One third of all donations to candidates in the March 7 election for the West Hollywood City Council have come from real estate development interests according to an analysis by WEHOville.
Reports filed with the city clerk covering donations through Jan. 21 show a total of $267,218 has been donated to the candidates and to independent expenditure or political action committees supporting them.
Incumbent John Duran has raised the largest amount of money, with 46% of donations made directly to his campaign. Duran also will benefit from spending by Standing Up for West Hollywood, an independent expenditure committee (IEC) formed to support Duran and Councilmember John Heilman that has raised $36,500, 14% of overall contributions.
Coming in second is Heilman, who has received 22% of all donations, or $57,600. A separate political action committee formed to support Heilman has raised an additional $4,594. And he will benefit from the $36,500 raised by the Standing Up for West Hollywood IEC.
The third ranking candidate in terms of funding is Steve Martin, an attorney and former council member. Martin has reported funding of $27,500, however $26,200 is from a loan he made to himself.
That means Cynthia Blatt, an employee of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department, ranks third in terms of donations from others. Blatt has raised $14,957, or 6% of the total donations to candidates. The only other candidate who had reported any donations through Jan. 21 is Nate Clark, a local writer, musician and producer/creative director. Clark reported $4,001 in donations. Of that amount, $500 is from Clark himself, and the source of the remainder is unclear from the form he has filed. City Clerk Yvonne Quarker said her office is trying to clarify that.
In analyzing donations by interest group, WEHOville looks at more than the stated occupation or company of a donor. That’s because the ceiling on one’s donation to a particular candidate is set at $500, prompting many donors to contribute money from their wives, husbands, children and business associates. There is no such ceiling on donations to independent expenditure committees.
An example is the Illoulian family. Jason Illoulian, CEO of Faring Capital, one of the few locally based real estate development companies, has donated the maximum of $500 to John Heilman’s re-election campaign. However eight other members of the Illoulian family have made individual donations of $500 to Heilman, for a total of $4,500. Duran’s campaign has received $3,500 from seven members of the Illoulian family. WEHOville categorizes those donations as “real estate,” given that that is Faring’s business and that family members other than Jason are not actual West Hollywood residents. The Illoulians do, however, own three carpet stores in West Hollywood.
Similarly there is Latham & Watkins, an international law firm with offices in Los Angeles and Century City. That firm’s primary engagement with the West Hollywood City Council is on behalf of real estate developers, and none of its lawyers live in WeHo. However three of its attorneys, the best known likely being James Arnone, have donated a total of $5.000 to the campaigns for Duran and Heilman and IEC supporting them.
Here is more information from WEHOville’s analysis of campaign donations to date. The next report on donations, due to the city clerk on Feb. 23, will cover the period from Jan. 22 to Feb. 18.
Q. What other interest groups were major donors to city council candidates?
A. The largest amount of donations after those from real estate interests comes from billboard companies, who sometimes must negotiate with the city for special exceptions. An example is a request from Ace Outdoor Advertising for permission to erect a billboard at 9015 Sunset Blvd. that is taller than currently allowed. That request was approved unanimously by the city council last night.
Billboard companies and their owners and employees donated a total of $15,500 to incumbents Duran and Heilman and to the independent expenditure committee supporting them. Ace, its owner Andrew Bilanzich and a Utah-based employee of Ace identified as a “homemaker,” donated a total of $11,000 to Duran and Heilman and their IEC. While that interest group’s donations ranked second, they made up only 6% of the total.
City vendors donated a total of $3,600, again all to the incumbents. The largest single donor was Athens Services (along with its employees), who donated $1,500. The city council voted in 2014 to extend Athens’ exclusive contract to collect residential waste in West Hollywood for 15 years without putting the contract out to bid, an award said to have been worth $150 million to Athens. However Athens’ performance under the contract is evaluated by the city every five years, and the contract can be ended if Athens doesn’t meet its requirements.
Owners of hotels such as Jeff Klein, who owns the Sunset Tower and the San Vicente Inn, donated a total of $3,500, again to the incumbents.
Q. Which candidate has the most skin in the game in this election?
A. It depends on how one defines that. But Steve Martin’s $26,200 loan to himself would seem to indicate that he’s the one. The campaign finance reports show that he also has garnered $1,300 in contributions from local activists such as Allegra Allison, Larry Block, Jeanne Dobrin, Donald Emblad and Sheila Lightfoot.
Q. How do the campaign contributions in this election compare to those in 2015?
A. It’s too early to say anything conclusive. The information analyzed by WEHOville covers donations through Jan. 17. A second filing is due Feb. 23 and covers donations from Jan. 18 to Feb. 18. The final filing is July 31, covering donations from Feb. 19 to June 30.
That said, donations for this election are looking a bit slim compared to the June 2, 2015, special election, when four candidates ran for a seat vacated by Jeffrey Prang when he became L.A. County Assessor. Contributions as of May 15, 2015, 18 days before that election, totaled $496,666, inspiring a WEHOville headline that read “It Takes $500,000 to Buy a WeHo City Council Seat.” More contributions certainly will come in over the next 44 days, but at this point it would only take $134,000 to buy a West Hollywood City Council seat.
Q. Which contributions are likely to be the most controversial?
A. Given the number of people who turned out at last night’s city council meeting to speak against the 8150 Sunset Blvd. project of Townscape Partners, which already has been attacked for its project on 8899 Beverly Blvd., contributions from it and its partners are likely raise the most dust. John Irwin and Tyler Siegel, the partners in Townscape Partners, each have donated $500 to Duran and to Heilman.
WEHOville invites readers with more questions to send them to Henry@WEHOville.com, and we will try to answer them as soon as possible.