear Channel Outdoor, based in San Antonio, Texas, and the Lamar Companies, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Clear Channel Outdoor contributed $25,000 to the Campaign for Increased Voter Participation. It also gave $75,000 to the campaign to pass Measure A, which was defeated on the March 2013 ballot. The Lamar Companies gave $10,000 to each campaign.

Both companies are seeking permission to install digital billboards in L.A. Digital billboards are far more profitable than static billboards, but neighborhood groups object that they create visual blight. The council is now working on an ordinance that would legalize some digital billboards in certain areas.

Another donor to both campaigns is the L.A. County Federation of Labor. The labor group gave $50,000 to the committee to pass Measure A, and another $25,000 to Citizens for Increased Voter Participation. The labor group has a vested interest in the sales tax increase. The initiative would have raised the city's sales tax by 1/2 cent, bringing in $215 million a year. That would have made it easier for city employees to bargain for wage increases. 

Excel Property Management, based in West Hollywood, also contributed $25,000 to both campaigns.

Fernando Guerra, the co-chair of Citizens for Increased Voter Participation, said the group is not running a "big-money campaign."

"Our donors are giving to Charter Amendments 1 and 2 because it's good public policy that increases voter participation and saves the city millions of dollars," he said.

Mike Eveloff, president of the advocacy group Fix the City, said he is voting against the charter amendments because it would dilute the power of grassroots voters.

"It makes me extra wary when I see a convergence of special interests on something," he said.


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