All this summer, L.A. City Hall is embroiled in a big-money battle for the right to sell quick-serve cuisine to LAX passengers.
Just one of the eight packages is worth $600 million in sales, so you can imagine how much lobbying pressure has been applied to the Board of Referred Powers, the committee that will decide on the contract in the coming weeks. Chaired by Councilman Tony Cárdenas, the board had its first meeting on July 8. The next is tentatively set for July 29.
By sheer coincidence, certainly, guess who's having a fundraiser that morning.
Yes, Cárdenas will be kicking off his re-election campaign at 8 a.m. that morning at the El Paseo Inn.
The El Paseo Inn is owned by Camacho Inc., which partnered with Host International to bid for the biggest LAX food contract.
To summarize: On the same day that Tony Cárdenas sits in judgment of a $600 million
contract, he'll be asking for campaign contributions at a restaurant
whose owner stands to benefit from that contract.
But wait there's more!
One of Host's lobbyists at City Hall is the firm of Ek & Ek. Though prohibited from contributing to Cárdenas's campaign, Ek & Ek has been distributing the Cárdenas invitation to its clients.
Cárdenas's chief of staff, Jose Cornejo, said that the councilman won't accept contributions from potential LAX vendors. (He'll have fundraisers at their restaurants, but he draws the line at taking cash.) Cornejo defended holding the event on the same day as the Board of Referred Powers meeting.
"If you can't separate fundraising and doing what's right for the people of L.A., you shouldn't be in politics," Cornejo said. "You have to raise money. He doesn't come from a community that itself is wealthy. He's not Meg Whitman."
So has any of this lobbying had an influence on Cárdenas?
Well, the committee hasn't done anything yet. But it has shown skepticism about the process that led to the LAX staff recommendations. That's good news for companies like Host, which finished last in the rankings.
After the first board meeting, Cárdenas sent a letter to LAX staffers with a list of 30 extremely detailed questions about the contract process. (Two examples: "What type of polling or focus groups were used by LAWA to determine the types of stores, brands or products desired at LAX?" "Please explain the definition of 'flavor of Los Angeles' and the
distinction between Local, Regional and National brands.")
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Keep in mind, Host doesn't need to win the contract in order to win. As the incumbent contractor, they just need to tarnish the process enough in order to have the bids thrown out and the whole thing re-started. That would mean at least a couple more years as the top vendor at LAX.
Cárdenas is actually a bit more scrupulous about this than Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who took $40,000 from LAX concession companies and their lobbyists in her bid for lieutenant governor. (Host gave the maximum, $6,500, as did each of the two principals at Ek & Ek.) Hahn also serves on the Board of Referred Powers, and joined Cárdenas on July 8 in expressing skepticism about the LAX process.
By the way, if you want to attend the Cárdenas kickoff, it'll cost you $500, which is the maximum contribution for a council campaign. You can also earn the title of "co-sponsor" by reserving five tickets ($2,500) or "co-chair" by reserving 10 tickets ($5,000).