Challenger Ted Stein on Wednesday called on Los Angeles City Atty. James K. Hahn to return $5,000 in campaign contributions from 20 of his employees, saying Hahn has put his office “up for sale” by trading promotions for political support.
Stein, an Encino lawyer-developer who is running against the 12-year incumbent in the April 8 election, noted that four of the city employees who are on Hahn’s donor list received promotions or merit pay increases in April, as did the wife of another contributor.
“This seems to be a pattern for Jim Hahn--give him money, get a promotion,” said Stein campaign consultant Harvey Englander. “We’re talking about a policy that has a great potential for abuse. When you’re an elected official, you don’t take money from your employees.”
Englander said four deputy city attorneys--whom he would not identify--have tried to donate to Stein’s campaign, but that he has returned their checks.
Hahn had a similar policy of not accepting employee contributions, and returned three donations from deputy city attorneys earlier last year; among those was a $500 contribution from Deputy City Atty. Vincent Sato that came four days before Sato received a two-step pay increase.
But campaign manager Matt Middlebrook said Hahn changed his policy in July at the request of deputies who wanted to contribute.
“For Ted Stein to raise the question of ethics is laughable,” Hahn said in a written statement, noting that Stein is testifying today in Little Rock, Ark. before a federal grand jury investigating Whitewater about his 1994 hiring of former Assistant Atty. Gen. Webster L. Hubbell as a lobbyist for Los Angeles International Airport.
“The deputies in my office are free to contribute to either candidate, myself or Mr. Stein,” Hahn added. “Their political involvement has no impact on the promotion process, and for Mr. Stein to suggest it does is a slap in the face to the men and women of this office.”
The campaign contributions came six to eight months after the promotions. Of 175 people who received pay raises or promotions, only four contributed to Hahn between July 1 and Dec. 31, 1996, according to records at the city’s Ethics Commission. Three-quarters of the deputies who backed their boss with contributions ranging from $50 to $1,000 were not on the latest promotions list.
“It’s just preposterous. It’s ridiculous,” Deputy City Atty. Bernie Brown, who jumped two merit steps in April and gave Hahn $175 in October, said of Stein’s accusations. “There’s no connection, whatsoever, to the promotion. I gave him money because I think he’s a great, fantastic city attorney.”
Julie Downey, who was promoted to Senior Assistant City Atty. in April and gave Hahn $100 in October, called the allegations “utterly absurd.”
“I did not give up my right as a citizen to participate in the political process when I became a city attorney,” said Downey, who has been with the city for two decades and plans to retire soon. “Who knows better than those of us who have been here?”
Earlier this week, the Los Angeles City Attorneys Assn. endorsed Hahn, the first time he has ever received the group’s formal backing.