Councilman Eric Garcetti held a fundraiser at the Greystone Manor earlier this month — one of nine such events in a frantic 11 days. It drew about 150 guests, including a dozen co-hosts, each of whom agreed to give Garcetti's campaign for mayor the legal maximum: $1,000.
Among those co-hosts was Nicholas Buford-Crews, general counsel of Crews of California, a minority-owned firm that sells books and souvenirs to airline passengers.
His presence was notable because Garcetti is the author of Measure H, a voter-approved reform law that aims to stamp out political interference in city contracting. The law forbids those vying for city work from contributing to campaigns. Yet Buford-Crews' company recently won a lucrative contract at Los Angeles International Airport.
Crews of California depends utterly on city government for its survival. The firm has spent $750,000 on City Hall lobbyists in the last six years, and has a lobbyist on retainer to obtain further contracts. But Measure H applies only in the narrow window of time in which contracts are out to bid. And because no contract is currently "on the street," Buford-Crews was allowed to donate.
"We're not in the process of bidding anything," Buford-Crews tells the Weekly. "Measure H does not apply."
Buford-Crews declined to say how much he gave. Yusef Robb, Garcetti's spokesman, says Buford-Crews has not contributed. But even if he had, Robb says, that would be all right, because the council is not involved in picking airport vendors.
"You're going to see businesspeople and employees and people who would like to be employees giving to Eric Garcetti for Mayor," Robb says.
Then there's Edward Renwick. Garcetti held a fundraiser on Dec. 16 at Renwick's home. Renwick is a partner at Yucaipa Companies, the Ron Burkle–owned firm that invests money for the L.A. City Employee Retirement System. Renwick thus is barred under securities regulations from giving to Garcetti's campaign.
Robb says it was "entirely appropriate" for Garcetti to hold the fundraiser at the home. Renwick is married to Garcetti's college friend Wah Chen. Even though the event was at his house, "[Renwick] wasn't on the invite," Robb says. "He didn't contribute."
While the mayoral election is not until 2013, the battle already is under way in private events at hilltop estates. Garcetti, who entered the race in September, is under pressure to raise as much money as he can by Dec. 31, to make a show of strength when campaign finances are disclosed. He is setting a frenzied pace, though Controller Wendy Greuel and Austin Beutner, the former deputy mayor, are in hot pursuit.
"It's obviously an insider game right now," says Rick Jacobs, chairman of the Courage Campaign, who attended a Garcetti fundraiser in Nichols Canyon. "It's a money game. Eric is doing really well in that."
But that might come at the expense of the spirit — if not the letter — of Measure H. Garcetti was an early supporter of Occupy L.A., which listed among its chief grievances the corrosive influence of money in politics. And yet the very same Garcetti has been assiduously courting the 1 percent, including those with a financial interest in city politics.
"We are not at all surprised by Eric's fundraising efforts," says John Shallman, Greuel's senior strategist. "He's been the City Council president for six years and holds the city's purse strings. Other than being the incumbent mayor, there is probably no better job to leverage donors and raise substantial amounts of money for political campaigning."
L.A. Weekly tried to attend one of Garcetti's fundraisers last week at Crybaby Presents, a pop-up design shop founded by two Harvard-Westlake grads. Garcetti, a 1988 graduate of the school, had come from another fundraiser at a hilltop mansion.
The Weekly was turned away at the door. "It's a private event," said Guy Lipa, Garcetti's legislative deputy.
At such events, the concerns heard by the candidates are those of the well-off. At the Nichols Canyon event, Garcetti spoke about streamlining approvals for small businesses, according to Gary Fleder, a Hollywood director who attended.
“The subtext of his speech seemed to be about the fact that we’ve all been buried in bureaucracy,” Fleder says. “We have to get back to letting people flourish.”
When he got a chance to talk to Garcetti one-on-one, Fleder urged the candidate to look at innovative ways to keep independent film production in L.A. Garcetti seemed interested, Fleder says, and promised to follow up.
The event was held at the home of a Sony executive. About 50 people were there, mostly from the entertainment industry. Rick Jacobs reported that a local mixologist served a Scotch-based concoction called a “Garcetti.”
“When they weren’t drinking the Kool-Aid, they were drinking the Garcetti,” Jacobs quipped.
For her part, Wendy Greuel has held a number of backyard fundraisers and also has been diligently working the phones. Linda Daly, the daughter of Richard Riordan’s third wife, hosted a fundraiser for Greuel in early December.
“You can’t win the mayor’s race without winning the Valley,” Greuel told the crowd, according to Bettina Duval, who attended.
“Her candidacy is strong because she was born in the Valley, she grew up in the Valley and she represented the Valley,” Duval says.
Greuel also held a meet-and-greet at the home of Eric Bauman, chairman of the L.A. County Democratic Party. Bauman tells the Weekly he has not endorsed anyone yet, and he’s been asked to host a similar event for Garcetti in January.
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Austin Beutner, the private equity executive and former City Hall “jobs czar,” has been building his base of support through a series of meet-and-greets. At a recent fundraiser at the home of a private equity executive, Beutner stressed the need to streamline government and make it more business-friendly, says David Fleming, a Beutner supporter who attended.
Councilwoman Jan Perry, meanwhile, is focusing her efforts on calling donors, says Eric Hacopian, her campaign manager. Former radio host Kevin James has the modest goal of reaching $150,000, which will entitle him to receive public funds and to participate in debates.
The Beutner campaign, like Greuel’s, expects Garcetti to post a big number when reports are released on Jan. 31.
“The first money is the easiest money to raise,” says Sean Clegg, a Beutner strategist. “I’d be disappointed if I were him and I didn’t have a strong second half (of 2011).”