The latest reports coming into the West Hollywood City Clerk’s office show incumbent John Duran with a massive lead in the money race, having raised just a few bucks shy of $80,000 (79,885) with three weeks to go before the election.
In second place stands incumbent Jeffrey Prang, who raised over $53,800
In third place (if loans to self are removed from the totals) is Sam Borelli, who has raised $20,358 to operate his first campaign.
In fourth, Christopher Landavazo with $21,951 including a $9,500 loan to himself.
Fifth place is held by Steve Martin with $13,418 including a $6,200 loan to himself.
A local publication that has been digging into the origins of the Duran campaign’s finances added $10,000 in independent Political Action Committee (PAC) funds from two local businessmen to his campaign's totals in an apparent attempt to inflate his take. In addition, that same publication, wehoville, has cast aspersions on donations by attorneys connected to a law firm with deep WeHo ties and allegedly found a case of "campaign money laundering" in an individual who expressed ignorance of his $500 contribution to the Duran campaign, implying collusion between the man's employer and the campaign.
Apparently, a carpenter named Jose Medina working for Huntington Holdings, an investment firm specializing in commercial, vacation and high-end residential real estate, made the contribution to Mr. Duran’s campaign on the same day as Jack Corwin, the firm’s founder, made his own $500 donation, January 9, 2013.
Another Huntington Holdings employee, executive housekeeper Halina Foltyn, also made a $500 donation to the campaign on Jan. 9.
Mr. Corwin denied writing $1,500 worth of checks, $1,000 of which were in employees’ names, to skirt campaign finance law that limits donations to $500 per person.
According to the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), such conduct would be considered campaign money laundering, and if proved, amount to a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $5,000.
The activity pops up in virtually every election campaign, including 2009’s Los Angeles Mayoral race in which Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former Councilman Jack Weiss received $26,000 in illegally funneled campaign contributions from developer Alexander Hugh.
The publication, wehoville, has been publishing regular articles highlighting the alleged influence of real estate interests in West Hollywood elections, with one article calling out James Arnone, an attorney, as “the biggest single donor” to WeHo council campaigns.
The recent article notes that Mr. Arnone, a partner in the Los Angeles office of Latham & Watkins and is local Chair of the Environment, Land & Resources Department, has given a total of $4,000 thus far in the 2011 and 2013 elections, although it fails to note that Mr. Arnone has given the legal limit (in April, 2012) to the incumbents running in this campaign cycle, choosing to combine two election cycles and several separate campaigns to arrive at the $4,000 figure. The article also fails to mention Mr. Arnone's leadership role in raising money for the $64 million LibraryPark development in West Hollywood Park that brought the city its award-winning library, a park renovation and hundreds of parking spaces for the Westside.
The large sums that incumbents raise from lawyers and real estate/developer interests to run for political office in West Hollywood spurred the movement to implement term limits, as the measure's proponents claim that challengers cannot count on raising the $75-100,000 it takes to match the incumbents’ war chests, which is spent on polling and mailers.
Veteran politicos in WeHo say that being able to get a large number of mailers into people’s homes is the key to effective campaigning, and term limits proponents contend that challengers find it impossible to raise the money needed to win the mail war. Only in 2011 did challenger John D’Amico raise roughly $100,000 (including a $30,000 loan to himself), enough to fund a winning campaign.
Neither Term Limits spokesperson Lauren Meister nor campaign manager Scott Schmidt replied to inquiries from WeHo News about these allegedly illegal contributions or about how they reflect on candidate or the need for term limits, however, in a Facebook posting, Mr. Schmidt wrote, “Where there's smoke, there's fire… Something smells fishy.”
Ms. Meister was derisive on Facebook after receiving a Duran mailer that stated – "you may not like what he says but he always tells the truth." She responded, "LMAO. Then, I thought, I must be in the Twilight Zone… I say, if you don't like what he has to say, vote the bum out!"
Nor did challenger Steve Martin reply directly to an inquiry that asked how this sort of campaign fraud reflected on the candidate. He however, in a note to WeHo News, say that the incumbents, “are going down with every new article about fund raising.” He also wrote, regarding wehoville's news report of the possible campaign finance violation in a Facebook post, “Apparently in all this tip-toeing between the illegal/unethical line someone tripped. West Hollywood residents deserve better and must demand better.”
The Duran and Prang campaign did answer WeHo News' inquiry, though. In a statement issued by the campaign manager, Steve Afriat, he defended the incumbents and the contributors’ right to free speech.
“With regards to wehoville’s daily, unsubstantiated salvos against John Duran, we appreciate that WeHo News wants to get the facts before you write the story. John Duran is not in a position to answer any questions about details of the giving decisions of any of his contributors.
“In both cases: James Arnone and Jack Corwin, John Duran has long standing relationships with both. He and Arnone were friends before Duran was a Councilmember. Both Arnone and Corwin served with Duran on the AIDS Project Los Angeles Board of Directors.
“These relationships and many others are a tribute to Duran's long-standing service to causes and issues. While it is easy to wag an angry finger and point out that incumbents have a fundraising advantage, Both Duran and Prang were successful fundraisers when they were challengers, running for the first time. So was John D'Amico, who out-raised most, if not all of the incumbents. Sal Guarriello (for whom Mr. Afriat also ran campaigns) on the other hand, was not a strong fundraiser.
“John Duran and Jeff Prang paid their dues before becoming Councilmembers and have networks of friends who support their political agenda. Jeff has long-standing involvement in Democratic Party organizations, Environmental Organizations, and good-government groups. His network of friends consistently donated to his campaigns. The same is true for Duran. He has served on the EQCA Board, previously served on the ANGLE and MECLA Boards. He has served on the APLA and Gay Men's Chorus Board, and is prominent in the legal community. These are a substantial base for his fundraising efforts.
“John would never accept a contribution that he knew was not proper, and our campaign has returned contributions made by individuals who exceeded limits – something we are able to track. In the event other contributions are deemed improper, Duran is already committed to return those as well.”
In the statement, he noted that he has a long history with Mr. Martin (another council member who once hired me to be his fundraising consultant). That history he calls “revisionist” that “fails to mention that he was the go-to person for lobbyists and special interests, consistently supporting their projects, billboards, and contracts.”