Over the last several years, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian has collected thousands of dollars from lobbyists, who are barred from contributing to city officeholders. He’s received tens of thousands more from employee unions and companies with business before the city in excess of the city’s contribution caps. Yet it’s all been perfectly legal because Krekorian was raising the funds for a state campaign committee, not a city one.
But just because the fundraising was legal doesn’t mean it was appropriate. The city’s laws are designed to ensure that elected officials are not being bought off by people and companies with business and interests before the city — and the potential conflicts of interest don’t go away just because the donation is made to a state committee. Voters in Los Angeles have repeatedly passed ballot measures that impose stricter limits on city officials than state law does because they apparently believe lobbyists and other big campaign donors exert too much influence in City Hall. Ethics Commission rules cap political contributions from a single donor at $700 for campaign and officeholder committees, and they ban contributions from lobbyists and from companies bidding on or holding city contracts.
Yet Krekorian, who helps control the city’s purse strings as chairman of the City Council’s budget committee, has accepted $5,000 each from the firefighters union and the police officers union, $4,000 from a trash company now bidding on a city contract, $2,000 from a development company with projects in his district and several thousand dollars from half a dozen registered lobbyists. After the Los Angeles Daily News began questioning him about the donations last month, he returned the lobbyists’ contributions. He also says he will introduce a motion instructing the Ethics Commission to post information on its website when city elected officials are raising money for non-city campaign committees, which would at least provide greater disclosure of these kinds of stealth donations.
Since he was elected to the council in December 2009, Krekorian has raised more than $80,000 for his state Friends of Paul Krekorian account. The money is not for a future race but is supposed to help pay down about $100,000 in personal loans he made to the campaign committee, which was opened in 2000 when he ran unsuccessfully for the Assembly. Certainly, elected city officials should be able to raise money to pay off campaign debts. But to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest, they need to abide by the city’s stricter rules. Krekorian — who served on the Ethics Commission in the 1990s and pushed at that time for stronger ethics reform — should understand that.