Tag Archives: Campaign Finance

Some Money Is Even Too Dirty For Mike: A Look At One Of Bonin’s Recent Returned Campaign Contributions And Subsequent Trip Down A Lobbyist-Money Rabbit Hole

Mike Bonin making kissy-face with Eric Garcetti in 2013 just before laying waste to the canals like Godzilla laying waste to Tokyo.
The L.A. City Ethics Commission website is a marvelous repository of fascinating minutiae. It more than repays the kind of obsessive poring-over in which we here at MK.Org specialize. Today’s subject is the quarterly reports that every qualified candidate has to submit detailing their expenditures. You can find all of Mike Bonin’s here.1 In particular, take a look at his 3rd quarter report for 2016. On Schedule E, the list of expenditures, note that some items are labeled “Returned contributions.” No reasons are given for the returns, but at least in some cases it’s possible to track down at least some elements of the story via the Google.

For instance, consider the case of Shannon Murphy Castellani. She gave Mike Bonin $700 on June 14, 2016. Exactly four weeks later, on July 12, 2016, she registered with the Ethics Commission as a lobbyist.2 Now, section 470(c)(11) of the City Charter forbids candidates from accepting campaign contributions from registered lobbyists. It’s vague on the timing, and I don’t see that it actually explicitly prohibits someone from donating money and then registering as a lobbyist the very next day, but on the other hand, does Mike Bonin want to argue that case in public? Obviously not, so the best thing to do is to return the contribution. Just as obviously, the $700 itself isn’t so important. These people are all zillionaires, after all. It’s the good will that the $700 creates, and that lingers on after the money is returned.
Continue reading Some Money Is Even Too Dirty For Mike: A Look At One Of Bonin’s Recent Returned Campaign Contributions And Subsequent Trip Down A Lobbyist-Money Rabbit Hole

Open Letters to Nine Los Angeles City Council Members, Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Controller Ron Galperin Asking Them To Recuse From The Venice Beach BID Formation Process And To Return Tainted Donations

There aren't nearly enough pictures of Ron Galperin on this blog.
There aren’t nearly enough pictures of Ron Galperin on this blog.
You may recall that I’ve been writing about potentially illegal campaign contributions made by Venice Beach BID propenents Mark Sokol and Carl Lambert. That’s the supply side. Tonight I’m hitting up the demand side. Here are PDFs of three letters I sent this evening (all cc-ed to Mike Feuer just in case), and you can read the one to the nine sitting members of the City Council who accepted donations from Sokol and Lambert below. I hope to have a complaint in to the City Ethics Commission by the end of the week.

September 17, 2016

Honorable Los Angeles City Councilmembers Krekorian, Bonin, Harris-Dawson, Huizar, Martinez, Ryu, Price, Cedillo, and Koretz:

I am writing to urge you to recuse yourself from the upcoming vote on the Venice Beach BID ordinance of intention and from all future matters concerning Council File 16-0749.
Continue reading Open Letters to Nine Los Angeles City Council Members, Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Controller Ron Galperin Asking Them To Recuse From The Venice Beach BID Formation Process And To Return Tainted Donations

Steve Heumann, Carl Lambert, and Mark Sokol Finally Revealed By Debbie Dyner Harris to Constitute Venice Beach Property Owners Association Board Of Directors; Sokol’s Five Figure Campaign Contributions To Nine Of Fourteen Sitting Council Members Raise Ethical, Criminal Issues

Mike Bonin 2013 Campaign ad showing candidate with high-roller campaign contributors Mark Sokol and Carl Lambert.
Mike Bonin 2013 Campaign ad showing candidate with high-roller campaign contributors Mark Sokol and Carl Lambert.
I reported a couple of weeks ago that as late as two months ago, Mike Bonin aide Debbie Dyner Harris had refused to tell Becky Dennison of Venice Community Housing the names of the three members of the Board of Directors of the Venice Beach Property Owners Association. Dyner Harris even sent an email to shadowy BID consultant Tara Devine asking for permission to share the names, which Devine evidently didn’t give, because Dyner Harris didn’t give up the names. Well, I’ve been asking CD11 for the names as well, and after a long three weeks, for whatever reason, Debbie Dyner Harris emailed me this morning and told me that the Board of Directors presently consists of Steve Heumann, Carl Lambert, and Mark Sokol.

Steve Heumann was not a surprise, as his name appears as agent for service of process on the POA’s registration with the State.1 But the other two are of great interest indeed. I recently wrote about how Carl Lambert’s campaign contributions to Mike Bonin and Eric Garcetti probably violated City campaign finance laws, but that argument wouldn’t fly if he weren’t on the Board. Since he is, I’ll be reporting him to the City Ethics Commission in the next few days.

But Mark Sokol’s case is even more fascinating. Recall that the POA has been meeting with the City about the BID at least since September 2014. Well, take a look at all of Sokol’s contributions since then. They add up to $10,750. The output of the City’s database lists each contribution separately, but here are the totals:
Continue reading Steve Heumann, Carl Lambert, and Mark Sokol Finally Revealed By Debbie Dyner Harris to Constitute Venice Beach Property Owners Association Board Of Directors; Sokol’s Five Figure Campaign Contributions To Nine Of Fourteen Sitting Council Members Raise Ethical, Criminal Issues

Why Carl Lambert’s Contributions To The Re-Election Campaigns Of Mike Bonin And Eric Garcetti Were Probably Illegal and Should Be Refunded Immediately

Mike Bonin on August 23, 2016, earning his salary, which should be sufficient.
Mike Bonin on August 23, 2016, earning his salary, which should be sufficient.
As I reported the other day, Venice Beach BID proponent and shady illegal hotelier Carl Lambert donated $1400 to Eric Garcetti and $700 to Mike Bonin in 2015. Here is an argument that they ought to give that money back to Lambert immediately.

Not just because it’s the right thing to do. We’re all grownups here, and that’s not so much why things get done. But because it’s probably illegal for them to have accepted the money, or at least for Lambert to have contributed it. To explain why this is the case I have to talk about the campaign finance laws of the City of Los Angeles, which can make anybody’s poor head spin. So forgive me, but perhaps you’ll find it worth the trouble. The whole law is at LAMC Article 9.7, but it’s not necessary to read the whole thing.1 The section we are interested in today is LAMC 49.7.35, which covers Bidder Contribution and Fundraising Restrictions. This muni code section2 implements Section 470 of the City Charter, which covers Limitations on Campaign Contributions in City Elections.3 At Charter Section 470(a) we find this noble statement of the purpose of the whole thing:

The purpose of this section is to encourage a broader participation in the political process and to avoid corruption or the appearance of corruption in city decision making, and protect the integrity of the City’s procurement and contract processes by placing limits on the amount any person may contribute or otherwise cause to be available to candidates for election to the offices of Mayor, City Attorney, Controller and City Council and promote accountability to the public by requiring disclosure of campaign activities and imposing other campaign restrictions.

Now, it is a fundamental principle in the American legal system that actions can only be illegal if there is an explicit statutory statement that they are illegal. Otherwise they’re legal. So while this statement of purpose has some force, mostly as a guide to interpreting the salient laws, it doesn’t in itself make anything illegal. Obviously Carl Lambert’s contributions to Garcetti and Bonin create the appearance of corruption in city decision making, but if that were sufficient to trigger a criminal prosecution then pretty much every donor to every incumbent candidate would have to be locked up.4 Thus we have to look to the parts of the law that implement this statement of purpose.

The Charter Section that we are interested in here is 470(c)(12)(B), which states in pertinent part5 that:

The following persons shall not make a campaign contribution to the Mayor, the City Attorney, the Controller, a City Council member, a candidate for any of those elected City offices, or a City committee controlled by a person who holds or seeks any of those elected City offices … A person who bids on or submits a proposal or other response to a contract solicitation that has an anticipated value of at least $100,000 and requires approval by the elected City office that is held or sought by the person to whom the contribution would be given…

Let’s run through the elements of the law here to see why it’s highly plausible that it forbids Carl Lambert from making contributions to either Eric Garcetti or Mike Bonin:
Continue reading Why Carl Lambert’s Contributions To The Re-Election Campaigns Of Mike Bonin And Eric Garcetti Were Probably Illegal and Should Be Refunded Immediately

Carl Lambert Donated The Legal Maximum of $1400 To Eric Garcetti Just One Week After Feuer Filed Complaint Against Him For Running An Illegal Hotel and Legal Max of $700 to Mike Bonin in the Midst of a Flurry of Pro-BID Activity By City Staff

At all times relevant hereto, Lambert was acting as the agent, assignee, partner, joint venturer, alter ego, representative, co-schemer, co-conspirator...and in committing the wrongful acts and omissions allege, was acting within the course and scope of that agency, assignment, partnership, joint venture, alter ego relationship, representation, scheme, conspiracy, or employment.
At all times relevant hereto, Lambert was acting as the agent, assignee, partner, joint venturer, alter ego, representative, co-schemer, co-conspirator…and in committing the wrongful acts and omissions allege, was acting within the course and scope of that agency, assignment, partnership, joint venture, alter ego relationship, representation, scheme, conspiracy, or employment.

CORRECTION: Carl Lambert’s donation to Garcetti was in June 2015 whereas the lawsuit was filed in June 2016. I’ve struck through any claims that relied on my inadvertent misreading of the relevant document and added a few words, which are underlined. We stand by our claims about the timing of Lambert’s donations to Bonin. Thanks to Gonzo Rock for pointing this out.

Carl Lambert is presently famous for two main reasons. First that Mike Feuer is suing the shit out of him because he’s a sneaky lying illegal hotel proprietor and second that he’s a vocal proponent of the Venice Beach Business Improvement District, which was approved in Council last week during a chaotic and emotional process, itself of dubious legality. Newly discovered evidence1 shows that Lambert has tried to ease his strait and narrow path through some of these thorny matters by…wait for it…giving money to politicians.

First of all, see the City Ethics Commission’s donation records for Lambert. Note that on June 24, 2015 he donated $1,400 to Eric Garcetti’s reelection campaign, which is the maximum donation allowed. Does the date sound familiar? It ought to. It was exactly one week before, on June 17, 2015, that Mike Feuer filed a complaint against Lambert for running an illegal hotel. It goes to show that good old F. Scott was on to something when he wrote about zillionaires that “They are different from you and me.” I don’t think that most non-zillionaires, on finding out that the City Attorney has just filed a damning complaint against them, would turn around and give $1,400 to the Mayor.

And it’s not just like Lambert did this all the time and the timing was coincidental. First of all, he also gave Garcetti money in 2013, when he was actually running, but he only gave him $200. Secondly, Lambert has only ever given $3,500 total to Los Angeles politicians in his life.2 This one-time, week-after-the-complaint-got-filed donation of $1,400 represents 40% of Lambert’s life-time donation total. Also note that Garcetti isn’t running for election again until 2017, so it’s not like he was actively fundraising in June of 2015.

And as if that wasn’t enough, on December 8, 2015, he turned around and gave $700 to Mike Bonin, also the legal maximum. That’s 20% of Lambert’s lifetime total right there, and Bonin also isn’t running until 2017. And as I’ve demonstrated recently, this was right in the midst of a flurry of VBBID activity, when having inspired $700 worth of warm fuzzies in Bonin’s heart couldn’t have hurt anything:
Continue reading Carl Lambert Donated The Legal Maximum of $1400 To Eric Garcetti Just One Week After Feuer Filed Complaint Against Him For Running An Illegal Hotel and Legal Max of $700 to Mike Bonin in the Midst of a Flurry of Pro-BID Activity By City Staff