Veteran San Fernando Valley pol Richard Alarcón irritated quite a few people last year by jumping into the March 6 race for the Los Angeles City Council, just days after he won a seat in the California State Assembly. After all, special-interest groups across California had ponied up $415,000 for Alarcón’s Assembly campaign — and now the guy didn’t even plan to stay in office past July.
How did Alarcón spend such a huge war chest when he didn’t have an opponent? For starters, by helping out the women in his life — the ex-wife, the ex-girlfriend and now, the current girlfriend whose rental house makes him a legal resident of the district.
Last year, Alarcón’s Assembly campaign donated $600 to W.A.V.E., the women’s shelter headed by his ex-wife, Corina Alarcón. Alarcón’s campaign described this contribution using a phrase that appears repeatedly in his spending reports — “campaign paraphernalia/miscellaneous.”
Alarcón gave $1,465 to his new fiancée, Flora Montes De Oca, who in turn leased office space to his Assembly campaign. Montes De Oca also owns the house on Nordhoff Street that Alarcón now uses as his residence for the council race. (Without it, he would reside outside the 7th Council District, which covers Sylmar, Pacoima, Arleta and part of Panorama City.)
But the big money went to Alarcón’s girlfriend of roughly seven years, Hacienda Heights resident Laura Caro, who received $75,500 from Alarcón’s Assembly campaign between April 2005 and May 2006.
Alarcón described Caro as a campaign consultant even though several L.A.-based political professionals — GOP campaign consultant Allan Hoffenblum, Democratic consultant Rick Taylor and Democratic consultant Bill Carrick — said they had never heard of her.
Nothing legally prohibits candidates from putting friends and family on the campaign payroll — as long as the work is legitimate, said Robert Stern, who heads the nonprofit Center for Governmental Studies. “As long as the relative is performing and they’re actually providing services, it’s okay,” Stern said. “The real question is, are they performing real campaign services. It’s strange that somebody needs to be paid $75,000 if there’s no fund-raising to be done.”
Alarcón defended the expenditures, saying he was happy to support both his ex-wife’s shelter and pay $250 per month to his fiancée — his landlord for last year’s Assembly bid and for the current council campaign. Alarcón said Caro, whom he broke up with in 2005, was his campaign fund-raiser, amassing a war chest that directed nearly $150,000 to the state Democratic Party.
“You use people you know (on a campaign) because obviously, they’re good soldiers. They’re good and loyal,” he said. “And at the same time, you’ve got to play fair, play legal, and pay them a rate that’s reasonable.”
Alarcón’s main opponent in Tuesday’s council race, real estate executive Monica Rodriguez, questioned whether it was appropriate for so much of her opponent’s campaign funds to reach loved ones. “It just strikes me as odd that he would spend that kind of money on his friends and family,” she said.
Caro was paid $5,000 per month as a consultant on Alarcón’s unopposed Assembly campaign, twice as much as Sacramento-based political consultant Richie Ross, a veteran of state politics with a long-standing link to Alarcón. Ross was the architect in 1998 of Alarcón’s victorious state Senate campaign against former Assemblyman Richard Katz; that campaign was widely derided as anti-Semitic for its below-the-belt attacks on Katz, who is Jewish.
Alarcón and his wife, former Los Angeles city police commissioner Corina Alarcón, divorced in the wake of that Senate victory. Last week, Corina Alarcón confirmed that her ex-husband bought a table at her shelter’s fund-raiser in May 2006, saying she had learned to work professionally with her state representatives — including Richard Alarcón.
Still, Corina Alarcón did not conceal the details of the split, saying she left her husband in 1998 after receiving calls from two reporters asking her to comment on Alarcón’s “trophy girlfriend” at City Hall.
“I was just in tears the whole time of the interview,” she recalled. Corina Alarcón concluded days later that Alarcón had been seeing Caro, who worked as his scheduler when he was on the Los Angeles City Council. “He will deny it. He will deny he even had a girlfriend, but it was obvious. I saw him with her a couple weeks later.”
Unlike Corina Alarcón, Caro refused to discuss her past relationship — personal and professional — with the assemblyman. “There’s really nothing I want to say, that I can say, to you,” Caro said.
The state Assembly race is certainly not the first time Alarcón found a way to use a campaign to enrich his loved ones. During his 2005 mayoral campaign, Alarcón paid Caro roughly $60,000 as a fund-raiser — $50,000 in salary and $10,000 to reimburse her for various expenses. Alarcón’s sister, Evelina Alarcón, received $25,000 during the same campaign to run his field office in Lincoln Heights.
Other women in Alarcón’s life have done well financially. Take former Assemblywoman Cindy Montanez, who planned to run this year for the council seat now being sought by Alarcón, until she was pressured to drop out of the race. Montanez was furious that Alarcón entered the council race, particularly since she thought she had his endorsement for the same seat.
Convincing her to abandon her campaign was much easier once Alarcón picked up the backing of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who hosted a February 3 fund-raiser for Alarcón. Last month, Villaraigosa pal Fabian Núñez placed Montanez on the state’s Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, where she will earn $123,987 annually, even though the panel meets only once a month.
Alarcón is certainly not the first City Hall pol to keep friends and family close by. Councilman Bernard Parks named his son, Bernard Jr., as his chief of staff. Former Councilman Alex Padilla hired his brother, Ackley, for his field office. Now Ackley is on the campaign payroll of Alarcón, the very man seeking to replace Padilla.
With so much cash to burn, Alarcón found other ways to spend last year’s campaign war chest. For one thing, he racked up more than $1,700 in florist bills — two thirds of which once again fell under the category of campaign paraphernalia. Campaign treasurer David Gould described those flowers as gifts for constituents, mainly funeral and congratulation bouquets.
Another $15,000 went to the San Francisco–based law firm of Hanson, Bridgett, Marcus, Vlahos & Rudy. Although the campaign listed the firm’s work as legal defense, Alarcón said the money actually went toward the drafting of a local ballot measure to prohibit companies from receiving a contract at Los Angeles City Hall once they give a contribution to a candidate for mayor or council.
Alarcón’s ballot measure never got off the ground. “Obviously, the city moved in a different direction,” Alarcón said.
And now it is Alarcón who is being buoyed by special interests — real estate developers, City Hall employee unions, taxicab owners and others who have pushed Alarcón’s new City Hall campaign treasury past the $200,000 mark. Two unions, including one that represents workers at the Department of Water and Power, spent $40,000 on mailers for Alarcón.
The only so-called reform to reach voters last year was Proposition R, which promised to limit special interests, but in fact did almost nothing about them. The measure did weaken term limits for the council, however, a move that could pave the way in the March 6 election for the return, after a nine-year absence, of Richard Alarcón.