Mailers backing candidates Veres, Martinez don't list major donors

Written By kolimtiga on Rabu, 11 Februari 2015 | 12.56

Two independent political committees supporting Los Angeles City Council candidates sent out campaign mailers that don't list the donors who paid for them -- a practice that raises concerns among critics who say it undercuts city rules meant to make groups spell out their biggest bankrollers.

Between Jan. 30 and Feb. 6, a group calling itself Safe Neighborhoods & Better Schools sent out four mailers supporting the candidacy of Steve Veres, a community college trustee who is hoping to replace termed-out 4th District Councilman Tom LaBonge.

Around the same time, Valley Families for Nury Martinez mailed two advertisements backing Councilwoman Martinez's quest for reelection in her Van Nuys district.

Both are "independent expenditure" committees, which can legally raise and spend unlimited amounts but cannot coordinate with the candidates they back. Under Section 49.7.33(b) of L.A.'s Campaign Finance Ordinance, any communications sent on behalf of candidates by independent committees must list at least two major donors.

In all six ads, the names of the independent committees supporting the candidates are listed but not who is providing the funding to send out the mailers. Both media campaigns are being run by Valley-based political consulting firm Shallman Communications.

Shallman spokesman Dave Jacobson said the committee had fully complied with city election law. At the time the printed pieces were sent out, he said, the committees had received no contributions greater than $1,000, the legal threshold for listing donors.

That explanation didn't satisfy critics, including Eric Hacopian, campaign consultant for Cindy Montanez, who is challeging Martinez for her seat.

"There is only one word that can describe this, and that word is impunity,'' Hacopian said. "It is very clear that Nury and her supporters believe that our campaign finance laws do not apply to them."

City Ethics Commission officials said they could not comment or even reveal if an investigation of the mailers is underway.

But Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, said the mailers raise concerns about a possible "loophole" for independent committees under the city rules.

"Even if this is legal, we need to tighten up the laws to disallow campaigns from using this loophole because it can result in independent expenditures evading the very purpose of the law," she said. "That loophole is so big that it renders the law meaningless."

After The Times inquired about the Martinez ads last week, a Shallman spokesman provided documents showing that Valley Families for Nury Martinez is being funded primarily by the city's police union and Jack Benadon, a Burbank tax preparer.

The Safe Neighborhoods group, meanwhile, on Feb. 6 reported a $10,000 donation from one donor, Cordoba Corp., a construction management firm that has done work for the community college district. On Tuesday, it reported another contribution of $25,000 from Local 770 United Food and Commercial Workers Union political action committee.

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