Real Estate Interests and Out-of-Town Donors Dominate WeHo City Council Race

Nearly two-thirds of $330,000 contributed to candidates in the March 3 West Hollywood City Council election has come from businesses or individuals outside of West Hollywood according to an analysis of donations by WEHOville. And roughly a third of all donations have come from real estate interests.

campaign donation moneyThe analysis, funded by WEHOville’s “Who Owns WeHo” Kickstarter campaign, looked at all donations to individual candidates through Jan. 17, 2015 (the latest date for which campaign finance filings are required) plus donations for so-called “independent expenditure committees” (IE).

Mayor John D’Amico received the most money, with donations of $102,000. He is followed by Lauren Meister, with $85,000 in contributions, $40,000 of which come from an IE established by Bill Resnick, a psychiatrist and philanthropist who lives on Westmount Drive. Trailing behind them are challengers Joe Guardarrama and Lindsey Horvath, with $49,000 and $46,000 respectively, and Councilmember John Heilman, with $49,000. Challengers John Allendorfer, Brian Funnagan, Christopher Landavazo and Tristan Schukraft have reported no donations. Candidates address campaign finance issues today in another story on WEHOville.

What follows are some questions voters are likely to ask and the answers we’ve come up with. Feel free to submit other questions in comments to this story and we will answer them if we can.

Q. Who is the biggest recipient of real estate dollars?

A. Mayor John D’Amico. Our calculations show he has received $37,000 from real estate interests, which equals roughly 36 percent of his total donations reported to date. (In calculating that, we allocated to him a quarter of the $53,000 donated by real estate interests to an IE whose expressed intention is to support D’Amico and candidates Joe Guardarrama, John Heilman and Lindsey Horvath).

Q. Who are other major recipients of real estate contributions?

A. John Heilman comes in second to D’Amico, with 19 percent of his donations coming from real estate interests, followed by Joe Guardarrama (16 percent), Lindsey Horvath (14 percent), Lauren Meister (8 percent), Larry Block (one percent) and James “Duke” Mason (less than half of 1 percent).

Q. Which real estate interests made the largest donations, and to who?

A. Townscape Management, the Beverly Hills-based developer of the controversial 8899 Beverly Blvd. and 8150 Sunset Blvd. projects and its owners are the largest real estate donors, having bet $12,450 on the Council race.

Townscape has donated $9,950 to the IE supporting D’Amico et al. Tyler Siegel has donated $500 to Guardarrama, and John Irwin has donated $500 each to Guardarrama and Heilman.

Tied for second are Excel Property Management and BMB Investments (and its owner), each of which has donated $11,000. Excel donated $10,000 to the IE supporting D’Amico, Guardarrama, Heilman and Horvath and $500 each to D’Amico and Guardarrama. Excel is owned by Arman Abady’s Charles Company which is building the Melrose Triangle complex in an area bounded Melrose Avenue, Almont Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard. BMB donated $10,000 to the same IE. Its owner, Benjamin Solemani, also donated $500 each to D’Amico and Guardarrama

Other real estate interests who made significant donations are members of the Mani family, seven of whom made the maximum individual donation of $500 to Heilman and Horvath, for a total of $5,500. Mani Brothers is a major real estate owner whose properties include the 9000 Sunset office building, the Sunset Medical Tower at 9201 Sunset Blvd. and Piazza del Sol at 8439 Sunset. Five members of the Soroudi family, whose interests include the Ruby Group and Holloway Partners, made the maximum individual donations to John Heilman for a total of $3,500.

Q. How does WEHOville define “real estate interests”?

A. In our calculations we included real estate developers, those who identified themselves as major property owners, architects working on projects now under construction or being considered for approval by the city and lawyers focused on real estate, such as those from Latham & Watkins, who have donated $5,000 to various candidates.

Q. What other major interest group is funding the City Council campaigns?

A. No group comes close to real estate interests. Attorneys, many of whom represent clients who bring business before the City Council, have donated $17,000. Politicians, including the candidates themselves, have donated $9,000. Lobbyists have donated $7,000, and billboard companies and their owners and employees have donated $5,000. City vendors identified by WEHOville have donated $2,000, $1,000 of that coming from Gary Minzer, owner of Hollywood Tow Service, which has a contract with the city to tow illegally parked cars. Minzer gave $500 each to D’Amico and Horvath. Bikes and Hikes and its owner, Danny Roman, gave $500 each to D’Amico and Heilman. At its Dec. 15 meeting, the Council appropriated $46,000 to Bikes and Hikes to provide 10 bicycles to city employees. Only Councilmember John Duran recused himself from that vote, noting that he had received a contribution from Roman for his L.A. County supervisor campaign.

Q. Which candidates are the biggest recipients of donations from people who neither live in nor own a business in West Hollywood?

A. Mayor D’Amico is first, with $69,000 in donations from outside West Hollywood, which equals 71 percent of his total donations. He is followed by challenger Joe Guardarrama, with donations of $30,000 (62 percent of his total). Councilmember John Heilman and challenger Lindsey Horvath pretty much tie for third place, with $28,000 and $27,000 respectively (60 and 61 percent of their total donations). James “Duke” Mason reports $17,000 (88 percent) of his donations come from outside WeHo and Lauren Meister reports that $11,000 (24 percent) of her donations are from outside the city. Ten thousand dollars (or 40 percent) of Larry Block’s donations are from outside WeHo.

Q. Do any donors or donor categories stand out for any reason?

A. Well, marijuana vendors seem to be taking an interest in this Council race, with total donations of $2,000. Of that, $1,000 went to Guardarrama and $500 each to D’Amico and Meister. One donor, Green Cross of Southern California, a marijuana collective, had its $500 donation returned by the D’Amico campaign.

And four city employees donated. Michelle Rex, the deputy to D’Amico, contributed $450 to his campaign. Brendan Rome, an “administrative specialist,” contributed $500 to the D’Amico campaign and Mike Gerle, who abandoned his own race for the Council last year, donated $100. John Erickson, the temporary deputy to John Heilman and formerly the temporary deputy to Councilmember Abbe Land, donated $250 to Horvath.

Q. How does WEHOville do its analysis of campaign contributions?

A. Figuring out who really is donating isn’t very easy, despite a City Council member’s recent statement that any resident can go onto the city’s website and download a copy of the donation reports to find out what’s going on.

First we have to transcribe information about each of those hundreds of donors into a database. That allows us to sort the donors by name, interest group and candidate. Then we do a check for errors. It’s very common for donors to be listed as residents of Los Angeles when, in fact, they are residents of West Hollywood. We check the addresses to be sure. And we note errors in campaign filings, which will account for minor differences sometimes in what we report and what the candidate reports. For example, we assume there’s an error if one of two adjacent listings show the same donor giving $500 on the same day to the same candidate. That would be a violation of donor limits.

The fun part is doing the research to find out the donors’ connections. The homemaker in New York City who donated $500 each to Joe Guardarrama and John D’Amico is the wife of the co-owner of the Denihan Hospitality Group, which plans to build the James Hotel in West Hollywood. So we assume, given her distance from WeHo and her closeness to her husband, that she falls into the real estate developer’s “hotel” subcategory. The “homemaker” in Murray, UT, who gave $500 to Joe Guardarrama’s campaign, has a connection with a billboard company, so we put her donation in that category.

Q. Who made this analysis of West Hollywood City Council campaign donations possible?

A. You did! The readers of WEHOville (who for the most part are residents of West Hollywood) donated $5,000 to a Kickstarter campaign we launched last year called “Who Owns WeHo.” The goal was to raise the money we needed to get the files transcribed (the boring work) and then figure out who the donors really are (the difficult and time-consuming  work). WEHOville couldn’t have done it without you, and we’ll update the data as future donation reports are made public.  Please submit any additional questions you have about donations as a comment to this story.  If we have the information, we will answer them.


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Rudolf Martin
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Rudolf Martin

Looking at this thread it strikes me that despite the usual quibbles it seems that most agree we badly need meaningful campaign finance reform in West Hollywood.

And I wonder if anyone else thinks it’s odd that the “committee to elect John D’Amico, John Heilman, Lindsey Horvath and Joseph Guardarrama to the West Hollywood City Council” is sending out glossy endorsement mailers for only the latter three candidates.

So Hank, wouldn’t this mean that these developer dollars should be re-assigned accordingly for your tabulations? And secondly does it mean that some contributors have been misled?

Mike Dolan
Guest
Mike Dolan

@Riley-I was grateful that the author brought me up-to-date. With my schedule, I had not seen the latest. I’m glad you agree with me. I did not say get “all” money out of campaigns but further reform must be built upon what has been done after this election cycle. I also agree that all candidates and IE’s are currently “playing by the rules.” I make the case that there will always be a need for campaign donations in our municipal elections. Hopefully, the new council enacts stronger campaign finance reform before the next election. Individuals along with IE’s must have… Read more »

Steve Martin
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Steve Martin

When I look through the comments and sort through the partisan posturing and snarky comments about each other, it seems pretty clear that nearly everyone commenting is not happy about big developer contributions skirting our election laws via “Independent Expenditure” campaigns. As all of you seem to care passionately about West Hollywood, our next step would be to figure out how to neutralize the kinds of funding that skewer the election process. At least John D’Amico will tell us when he has accepted money from someone who has a project before City Council. That is a start. It is hard… Read more »

Riley
Guest
Riley

Thanks, Hank Scott. Oops, Mike Dolan I DID read before I wrote. I read the updated Campaign Finance Statements before I wrote…but maybe someone else did not. Here’s the funny part, Mike Dolan. I agree with you about getting ALL money out of the campaigns; local, state and federal. But that will not happen until the laws are changed. For now all candidates and IEs are playing by the rules, whether we like it or not. Let’s face it, If a single donor had pumped up the IE for Heilman, Horvath et al., the people who support those candidates would… Read more »

Mike Dolan
Guest
Mike Dolan

@Riley-Can you read before you write? This article was written 2/9/2015. As of today the IE for D’Amico, Joe Guardarrama, John Heilman and Lindsay Horvath has not changed at the City Clerk’s office and not the Campaign Finance Statements. So what is your point? As I have stated above-“I am for total campaign finance reform including all IE’s capped or completely removed form campaign contributions. I’m talking about exorbitant amounts of money to be forever limited or eliminated. So, for me, it’s about the $$$$$$$$$.” But we have to get through this election first. I know all candidates want and… Read more »

AB
Guest
AB

To say it even more simply: There may be very good answers, but donations that large demand for the questions to be asked. (Sorry about the typos, I am commenting from my phone.)

AB
Guest
AB

Let me be clear, I like Lauren Meister, and I am not implying anything inappropriate. I am suggesting, however, that the same questions raised by some over $500 donations should be raised over a donation of $40,000 in support of a rival candidate. The same standard of undue influence should apply equally to all candidates. It isn’t right to ignore this values when discussing one candidate, bit not the others.

Very Concerned Citizen
Guest
Very Concerned Citizen

Jeeze…people…calm down and let’s just put all of this into perspective. The single donor happens to be a philanthropist. I dare say that the amount he contributed put in numbers that most of us can relate to might be more equivalent to $400. It is all relative. And I agree with some of the other comments. I would MUCH rather see a large donation from one person than 10’s of thousands from various developers and outside interests. How else can any candidate level the playing field? If all the others are getting lots and lots of money from developers and… Read more »

What's This??
Guest
What's This??

“Bikes and Hikes and its owner, Danny Roman, gave $500 each to D’Amico and Heilman. At its Dec. 15 meeting, the Council appropriated $46,000 to Bikes and Hikes to provide 10 bicycles to city employees.”

Scott T Imler
Guest
Scott T Imler

I’d like to second AB’s concern about a single individual weighing in with $40,000 for an Independent Expenditure Committee. It’s Citizens United in a boa and heels. More often than not, these types of fictitious astro-turf citizen groups handle negative advertising, ‘hit-mail.” and pay to display slate cards allowing candidates the proven benefits of appealing to people’s worst instincts, without the favored candidate having to take responsibility for the trash talk or misrepresentation. To quote Sgt. Schultz of Hogan’s Heroes, “I know nothing” is a hard swallow in a town the size of West Hollywood.

Riley
Guest
Riley

@AB, It raises no more questions than $10,000 each from developers. Lauren Meister has no say in the matter of who donates to an I.E. She is not connected. Just as Heilman, Horvath, D’Amico and Joe G., et al. do not have any say in the I.E.s that support them, they are legally independent. If YOU could legally, would you donate $40,000 to your candidate? I like to think I would…but I guess I will never have to make that decision! LOL

AB
Guest
AB

I find it scary that someone – one person – has essentially donated $40k to one candidate, and it simply gets a passing mention. Seriously, the single largest donation, and it is essentially ignored? Lauren Meister and Bill Resnick have some explaining to do. Maybe one person donating $40k is all above board, but it really does raise a lot of questions!