The development company that is on a fast track to building a professional football stadium in Inglewood has poured more than $100,000 in campaign contributions to elected city officials, according to campaign finance reports.
Hollywood Park Land Co., a San Francisco-based group that since last year has included St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke, donated $118,500 to the city's mayor and two Inglewood city councilmen since 2006, the finance reports show. The bulk of the contributions went to Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr., a staunch supporter of the proposed 80,000-seat, NFL-quality stadium.
During four campaigns, Butts received $90,000 from Hollywood Park Land Co., according to campaign finance forms. A fifth of the $211,100 in donations Butts raised for a possible 2015 runoff race came from the development company.
Inglewood has no cap on the amount contributors can donate to political elections.
"They want to have their phone calls returned," Robert Stern, former president of the nonpartisan nonprofit Center for Governmental Studies, said of developers and lobbyists who donate to election campaigns. "They want to have contact with officials, and they believe that money gives them that access.
"It would stun me if campaign money was not being given by the people who want the stadium project."
City officials and developers have moved at lightning speed since announcing in January that a professional football stadium would be added to the redevelopment plan for the former Hollywood Park racetrack site. Supporters see the plan as a first step to returning NFL football to Los Angeles. Developers have said they hope to break ground on a stadium by the end of the year.
The developers proposed zoning changes for the stadium through a ballot initiative, which would allow them to skip environmental reviews that some civic and environmental activists say protect surrounding neighborhoods. Under initiative law, the Inglewood City Council could bypass an election entirely and simply adopt the measure.
On Thursday, election officials confirmed that there were enough valid signatures to bring the initiative to a vote. The council could approve the development plan at its Feb. 24 meeting.
Inglewood's mayor said the developer's contributions have not influenced the speed at which the project is moving. He said he has complied with all campaign laws.
"Won't it be unusual if somebody who had so many projects in a community that they won't want to exercise their free speech to try and ensure that people are in government that have good governing sense and business skills?" Butts said. "I would find that unusual if they didn't."
Much of the money flowed to the elected officials in recent years, as the Hollywood Park redevelopment plans took shape.
Campaign finance records show that in 2013, Hollywood Park Land Co. contributed $42,500 to Butts' 2015 campaign. Last year, the company contributed $15,000 to his 2014 campaign fund, according to campaign records. The mayor had raised money for a potential runoff in 2015, a campaign that become unnecessary when he was reelected in November with 83% of the vote.
Butts' campaign lent about $160,000 to other candidates, including Councilmen George Dotson and Alex Padilla, finance records show. The development company contributed $5,000 to Councilman Ralph Franklin in 2011 and again last year, campaign records show. Councilman Eloy Morales Jr. received five donations totaling $18,500 from the developers between 2006 and 2014.
Chris Meany, a partner at Wilson Meany, a San Francisco Bay Area-based development company that's part of the Hollywood Park partnership, said his company routinely donates to local elected officials in cities where it operates, particularly to incumbents, whether they support their projects or not.
"It's normal and customary for big property owners to be supportive of the city," he said. "It's in keeping with how we have operated over many years and frankly how many other large property owners operate."
Meany said his firm also made large donations to an Inglewood ballot measure to extend utility taxes in 2008 and has made about $250,000 in charitable donations to Inglewood-area nonprofits since buying the Hollywood Park site.
"We're not trying to get something approved," he said. "We're trying to be good corporate citizens."
Meany said his firm has spent a decade talking with Inglewood residents about the project, which began as a redevelopment of the 238-acre Hollywood Park site into housing and retail. (The football stadium has added 60 acres to the original plan.) The firm hired Gerard McCallum II, a former executive with the church group that owned the Forum for much of the 2000s, to handle community relations.
Since unveiling the addition of a stadium, the company has been back out in the community, collecting signatures and holding — by McCallum's count — 27 community meetings to discuss the plan since it was made public.
The development team has hired more consultants and community liaisons, employs two high-powered public relations firms and has launched a series of online videos with community members voicing their support.
"We have a deep, deep network of outreach set up," McCallum said.