Over the past six months, West Hollywood City Council members have reached out to various real estate figures, lobbyists and a major billboard company owner to solicit nearly $50,000 in donations for their favorite charities and causes.
That total comes from a review of “behest” statements filed with the City Clerk covering December 2018 through June 2019. Behest statements are reports, required by law, of donations of $1,000 or more to a non-profit entity that someone has made at the “behest,” or direction, of a City Council member.
Behest donations have become controversial, with the Los Angeles City Council banning its members from soliciting them under certain circumstances because they symbolize what the Los Angeles Times has called a “toxic pay-for-play culture.”
Donations made at Councilmember Lindsey Horvath’s behest amounted to 55% of the total. Councilmember John Duran’s behested donations equaled 41% of the total. Donations behested by Councilmember John Heilman equaled 4% of the total of $47,180.
Eight of the nine donations made at Duran’s behest came from individuals or companies that have a business relationship with the city or have been involved in development projects. All of those were made in December to the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, a non-profit group whose board of directors Duran chaired until February, when he stepped down in the midst of allegations (which he has denied) that he engaged in inappropriate conduct with some of its younger members. Those donors included Phil Howard ad Dean McKillen, co-owners of Laurel Hardware and partners in an effort to build a hotel and apartment building at 8447 Santa Monica Blvd., the site of Barney’s Beanery. Each donated $1,030. Their project has yet to go before the Planning Commission and other city boards for approval.
Eric George, a partner in the Browne George Ross law firm, donated $2,060. Browne George Ross is representing the BPREP 8500 Sunset, owners of the 8500 Sunset project. BPREP is suing the city for its opposition to its plans to use one of the two buildings on the property for short-term stay apartments, claiming the company will suffer $40 million in damages as a result.
Other donors are Lawrence Legg, co-owner of E.T. Legg, the owner of billboards on Sunset Boulevard ($1,000); James Arnone, a lawyer who has represented various development interests before the City Council ($1,000); Simon Mani, a major real estate owner who owns 9200 Sunset Blvd., where Duran’s law office is located ($1,000), and Todd Barnes and Chris Bollenbach ($1,030 each). Bollenbach is the CEO of Bottega Louie, a restaurant that has received several zoning variances from the city to build its new restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard. That project is being done in partnership with David Cooley, owner of The Abbey, where Todd Barnes is general manager.
The largest single donation to GMCLA made at Duran’s request is $10,000 from Rational Vaccines, a company that has been under investigation by the FBI and is being sued by three people over its allegedly improper testing of an unauthorized herpes vaccine. Diane Abbit, a lawyer famous for her advocacy for LGBT rights and a member of the GMCLA board, is representing Rational Vaccines in its effort to get FDA approval for a test of its vaccine.
The largest single donation made at the behest of a City Council member in the past six months was $15,000 requested by Councilmember Lindsey Horvath from Margot Siegel, a prominent former architect and a philanthropist whose husband was instrumental in the City of West Hollywood. That donation went to SEE (Social & Environmental Entrepreneurs), a non-profit whose donations are largely focused on low-income and other marginalized communities. It was meant to support WeHo Stories, a project by Barbara Grover to chronicle the history of the founding of West Hollywood with video interviews of those involved in that effort. Grover’s Barbara Grover Inc. received $27,000 from West Hollywood United to Support Lindsey Horvath and John D’Amico for Council 2019, a political action group formed to campaign for Horvath’s re-election.
Horvath also behested a donation of $3,000 from Liberty Hill foundation to SEE to support Grover’s project
Other donations behested by Horvath include $3,000 from Athens Services, the company with which the City of West Hollywood contracts for trash pickup services, and $5,000 from Joe A. Gonsolves & Son, a Sacramento lobbyist. Both of those donations were to the League of California Cities political action group.
Councilmember John Heilman behested two donations to OutRight International, an international LGBT rights group. One donation, in the amount of $1,000, came from Tom Wiscombe, an architect of the Sunset Spectacular billboard project, which got the City Council’s approval last year in a 3-to-2 vote, with Heilman supporting it. The other donation, also $1,000, came from Sam Ghozdian, whose address is listed as that of Emser Tile. Sam Ghodsian is a co-owner of Emser Tile. Emser donated $500 to Heilman’s 2017 campaign.
The City of Los Angeles “behested payments” rule – for which there are certain exceptions – includes a ban of payments from “restricted” sources, which includes a lobbyist, a lobbying firm, a bidder, a contractor, a person who attempted to influence the elected official in the previous 12 months, and developers.”