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Donations to mayor’s education reform efforts raise questions

Times Staff Writers

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa collected more than $761,000 for his education reform efforts during the last six months of 2006, some of it from companies and individuals who have had business before the city but no direct link to education, according to financial reports filed with the state Wednesday.

The funds come on top of more than $1 million collected by Villaraigosa during the first six months of last year.

Most of the money received during the last six months -- more than $611,000 -- flowed into a committee established by the mayor to promote his campaign to gain substantial control of the Los Angeles Unified School District and to pay legal fees defending against a district lawsuit challenging his involvement.

An additional $150,000 went into a committee set up for the mayor to support school board candidates in the March 6 election.

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Between July 1 and Dec. 31, Villaraigosa received contributions from developers, investment managers, entertainment executives and attorneys, among others. The checks were for as little as $100 and as much as $100,000.

The largest contributors to the Mayor’s Committee for Government Excellence and Accountability included Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns Staples Center and is building the L.A. Live sports and entertainment complex across the street in downtown Los Angeles.

Los Angeles investor Marc Nathanson, chairman of Mapleton Investments and vice chairman of cable and technology operator Charter Communications, also gave $100,000, as did Zenith Insurance Co. in Woodland Hills.

Developer J.H. Snyder Co. gave $50,000, as did Mani Brothers, a real estate investment firm.

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And the $25,000 club included entertainment mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, financial advisor Thomas Unterman and Eric Smidt, head of a major tool and equipment retailer.

Nathanson from Mapleton Investments also gave $100,000 to a second committee, Partnership for Better Schools, and the Snyder company gave $50,000 to that committee as well.

Some of these contributors, or others giving to the mayor’s cause, maintain close relationships with Villaraigosa and have had business dealings with the city. But a spokesman for the mayor’s government excellence committee said that contributors are not buying access to the mayor but simply supporting his cause.

“I think he has been able to galvanize folks behind him in that mission,” said spokesman Nathan James.

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Contributor Nathanson said his investment firm has no business with the city. “I have been concerned with the problems facing schools in this city and the mayor told me about his concerns and that he needed help, and it made sense to me,” he said.

Others, however, currently have projects in the city, or are proposing them, including Westfield, owner of Century City’s open-air mall, which gave $100,000 last June as it was looking to create new shops and condos. An affiliate of JMB Realty, which wants to build two 47-story condo towers nearby, donated $100,000 at the same time.

In all, the mayor raised more than $1.8 million last year for his education initiatives through the two committees that report to the California secretary of state.

He has made non-cash contributions to two school board candidates -- Yolie Flores Aguilar on the Eastside and Tamar Galatzan in the San Fernando Valley. And he has helped out a third candidate in the Watts-to-San Pedro district, Richard Vladovic, whom he is scheduled to endorse today.

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Separately, Villaraigosa raised more than $1 million more from three foundations last year -- money that is not publicly reported.

That money has gone to the nonprofit L.A.'s Best, an after-school program offered in hundreds of Los Angeles public schools. The money is being held by L.A.'s Best for the mayor’s educational purposes.

duke.helfand@latimes.com

joel.rubin@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.


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