The Los Angeles City Ethics Commission does routine audits of candidate campaign committees. This duty stems from the Los Angeles City Charter at §702(d).1 The results of these audits are presented by the Executive Director at the Commission’s bimonthly meetings, the next one of which is scheduled for Wednesday, August 18, at 9:30 AM. Here’s a copy of the agenda if you want to participate.
And here’s a copy of Executive Director David Tristan’s report (the two audit reports are at the end). On page 17 find the audit of John Lee For City Council 2019, which ran Lee’s campaign in the 2019 special election to fill Mitchell Englander’s seat, vacated so Englander could take a job as a lobbyist.2 On page 22 find the audit results from Lee’s Runoff election committee.
City law limits each contributor to an aggregate total of $800 in contributions per Councilmember per election3 and the auditors look for violations of this. They often find a few, but they’re not locking anyone up for them. According to the Ethics Commission’s Excess Contribution Policy if the candidate “cures” the violation by returning the contribution and any associated matching funds within a specified time after being caught by the audit they don’t get in trouble for it but the illegal contributions are still reported in the audits.
Lee had a few excess contributions to cure, and they’re pretty interesting. First of all, for the first special election we see former CD7 repster Felipe Fuentes, who resigned from City Council in 2016 to take a job as a lobbyist.4 Fuentes gave $800 on February 7, 2019 and then another $350 on May 30, 2019. Obviously he knew he gave the max in February so it’s hard to see this as anything but an attempt to sneak excess money past the regulators, since there are no consequences for getting caught.
Next up we see Lee’s current chief of staff, Brenton Tesler. Tesler is exactly the kind of eternal City Hall insider that inspired and required the Municipal Ethics Ordinance, a law the loopholes in which which he’s apparently made an entire career out of exploiting. Not only that but he gave Lee $800 on January 15, 2019 and another $800 on June 18, 2019. Maybe it was a legit error and he meant to contribute to the runoff, or maybe that’s just what he planned to say if anyone noticed.
But either way Tesler now has a cushy job as Lee’s chief of staff and is possibly in line to replace him once Lee finally gets arrested and ejected from Council for his crimes.5 Tesler is not a habitual financial supporter of LA municipal candidates, by the way. Check his contribs! He’s given John Lee a net total of $2400 since January 2019, which I guess is about how much the CD12 chief of staff job is worth. He also gave Monica Rodriguez $125 in 2016 and that is the full extent of the guy’s contributions.
Again, there are no legal consequences to anyone as long as they refund the money if the crime happens to be discovered. What if laws against shoplifting or other poverty crimes worked like this? Steal food for your kids? That’s against the law! If we happen to catch you you must return the food! Let’s move on to the runoff election audit.
Here there’s only one contributor with a cured contribution, a local attorney named Patricia Glaser, name partner in Glaser Weil. She gave Lee $800 on June 25, 2019 and another $800 on July 31, 2019. Again, it’s unlikely that the first contribution had slipped her mind. Hers is not exactly an often-heard name among LA municipal politics nerds, but in other circles she’s very well known.
Twenty years ago she seemed to be surviving on no-bid outside representation contracts from the LA City Attorney including what looks to have been a major gig dealing with the Justice Department regarding the 2000 Rampart Consent Decree. These days she’s moved on to defending zillionaire celebs against the women they’ve raped, like Tony Cardenas and worse, e.g. Harvey Weinstein, and his ilk.
Whatever it is Glaser wants out of Lee, though, it seems impossible that she forgot about the first contribution, made just a little over a month before. Again either she was trying to get by with a crime for which there’s no punishment6 or she got confused about the runoff versus the special election.
Glaser has contributed a lot of money to LA City Council candidates over the years, as it happens. She’s down for a total of more than $85K over the years. This is around 65% of the more than $128K that Glaser-Weil employees including Glaser herself have given to LA City political candidates since 2003.
It’s worth taking a look at their aggregate contributions, by the way. They really seem to love Tim McOsker for CD15, which is a good reason to throw a bunch of money at McOsker’s progressive opponent Bryant Odega, which I just did and now it is your turn!
- The City Ethics Commission shall have the [responsibility] to audit disclosure statements and other relevant documents and investigate alleged violations of state law, the Charter and City ordinances relating to limitations on campaign contributions and expenditures, lobbying, governmental ethics and conflicts of interest and to report the findings to the City Attorney and other appropriate enforcement authorities. Audits shall be conducted of every candidate receiving public matching funds and may be conducted of other candidates and committees involved in City elections;
- That’s what he said, anyway, but now he’s in prison, so probably he had other reasons for resigning.
- And $1,500 per Citywide candidate per election. I’m sorry not to cite a code section here. A $500 limit was placed in the Charter at §470(c)(3) but it’s possible for someone in City government, I’m not sure who, to adjust this amount without amending the Charter itself. I don’t know how this works and I don’t have time to figure it out today. Please drop a note in the comments if you know how it works, otherwise I’ll figure it out later and post about it sometime.
- And didn’t even bother to show up for his last meeting, the one at which all his collegial co-conspirators told a bunch of lies about what a great guy he is.
- He’s only making about $85K, which doesn’t seem like much, but then again, he’s not laying up his treasure in Heaven here. He’s going to be well taken care of at some point and his connections are going to make him ever so much more money when he finally takes a job as a lobbyist.
- Possibly not her crime, I’m not sure who the donation limit binds, the contributor or the recipient.