Less than a month after receiving an unreported $1,500 campaign contribution from a potential sports arena developer, Anaheim Mayor Fred Hunter voted to give the developer exclusive rights to prepare a proposal to build the arena.
Campaign contribution records reveal that Hunter, elected mayor in November, failed to disclose about $1,500 worth of concert tickets from the owners of Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa. One of those owners, Neil Papiano, is a Los Angeles lawyer who heads a group of investors bidding to build a sports arena in Anaheim.
Hunter's action apparently did not violate conflict-of-interest election laws. However, the failure to list the tickets would violate financial disclosure requirements if it was intentional, state and county officials said.
Hunter's campaign treasurer attributed the reporting lapse to a Pacific Amphitheatre clerical error. He said Wednesday that an amended campaign report would be filed declaring the tickets as a contribution.
Hunter said after Tuesday night's City Council meeting that an amended statement would be filed listing the tickets as a contribution. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Councilwoman Miriam Kaywood immediately voiced concerns that the unreported contribution may jeopardize the city's 8-month-old negotiations with the Papiano Group. The city hopes to woo a National Basketball Assn. team to Anaheim with a new, $50-million arena.
The Papiano Group, a partnership of the Nederlander Organization and Ogden Foods, has offered a $30-million package to the Los Angeles Clippers to come to Anaheim, team owner Donald T. Sterling said. But Sterling said Wednesday that he has made no commitment to move.
"We really haven't had any further discussions with Anaheim," Sterling said.
Papiano was meeting with Anaheim officials Wednesday afternoon to review financial data on two possible arena sites in the city. The preferred location is on county-owned land near Anaheim Stadium. The county would prefer to lease the land rather than sell, said Jim Ruth, assistant city manager and the city's lead negotiator in the arena talks.
The tickets in question were for an Aug. 20 concert by Eydie Gorme and Steve Lawrence at Pacific Amphitheatre. Theater owners Ned West Inc. gave Hunter $1,500 worth of tickets to use for the event. (Papiano is a co-owner, with Ned West, of the theater and also is an attorney for Ned West. Ned West is owned by the Nederlander Organization.)
The Hunter campaign committee chartered a bus to carry 25 couples to the concert, although it was unclear Wednesday how many people actually went. But according to campaign statements, Hunter's election committee raised $21,000 from 26 donors from that event.
On Sept. 13, Hunter voted with a unanimous City Council to grant the Papiano Group exclusive rights to put together an arena proposal. On Jan. 10 of this year, Hunter also voted with the City Council to extend the deadline for the Papiano Group to prepare its proposal. He did not abstain in either vote.
Sandra Michioku, spokeswoman for the state Fair Political Practices Commission, said the issue is not one of conflict of interest but of disclosure. Failure to report a contribution is a violation of election law, but only if it is intentional, she said.
Declining to address the specifics of Hunter's situation, Michael R. Capizzi, chief assistant district attorney for Orange County, outlined the applicable election laws for such cases.
If the failure to disclose "is intentional, it could be a violation of election laws," Capizzi said Wednesday. "But if it was inadvertent, the filing of an amended statement is indicative of good faith."
There appeared to be some confusion Wednesday about whether the tickets were intended as a contribution or were to have been billed to the Hunter campaign.
'We Billed Them'
Papiano said: "From our standpoint, we billed them. We sold the tickets. If they want to treat it as an in-kind contribution, that's fine. I think there was a bill. I don't think there's any problem. "
Hunter's campaign treasurer, Alexander Carassi II, said Wednesday that he had expected the theater to bill his office for the tickets or send an invoice listing them as a contribution. Either way, he blamed a clerical error at Pacific Amphitheatre for the fact that an invoice never arrived and that therefore the tickets were never reported.
An amended report listing the tickets as an in-kind contribution will be filed, Carassi said.
Councilwoman Kaywood, a frequent Hunter critic, questioned how the mayor could overlook the contribution.
"It's not a little thing," she said Wednesday. "The law is very clear. That's not something you could overlook. And he is an attorney."
She added: "It puts the council in a bad light. An awful lot of work has been done. I don't know if there would be a question of the legality of our agreements then. It opens up a whole can of worms. We're in negotiations. This shouldn't be happening."
Hunter, a first-term councilman when he ran for mayor last fall, won in a costly and close race against Councilman Irv Pickler. The two men raised and spent a total of more than $350,000 in the race, the city's most expensive mayoral campaign.