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California

L.A. Councilman Koretz, opponent Creed trade charges over spending by outside campaign groups

Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz
Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, pictured in 2013, arguing for a ban on the use of bullhooks on elephants.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz has lodged a complaint with state regulators accusing his opponent of violating a state law that prohibits candidates from working with campaign groups that can take in unlimited campaign contributions.

Koretz called this week for the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission to shut down the Committee To Protect Our Neighborhoods, which has been sending mailers hitting him over traffic congestion and campaign donations.

Under state law, the Committee To Protect Our Neighborhoods must be run separately from the campaign of attorney Jesse Creed, who is looking to unseat Koretz in the March 7 election. But Koretz contends that the committee is not truly independent because Creed’s aunt is one of its biggest financial backers.

“It’s troubling because she’s clearly very close to the family, and it certainly raises the prospect, and the likelihood, of coordination” with Creed’s council campaign, said Koretz, who represents neighborhoods stretching from the Westside to Encino. 

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Creed’s aunt, Donna Optican, did not respond to a call seeking comment. But Creed said he has not been involved with the committee and learned of it, and his aunt’s involvement, only after its activities were revealed on the Ethics Commission website.

In an interview, he accused Koretz of attempting to distract voters from his criticism of a different independent expenditure group, the Progressive Growth PAC, which has spent nearly $23,000 promoting Koretz.

Progressive Growth PAC is heavily funded by companies affiliated with the developer of the Reef, a $1.2-billion high-rise complex approved by Koretz and his colleagues in November. That project, planned in South L.A, was opposed by residents who fear it will gentrify the neighborhood and result in displacement of low-income renters.

One principal in the Progressive Growth PAC is City Hall lobbyist John Ek, who received an $11,000 fine from the Ethics Commission this week. Ek was penalized for inviting council members and others to a lavish rooftop birthday party, in violation of gift rules.

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“These are the people that Koretz deals with,” Creed said. “These are the insiders.”

Koretz did not attend the Ek birthday party. He said he knew little about the Reef, since it is in a district represented by Councilman Curren Price.

“I’m told that the Reef was controversial to some degree, but I don’t know these guys,” Koretz said in an interview. “I wouldn’t know them if I saw them on the street. I couldn’t be less connected or knowledgeable about their project.”

L.A.’s contribution limits prohibit donors from giving more than $700 to each council candidate during an election cycle. Independent expenditure committees, like the ones being debated by Creed and Koretz, can receive contributions of any size as long as they do not coordinate their activities with a particular candidate.

FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga confirmed that his office has received a complaint about the anti-Koretz group. 

Agency regulations state that a candidate is presumed to be illegally coordinating with an independent expenditure group if that group is “principally funded” by an immediate family member. However, the state’s Political Reform Act defines an immediate family member as a spouse, domestic partner or child.

Wierenga declined to discuss the specifics of the complaint filed by Koretz. But he told The Times that in general, if an extended family member of a candidate donates heavily to an independent expenditure committee that favors that candidate, the FPPC might open an investigation.

Chris Chaffee, who identified himself as an officer with the Committee to Protect Our Neighborhoods, said Creed’s aunt lives in Koretz’s district and is not the biggest donor to the group.

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“The Committee To Protect Our Neighborhoods has many donors who want to move the city in a new direction,” Chaffee wrote in an email. “One of those donors happens to be an aunt of another candidate in this race.”

Times staff writers Dakota Smith and Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

Twitter: @DavidZahniser


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