Want Action with the City? Give to a Campaign Committee, Hire a Lobbyist

Councilman MIke Bonin represents Council District 11.

A Los Angeles City Council Member can receive only $700 in yearly campaign donations from an individual. This individual can also donate $800 to an office holder’s account each year. That means that somebody who wants to support Councilman Mike Bonin can give a maximum of $1,500 annually, correct?

Yes, unless you’re a lobbyist or developer or an individual who would like to be “good friends” with Bonin.

Consider that in addition to Bonin’s officer holder account and his campaign account, the councilman has started “L.A. Forward – Councilmember Mike Bonin’s Ballot Measure Committee.” There is no limit to what one can donate to that account.

Additionally, Bonin and L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas started the committee “Yes on HHH – End Homelessness in L.A., A Coalition of Civic Nonprofits, Housing Providers.” There was no limit to what you could donate to that account, which was used to convince voters to approve the 2016 proposition.

Donated money is allowed to shuffle between Ballot Committees, too. For example, the “Committee to Expand Middle Class aka Airbnb” donated to the Bonin/Mark-Ridley “Yes on HHH committee.” And Airbnb gave $150,00 to “Yes on HHH,” but did donors to either committee know that?

A December 2018 L.A. Times story ( “L.A. Approves New Rules for Airbnb-type Rentals after Years of Debate”) noted that Airbnb and HomeAway had spent about $1.3 million in the four years preceding 2018, lobbying the city to set rules favoring short-term rental companies.

Jose Huizar

The Pacific Palisades Community Council submitted letters to Bonin and PLUM (the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, including chairman Jose Huizar) about short-term rentals (home-sharing). The first letter was sent in September 2015 and a second in October 2015, and a motion was drafted and sent supporting the position.

In June 2017, the PPCC sent another letter to PLUM opposing short-term rentals and cc’d it to Bonin. It noted, “We have long opposed legalization of home-sharing (short-term rental activity) in all residential zones. . . .but if legalization is to occur, certain key provisions must be included,” which included renting a home no more than 90 days.

In February 2018, the PPCC submitted a resolution to support the short-term rentals — providing there was a cap on the number of nights. A letter was also sent to Bonin, asking for a cap.

This was followed by a September 2018 letter to City Planning, once again cc’d to Bonin opposing short-term rentals.

The subsequent law, which was approved unanimously by the LA. City Council in December 2018, said hosts can offer their homes for “short” stays of up to 120 days.

Despite the continued Pacific Palisades Community Council opposition, Bonin sided with short-term rental companies, who made financial payments to his ballot measure committees.

Circling the News wondered what happened to the money that was raised for the Bonin/ Ridley-Thomas committee “HHH” and for the “L.A. Forward” committee. If there’s a surplus of funds after a ballot measure has been voted upon, where exactly does that money go?

CTN emailed the LA City Ethics Committee on August 3 and asked, “I noticed that Bonin used money in that account to fight a recall effort–which meant a law firm and a political consultant received substantial money from L.A. Forward. Are there any requirements about how that money can be spent?”

An Ethics Committee representative hasn’t yet responded.

Someone who follows campaign finance issues told CTN that it seems that the “unused” dollars go back into the office holder’s account.

The person wrote, “Additionally, it seems that the councilmembers are able to pay their current, full-time staff members a ‘consulting fee’ out of these funds.”

According to the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission website, Bonin staffer David Graham-Caso was paid $7,000 in consulting fees from L.A. Forward in late 2016. (Editor’s note: Graham-Caso already makes $188k annually as Bonin’s Deputy Chief of Staff), per public records.

Mayor Eric Garcetti (left) is shown with Rick Caruso (center) and Councilman Mike Bonin at the groundbreaking for Caruso’s Palisades Village.
Photo: Bart Bartholomew

Records show that Bonin received a $100,000 check from developer Rick Caruso for his L.A. Forward Committee on September 1, 2016. Caruso also gave $125,000 to the Mayor’s Fund and donated $200,000 to the campaign for Measure M, the transportation sales tax measure.

Bonin’s office was largely responsible for ensuring that the Palisades Design Review Board (DRB) was not allowed to oversee Caruso’s Palisades Village project — by disqualifying Donna Vaccarino, who was on the DRB, on the pretense that she talked to Bonin at the Palisades farmers market before the DRB held its deliberations.

Her disqualification, along with a dubious and controversial disqualification of three other members (following a public Community Council meeting) left the DRB without a quorum. It also meant that there was no local oversight of the design of the project.

At an October 2016 L.A. City Council Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee hearing, Potrero Canyon rim resident Lou Magur asked that they not rely on an outdated soils report.

“I requested reasonable oversight of the dirt being imported into Potrero Canyon,” Magur told this editor in a 2016 story, noting that had told Councilmembers Jose Huizar (Chair), Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Gilbert Cedillo, Mitchell Englander and Curren Price Jr. that the Environmental Impact Review referenced by the City in the report was from 1985.

Groundbreaking for Palisades Village occurred in November 2016. The dirt from the excavation for underground parking at the project was trucked as landfill to nearby Potrero Canyon Park, which has been under construction for decades.

“My concern was any issues be rectified before the dirt was put in the canyon, because it would have been cheaper to rectify,” Magur told L.A. Recreation and Park Commissioners on May 7 this year, when the Bureau of Engineering requested a $4 million change order. “My request for independent oversight was denied.”

Huizar is now the subject of a 34-count criminal indictment allegedly for involving bribes from real estate developers and was suspended from the City Council in June.

How else can you give a large amount of money to a councilman? Hire a lobbyist.

An eldercare project, which was opposed by many in the community, because of its size and proximity to a City park, is now under construction. The developers paid lobbyists handsomely.

Palisades Drive LLC (Rony and Moshe Shram) has spent close to $500,000 with the lobbying firm Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP.

What did the Shrams receive for their money? Well, the lobbyists had meetings with Bonin employees and members of City Planning, presumably to discuss the Highlands project.

On February 4, 2016, under Lobbying Fundraising on the Ethics Committee website, Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell is recorded as giving $20,848 to Mike Bonin for City Council [1379818]. The same day $700 is given to “Mike Bonin for City Council 2013 Officeholder Account [1352608]”

That same day in 2016, Benjamin M. Reznik, identified as a lobbyist with Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell, donated $20,848 to Mike Bonin for City Council 2017 [1379818]. He also gave $700 to Bonin’s Officeholder account.

A lobbyist can pool funds from several clients, solicit from friends and family, or entice employees to contribute (up to a maximum of $700 per person) and present them to a councilman. A councilman might be more likely to remember a sizable amount — helping to ensure lobbyist phone calls are more quickly returned.

Names of people who give to the lobbyist on behalf of a councilman are recorded on the Ethics Committee website under lobbying contributions.

For example, “Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP Lobbying firm (Delivered for Kohanoff Arco.)”

For Bonin’s 2017 reelection campaign, Jeffer Mangels Butler and Mitchell’s clients included Shell Station owner Kohanoff and relatives, who were each able to give $700 (Arash Kohanoff, Jaklin Kohanoff, Justin Kohanoff, Michael Kohanoff and Saeed Kohanoff). Also donating to Bonin through the lobbying group was Geoff Palmer, the developer responsible for the Sea View Villas at 17325 Castellammare Dr., a five-story, 29 residential unit apartment building with monthly rental prices starting at $20,000.

In total, about $42,000 went to Bonin from Jeffer Mangels Butler and Mitchell or through a lobbyist connected with the firm.

The second way a lobbyist can support a councilman is by holding a fundraiser or soliciting contributions. The money solicited and the identities of the contributors do not need to be disclosed by city law.

Visit: ethics.lacity.org to view the different accounts and who has donated (1352608–Bonin Officeholder), (137981–Bonin for City Council 2017) and (1388082–Bonin’s L.A. Forward), or to see (Bonin-Ridley-Thomas Yes on HHH– 1381551).

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2 Responses to Want Action with the City? Give to a Campaign Committee, Hire a Lobbyist

  1. John Victor says:

    So much corruption in LA city hall!

  2. Knew about the money says:

    This is surprising? The folks Bonin labels as right wings and internet trolls have been saying this for years. Is it only now that it impacts the Palisades that it’s newsworthy?

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