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Garcetti’s India nomination has stalled. So his parents hired lobbyists to help him

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti with his parents, Sukey and Gil Garcetti, in 2021 at Griffith Observatory.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti with his parents, Sukey and Gil Garcetti, at Griffith Observatory for the 2021 State of the City address.
(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

With Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s ambassadorial nomination stalled in the U.S. Senate, his parents have taken a step more typical of industries or governments: They hired a national lobbying firm to help clear the path to a vote.

Gil and Sukey Garcetti retained McGuireWoods Consulting in April to help their 51-year-old son, according to lobbying registration forms filed last week with the Senate. The hiring was first reported by Politico.

President Biden selected the mayor as his ambassador to India in July, but the nomination has been held up for months following harassment allegations involving a former top Garcetti advisor.

“We’re a close family. If something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us — and everyone helps out,” Gil and Sukey Garcetti said in a statement to The Times. “So we brought on a trusted advisor to help tell the truth. We aren’t thinking about the unkind things that a critic might say, we’re thinking about our family and how important it is to stand by each other, show integrity, and be truthful.”

Lobbying experts said they couldn’t recall a similar situation. They also said the mayor could have hired the consultants himself.

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One of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s top advocates in the U.S. Senate said the White House needs to make a decision within weeks on his bid to be ambassador to India.

State and local government entities and elected officials can and do hire lobbyists, but “I’ve never heard about a similar case where the parents of a major elected official hired a lobbyist to help,” said Jeff Birnbaum, president of BGR Public Relations and an expert in lobbying issues.

Gil Garcetti, 80, a former L.A. County district attorney, and Sukey, 82, are regularly pictured at the mayor’s side. When the mayor appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December, his parents, rather than his wife or young daughter, attended the hearing.

The Garcettis did not indicate how much they are paying the firm, or how long the arrangement will last.

The mayor is worth millions, according to a financial disclosure he made to the government as part of his application for the India position. His annual salary is more than $290,490 and he has interests in commercial and residential real estate and investment funds, according to the disclosure.

Many Washington, D.C., lobbying firms have a minimum monthly retainer of $10,000 or $15,000, but some firms charge $50,000 a month, or occasionally more, said Beth Rotman, director of money in politics and ethics at Common Cause, a good-government organization.

She likened Garcetti’s parents to a couple that shells out to get their child into a top school.

“It’s a bit like when the parents hire the most expensive coach they can find to get them into the most expensive university,” Rotman said.

“There’s nothing unusual about family reaching out to help family,” said Garcetti spokesman Harrison Wollman. “Mayor Garcetti has been a public servant for over two decades, and is keeping his focus on serving the people of Los Angeles — and won’t let this process get in the way of the demanding work of running this city.”

Garcetti’s nomination remains in limbo as some Democratic senators seek more information about allegations that a top advisor sexually harassed others in the mayor’s office. The mayor testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he wasn’t aware of any inappropriate behavior.

“I want to say unequivocally that I never witnessed, nor was it brought to my attention, the behavior that’s been alleged, and I also want to assure you if it had been, I would have immediately taken action to stop that,” Garcetti said.

A report released by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) concluded that Garcetti likely knew or should have known about the aide’s alleged behavior.

A city report by an outside investigator paid for by taxpayers cleared both the advisor, Rick Jacobs, and the mayor. Jacobs has denied harassing anyone.

The city is also paying for Jacobs’ attorneys in the ongoing lawsuit brought against the city by a Los Angeles Police Department officer who alleges Jacobs harassed him in front of the mayor.

Gil Garcetti’s name has come up in that lawsuit. Jacobs said in deposition testimony that the mayor’s father told him the officer might file a lawsuit. The mayor’s parents also reached out to Jacobs after the lawsuit was filed to express their support for him, according to a text introduced at Jacobs’ deposition.

Like his son, Gil Garcetti has navigated tumultuous political times. His eight years in office included the failed murder prosecution of O.J. Simpson, and culminated when he lost his reelection bid to one of his deputies, Steve Cooley. The elder Garcetti went on to become a celebrated photographer.

Lobbying registration forms filed by McGuireWoods Consulting listed the Garcettis and a Brentwood address, which was later amended to a Wilshire Boulevard address linked to the couple.

McGuireWoods Senior Vice President Breelyn Pete, a former Garcetti staffer who is working on behalf of the mayor’s parents, told The Times she would be “putting my knowledge of Senate processes and belief in the mayor’s integrity to use by helping to share truthful information with senators and their staffs.”

The effective date of registration was April 5, according to the form.

“Lobbyists know how to move the wheels,” said Common Cause’s Rotman. Lobbyists have relationships with specific lawmakers and may represent multiple interests or help raise funds for the lawmaker, making sure that their clients donate, she said.

McGuireWoods Federal PAC has donated more than $900,000 in the 2021-22 election cycle, giving money to both Republican and Democratic senators.

Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, who has held three ambassador posts, said he has never heard of someone hiring a lobbyist to help secure an ambassadorial confirmation, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.

Despite L.A.'s global image as a place of glamour and glitz, city voters have tended to select mayors who have done time on the government payroll.

“Most career foreign service officers couldn’t afford to hire a lobbyist,” Neumann said. Garcetti, a political appointee, endorsed Biden when it was far from clear he would win the Democratic nomination and served as a co-chair of Biden’s campaign.

The State Department referred questions about Garcetti’s parents hiring a lobbyist to the White House.

“The president has confidence in Mayor Garcetti and believes he’ll be an excellent representative in India. The White House continues to press senators and is pushing to engage with any undecided senators and answer any questions they might have,” a White House official said.

Garcetti has traveled to Washington several times in the last year and has met with senators to discuss his nomination. His former communications director Naomi Seligman has also held meetings to oppose his nomination.

Seligman contends the mayor witnessed Jacobs’ alleged harassment of others, and says she was kissed on the mouth against her will by Jacobs, which he denies.

John Tye, a lawyer with the nonprofit Whistleblower Aid who is working with Seligman, said he is not required to register as a lobbyist in order to meet with Senate offices.

“We have been doing education and we’re permitted [to do so] under nonprofit rules,” Tye said.

Bob Stern, past president of the Center for Governmental Studies, said it’s likely Gil and Sukey Garcetti don’t care about the optics of hiring a lobbyist and compared the move to a “Hail Mary.”

“It’s desperation,” Stern said.


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