Contributors to Mayoral Race Seek a Friendly Ear

Times Staff Writer

A significant portion of those who contribute to the campaigns of the two main candidates in the Los Angeles mayoral race have business connections with the city, according to a Times computer study of campaign contributions.

The study, which polled nearly 1,600 contributors, also found that in a city noted for its cultural diversity, Mayor Tom Bradley and his chief opponent, City Councilman John Ferraro, are relying heavily for financial support on a small segment of wealthy white businessmen and lawyers.

The Times study of contributors paints a picture of the typical giver as a middle-aged, Westside homeowner whose annual income of $75,000 or more puts him within the top 3% of income producers in the city.

The study found that 42% of the contributors to Bradley and Ferraro either do business with the city or need the city's approval for work that they or their clients want to undertake.

Many of the contributors--26%--declined to give any reason for their giving. Of those who did answer, 10% said they contributed because they believed that their generosity would be rewarded with benefits ranging from a favorable decision on a project to a private audience with an influential city official.

"Certainly, it helps to give," said a businessman who has contributed more than $1,500 to Bradley, Ferraro and other city officials during the last two years.

"When we had problems with bureaucratic red tape at City Hall, we talked to our council person, and he was able to solve the problem in a matter of a few days. Without his help, it might have taken weeks," said the businessman who asked not to be named.

"Many of the major givers are those with business with the city. They have advantages to get from the city, and they get them," said Sheldon Andelson, a prominent Democratic fund-raiser and party activist with ties to a number of local officeholders.

A banker and lawyer, Andelson said he does not have any business interests linked to the city.

The computer study also shed light on the ethnic and economic background, political affiliation and ages of contributors.

While Bradley and Ferraro vie for the votes of the ethnic groups, poor people, and renters who make up a majority of the city's population, the two candidates get most of their campaign funds from the city's leading real estate developers, lobbyists, lawyers, financiers and entertainment industry executives.

Moreover, the candidates' dependence on what is primarily money from white contributors comes at a time when the white population is shrinking faster than ever before. Between 1970 and 1980, according to the U.S Census, the percentage of whites in the city dropped from 57 to 48.

Minority Breakdown

Even though Bradley is black, only 5% of the contributors are black. The black population is 16% of the city's population. Latinos, accounting for 27% of the city's population, also are under-represented, amounting to only 4% of the contributors.

Compared with the general population of the city, the contributors stand out in a variety of ways. The percentage of homeowners is more than twice as high among contributors as it is among all residents. The percentage of Jews is four times as high and that of Asians is twice as high as their representation in the population of the city.

The Times polled 1,573 contributors who provided most of the money raised by Bradley since the end of his 1982 gubernatorial campaign and by Ferraro in the three years since he won reelection to the City Council.

The two men raised $2.5 million in that period, with Bradley receiving almost 70% of it.

The contributors said they gave money to candidates for a variety of reasons. In some instances, they said they were friends with a candidate; in other cases, they said they respected what a candidate stood for; and, in others, they said they gave to candidates who would best serve their business interests.

"We're backing the ones we've been able to explain the issues to, who've listened to us and who have come down on our side," said Pat Garner, a vice president of Southern California Gas Co.

Several contributors said they felt pressure to give, saying they were pestered by incumbent officeholders or their campaign staffs to buy tickets or tables to fund-raising dinners.

"It's nothing to get asked to buy a table for $3,500. You can get hit by seven or eight of them (city officials) at one time. I've got my bookkeeper responding to four different events right now," said Herb Citrin, president of Valet Parking Services Inc.

The contributor who gave most lavishly, Mark Weinberg, a 30-year-old Beverly Hills commodities trader and a Republican, said he gave more than $80,000 to Bradley out of appreciation for the mayor's friendship.

"Politically, Tom Bradley has taught me almost everything I know," Weinberg said. "He has coached me on how to handle myself with politicians, on how to size up the ones who are just out for money."

But several other top givers, including lobbyist Philip Krakover ($29,100); lawyer-developer Nelson Rising ($17,000); lawyer-lobbyist Neil Papiano ($18,500) and developer Alexander Haagen ($18,000) all have sought the city's approval or assistance on behalf of business interests. All of them gave to both Bradley and Ferraro.

Krakover, regarded as one of the two or three most effective lobbyists in the city, said he gives generously in order to be among the first in line when it is time to plead a case before a city official.

"In government, like business, the better customers get their calls returned first," Krakover said.

Many of the largest corporate contributions to both candidates came from firms engaged in some of the most ambitious and controversial economic activity in the city. They include the Summa Corp. ($7,500), which is building a $1-billion development on the site of a wildlife refuge, known as the Ballona Wetlands, and the A. F. Gilmore Co. ($9,000), a partner with CBS in a Westside project to transform the area around Farmers Market into the largest complex of studios, offices and theaters in the city.

Both Summa and Gilmore have mounted intensive lobbying campaigns to convince local officials that their projects are in the city's best interests.

Herbert Alexander, a leading analyst of campaign financing, said that contributors to Los Angeles municipal elections are the same kind of people who pay for campaigns in other cities.

But Alexander, who heads the Citizens' Research Foundation at USC, said politics in Los Angeles are different in one important respect.

In other cities, such as New York, he said, ethnic groups who do not contribute financially have asserted their presence in other ways.

"In New York, traditionally, you had to have a balanced ticket. There had to be a Jew, an Italian and an Irishman," Alexander said.

"We don't have that sort of thing, where it is necessary to get behind candidates from the South Korean, or the Japanese or the Central American communities. For some reason, that just hasn't developed here."

But Alexander said he did not believe that the political process in Los Angeles has led to a city government that ignores the needs of those who can't afford to contribute.

"The city is responsive to pressures from all kinds of people who lack financial clout. It is not just the people who give who get favors. Look at the to-do about the homeless people."

Last year, the city agreed to spend $10 million to rehabilitate several downtown flophouses and more recently agreed to pay the operating costs of a temporary shelter for homeless people.

Generosity Rewarded

At the same time, Alexander said he believes that major contributors here are rewarded for their generosity. More important, he said, is the effect one group can have on a city when it dominates political giving.

"A lot of what their money does is not a specific quid pro quo but a more general impact. It prevents things from happening that the people with money don't want to happen."

In return for their contributions, most big givers argue that they get very little, beyond access to a politician's ear.

By that, they mean a chance to sit face to face with an official and explain their side of an issue.

"In return for contributing, I expect him to at least allow me to talk to him. That's really all I expect," said home builder Frank Thompson.

But the same opportunities fre quently are not afforded to people who don't give.

"Access can mean a lot when it develops over time into a friendly association with a councilman. He gets to know you and trust your judgment. He may not do what you want every time, but he'll listen to you. You'll get a fair hearing. And that's more than some people get," said a contributor who asked not to be named.

There are other advantages to being a contributor. Usually, contributions are made in the form of tickets purchased to political dinners, and the dinners, swarming with the well-heeled and the well-connected, can hold rich rewards for businessmen seeking new clients and contacts.

Like a Country Club

"A lot of the right people are at those dinners," said Paul Cook, who heads a land planning and civil engineering firm. "There are developers and people interested in the services I have to offer. It's like a golf course or an exclusive country club."

The cost of a ticket to a dinner these days ranges from $100 to several hundred dollars. However, it is not unusual for a contributor to purchase an entire table at a dinner, and that can cost $2,000 to $3,000, or more.

Lobbyist Krakover said he can remember 20 years ago when a ticket cost $15.

Other contributors say they have grown increasingly annoyed with the expectation that they will buy tickets to every dinner that comes along and with the hard sell practiced by some candidates and their campaign staffs.

Several contributors said they believe that the pressure to contribute large amounts of money has grown oppressive, and they say they would welcome proposed changes that would place limits on the amounts that can be given.

One longtime contributor said he has decided not to give any more money to local candidates.

"I'm sort of phasing out of the thing," said Morton Schwartz, a planning expediter who advises developers on how to meet city zoning requirements.

Called Cynical Business

"Contributing is such an entirely cynical business. My basic repulsion is getting out of control. I can't stand it anymore."

Late last year, two of the city's most prominent political activists, Democrat Bruce Corwin and Republican Bert Boeckmann, businessmen who have given thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, lent their support to a movement to put limits, for the first time in Los Angeles, on the amounts of allowable contributions.

Led by City Councilman Ernani Bernardi and reluctantly sanctioned by a majority of the council, the effort led to a proposed City Charter amendment, to go before voters on April 9, that would prohibit contributions of more than $500 per election to a council candidate and more than $1,000 per election to a candidate for citywide office.

Research for this story was conducted by The Times Poll, under the direction of Susan Pinkus. STUDYING THE CONTRIBUTORS

The Times' computer survey of contributors to Mayor Tom Bradley and his chief rival in the 1985 mayor's race, City Councilman John Ferraro, focused on 1,573 contributors--those responsible for 99.3% of $2.5 million given to the two candidates.

The study sought to identify contributors by age, employment, income, political party, race, and religion. The people polled also were asked if they were homeowners or if they belonged to a union.

Contributors were asked if they do business with the city, or whether they or their clients look to the city for rulings favorable to their interests. They also were asked why they gave and whether they expected to derive some benefit from having contributed. About 60% of the 1,573 contributors answered the questions.

Bradley received his share of the contributions, 69%, during the two years following his unsuccessful 1982 campaign for governor. Ferraro received his portion during the three years following his successful 1981 campaign for reelection to the Los Angeles City Council.

This analysis does not include contributions made after Dec. 31, 1984.

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