Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley has agreed to forfeit $55,000 in political funds raised in a controversial series of inner-city carnivals that are the subject of an ongoing criminal inquiry, officials said Friday.
Bradley agreed to pay the money to the city treasury under a settlement worked out with the city attorney’s office based on a newly released audit of the mayor’s $2.7-million 1989 reelection campaign. The city attorney had contended that the carnival proceeds violated a $200 city limit on anonymous contributions.
The district attorney’s office said it is investigating materials related to the audit that were referred by the city attorney on Friday. Those materials included allegations of a potential criminal violation not directly involving Bradley or his campaign, according to the city attorney’s office.
Also referred were detailed reports and interviews regarding the political carnivals, which were disclosed by The Times in 1989.
District attorney’s office spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said all of the material would be part of an ongoing inquiry, but she said she could not be more specific.
It has been previously reported that the district attorney’s office was reviewing cashier’s checks and other carnival-related materials forwarded by City Atty. James K. Hahn.
On Friday, the executive director of the city Ethics Commission said his agency will consider changes in the law to control possible fund-raising abuses involving carnivals.
Bradley’s events, using traveling carnival companies, were conducted in 1987 and 1988 on vacant sites and parking lots in central Los Angeles. They generated at least $80,000 for his last mayoral campaign, the audit found, and were coordinated by Long Beach businessman Alan Alevy with help from public relations consultant Mary Anne Singer, a friend of the mayor.
Alevy arranged for free use of carnival sites--sometimes with Bradley’s assistance--and delivered a 20% share of carnival ticket sales to Bradley in the form of cashier’s checks and money orders.
At the same time, the mayor was intervening with city officials to assist Alevy, who was trying to buy two city lots in South-Central Los Angeles. Alevy held some of the carnivals without official approval on city property he was attempting to buy.
Audit records note that Deputy City Atty. Kevin Ryan, who reviewed the audit, observed an apparent “correlation” between the holding of the carnivals, delivery of the receipts by Alevy and “actions/inquiries made by Mr. Bradley relative to the land transaction.”
In an interview, Ryan said he would not “go beyond that. That’s something that relates to district attorney’s investigation, not ours.”
Bradley has denied any wrongdoing, saying that his inquiries to city officials on Alevy’s behalf were not related to the carnival fund raising. Jane Ellison, the mayor’s City Hall legal counsel, said Bradley welcomes any scrutiny by the district attorney’s office and will cooperate with investigators.
In a statement Friday, Bradley said there was “legal ambiguity” in state and local campaign laws governing how the carnival money should have been handled--a point the city attorney conceded. Bradley said the carnivals were a “grass-roots” fund-raising technique in the tradition of “passing the hat” at a concert or church service.
The mayor said he agreed to the settlement “rather than subject the taxpayers to a prolonged courtroom debate.” Ellison said the $55,000 will be paid to the city treasury in the next few days from the mayor’s campaign funds.
Alevy could not be reached immediately for comment. In earlier interviews, he said Bradley did not extend him any special favors.
The audit by the city clerk paints a troubling picture of the carnivals and strongly urges that such fund-raisers be banned.
Audit documents show that it was unclear if those attending the carnivals--mostly in low-income areas--knew they were contributing to the mayor’s political fund. Some carnival workers told auditors they saw no signs alerting patrons that part of their ticket money would go to Bradley’s campaign. But Alevy and other carnival coordinators said such signs were displayed on ticket booths.
Auditors also found that there were no formal contracts between Bradley’s committee and the carnival companies; record-keeping was poor or nonexistent by Alevy and carnival agents, and someone associated with the carnivals may have advanced money to the Bradley campaign in anticipation of the carnivals’ proceeds.
Additionally, there were inconsistencies between the flow of carnival money to the Bradley campaign and records showing when the carnivals were held and who sponsored them.
If permitted to continue, “this type of program will easily allow large sums of money to come into campaigns with no ability to trace the source,” wrote J. Michael Carey, the executive officer in the city clerk’s office who oversaw the audit.
Ellison, the mayor’s legal adviser, said the city clerk’s office had engaged in “rash and reckless speculation that the facts could never support.” Ellison said she hoped that the neighborhood carnivals could continue to be fund-raising events for Bradley because they allow small donors to give $1 and $2 to candidates.
However, Ben Bycel, executive director of the city Ethics Commission, said that changes in the law may be needed and that his agency will begin a review of the issues raised by Bradley’s carnivals.
Bycel, who received the audit Friday, said the focus in reporting large amounts of small donations should be on “the conduit who arranged it and packaged it.” Bradley’s campaign did not report that Alevy was involved in securing the carnival funds, which were reported as miscellaneous small donations.
“The concept of $80,000 in anonymous contributions is mind-boggling,” Bycel said, adding that his agency would seek to discourage any “schemes whose . . . public perception is to get around campaign contribution limits.”
Beyond the carnival problem, Bradley agreed to refund about $25,000 to 26 donors who had exceeded the city’s $1,000 donation limit. Ryan, of the city attorney’s office, said that represented a very small share of Bradley’s overall donors.
Ryan also said information on a collateral matter discovered during the audit--not directly involving Bradley or his campaign--was referred to the district attorney’s office for possible prosecution.
He declined to elaborate, but Ellison said she understood the matter was a possible embezzlement of funds that should have gone to the campaign.