Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, whose administration has been criticized for its contracting practices, paid a campaign consultant $46,000 in public funds to help press the city’s agenda in Sacramento and did not draw up a contract until after the work was finished.
And neither the city nor the consultant, Kam Kuwata, disclosed the work, although state law requires that lobbying activities in Sacramento be reported.
Hahn hired Kuwata, who worked on his 2001 mayoral campaign and is working on his reelection effort, to help the city persuade state lawmakers in 2003 to avoid using local revenue to balance the state budget.
But Kuwata never registered as a lobbyist, although he said he repeatedly spoke with state legislators and the governor. Kuwata said he was gathering information rather than lobbying.
Hahn is not the first mayor to put a campaign strategist on the public payroll. Then-Mayor Richard Riordan in 1998 gave a $70,000 contract to a firm headed by Ace Smith, who had worked for Riordan’s reelection campaign. Smith is now managing Hahn challenger Antonio Villaraigosa’s campaign.
Hahn’s office paid for Kuwata’s services from a discretionary fund set aside for professional services. But it did not draw up a contract until after Kuwata had submitted invoices for the completed work, nearly a year after he took the job.
Both the city attorney’s office and the city controller, who pays the city’s bills, said Hahn’s office had failed to follow city contracting guidelines.
“We recommend that a contract be entered into before any work begins,” the city attorney’s office wrote to the city clerk’s office about Kuwata’s contract in April 2004.
Seven months later, City Controller Laura Chick and City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo sent city department heads and the mayor a memo outlining their concerns about “retroactive contracts.”
“This practice runs counter to good management and sound accounting practices,” they wrote.
Hahn spokeswoman Shannon Murphy said recently that there was nothing unusual about the contract. “It’s not uncommon for contracts to take a while to be finalized,” she said.
Murphy added, however, that the mayor’s office does not advise other city departments to award contracts in this fashion.
Murphy also said Kuwata had not been lobbying for the city. “He was a strategist,” she said.
Kuwata said he talked with state leaders without advocating the city’s position. “I provided strategic advice to our lobbyist,” he said.
Kuwata’s invoices note that he “will interact with members of the state Assembly and Senate and with their staff members relative” to the city’s lobbying plan.
State law defines a lobbyist as someone who is paid to “communicate” with state officials “for the purpose of influencing legislative or administrative action.”
Kuwata said he spoke repeatedly in 2003 with aides to then-Gov. Gray Davis, then-Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, then-Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson and other legislators on behalf of the city.
At the time, state leaders were wrestling with a growing budget crisis. Officials throughout California, including Hahn, were fighting to protect local funds from being used by state leaders.
Hahn at the time made no secret of his plans to beef up the city’s lobbying efforts. But although the city informed the state that it had hired the Sacramento firm of Aaron Read & Associates, it never reported hiring Kuwata.
Kuwata, a veteran political strategist who has worked for years with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), also has long relationships with many state leaders, including Davis. In 2002, he worked with Democratic legislative leaders to help redraw the state’s legislative districts.
Kuwata also has been a longtime advisor to Hahn.
Campaign finance records show that Hahn paid him more than $101,000 in 2001. And in 2002, Kuwata was paid more than $136,000 by Hahn’s campaign against San Fernando Valley secession.
In 2003, however, Kuwata was not paid from Hahn’s political funds.
The mayor’s office paid Kuwata for the work in Sacramento from funds in the city budget set aside for use by the mayor for “professional services.”
The City Charter gives the mayor wide discretion in how to spend that account. And there is no requirement that the mayor’s office seek competitive bids on contracts of less than $2 million.
Times staff writer Jeffrey L. Rabin contributed to this report.