Skip to comments.CA: Thousands raised for Hahn defense - Rivals say mayor fears probe
Posted on 01/21/2005 10:44:26 AM PST by NormsRevenge
Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn has raised at least $11,000 for a legal-defense fund in response to investigations of "pay-to-play" contracting in his administration -- a sign, his opponents said, that the mayor is deeply worried about the joint local and federal probes.
Hahn established the fund on Nov. 18 without fanfare and raised $1,000 each from 11 donors through Dec. 31, according to City Ethics Commission records.
In creating the fund, Hahn is tapping many of the same donors who have contributed to a separate legal-defense account to pay a $53,523 fine over violations in his 2001 mayoral campaign.
Hahn said he created the fund to allow him to raise money to cover any legal expenses as a result of the investigations, which produced their first indictment, a Fleishman-Hillard public relations consultant accused by federal authorities of defrauding the city.
"With all these investigations under way, I felt I had to take some steps to get someone to provide me with some legal advice," Hahn said.
Hahn established the fund on the same day that the Daily News and the Los Angeles Times carried stories about questionable Fleishman-Hillard billings of the city Department of Water and Power and the role of the Mayor's Office.
Candidates challenging Hahn in the March 8 election have made City Hall corruption a key issue and jumped on disclosure of the mayor's legal defense fund, saying it's unseemly for him to stockpile money while investigators probe possible relationships between campaign contributions and city contracts.
"It's sad he has to do this," former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg said. "The mayor of this city should be focusing his attention on the problems of the city. I just hope he doesn't go to lobbyists to raise this money."
Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa said he was "flabbergasted" by the report.
Councilman Bernard Parks said he had expected something like the creation of a defense fund.
"When you have all these investigations going on, it's a logical extension," Parks said. "It was this mayor who created this environment,and he now has to deal with it."
State Sen. Richard Alarcon, D-Van Nuys, said it raised the issue of public trust in City Hall.
"One doesn't establish a defense fund unless they feel a need to be defended," Alarcon said. "All these things are coming to a point where the mayor feels he needs a defense fund."
Hahn's administration enjoyed close relations with Fleishman-Hillard, and the firm's work at public expense occasionally benefited the mayor politically. One of Fleishman-Hillard's top executives on the DWP contract, John Stodder, was indicted this month on allegations that he helped pad the firm's bills to the DWP.
Hahn campaign chairman Bill Wardlaw said the fund is intended as a pre-emptive measure and is not related to the investigations or negative publicity.
"There is no investigation of the mayor at all that I'm aware of. There is no investigation of this campaign," Wardlaw said. "This is just a vehicle to defer any expenses that are made in the future. It's a de minimis amount of money that's being raised."
The mayor has hired attorney Ronald B. Turovsky, who has represented him in the past before the city's Ethics Commission. Turovsky was in court Thursday and could not be reached for comment.
Turovsky's firm, the politically connected law office of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, was paid $9,105 of the $11,000 in Hahn's legal defense fund in November and December, city records show. A spokesman for the firm said he could not comment.
Legal defense funds have become increasingly popular among state- and federal-level politicians facing investigations into their official conduct, said Bob Stern, president of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies. But the funds are relatively rare at the local level, Stern said.
Former President Bill Clinton raised millions of dollars from Democratic donors to defend himself against allegations of perjury in his testimony about his conduct with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
In November, California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley established a legal defense fund amid investigations into contributions to his 2002 campaign and the awarding of no-bid contracts to political supporters.
In Los Angeles, six current and former officials established legal defense accounts: Hahn, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and former City Councilmen Richard Alatorre, Hal Bernson, Nate Holden and Nick Pacheco.
"They're not common because most officials don't have legal issues for which they need this kind of defense," Stern said. "Clearly the mayor has decided he needs this."
Delgadillo's office is representing Hahn and other city officials in the "pay-to-play" probes. But the legal defense fund gives Hahn more flexibility to hire lawyers to represent his specific interests or deal with more technical questions, Stern said.
A spokeswoman for Delgadillo did not respond to a request for comment.
Wardlaw said the mayor's decision to turn to outside legal help does not reflect a lack of faith in Delgadillo's office. Wardlaw said outside lawyers could defend Hahn's conduct as a candidate for office, whereas the city attorney can only defend Hahn's conduct as mayor.
"Sometimes questions are directed to a campaign, not to the mayor as mayor," Wardlaw said.
Under city law, the mayor's backers can contribute up to $1,000 each to four funds: His 2005 campaign account, his officeholder fund and the two legal defense funds created in 2003 and last November.
Candidates and officials can maintain separate legal defense accounts for distinct legal matters, and since the "pay-to-play" case is unrelated to the 2001 campaign violations, the new fund appears to be legal under city ethics laws.
Lee Ann Pelham, executive director of the City Ethics Commission, said Hahn has not been penalized for either legal defense account.
Unlike many other jurisdictions, Los Angeles caps donations to the legal defense accounts at $1,000 -- the same limit for campaign and officeholder accounts.
The funds can be used to pay fines imposed by the Ethics Commission for campaign violations or to hire lawyers in ongoing cases, Pelham said.
"Just as with officeholder accounts and campaign accounts, we limit the amount (of donations) to avoid the appearance of any impropriety," Pelham said.
Hahn's Legal Bills on the Rise
Noam N. Levey, LA Times
Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, whose administration has been dogged by criminal investigations into possible links between campaign donors and city contracts, is running up growing legal bills.
Penalties Grow in L.A. Ethics Probe
Advancing a campaign money-laundering case against a major fundraiser for Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, the city Ethics Commission on Thursday disclosed $33,500 in additional penalties involving associates and companies tied to Westside developer Mark Alan Abrams.
Hahn, Villaraigosa, Alarcon, Parks.....HACKS every one. Is this the best L.A. can do in Mayoral candidates?
I assume, since it doesn't mention affiliation, Hahn is yet another corrupt DEMOCRAT. These legal defence funds sound pretty dodgy to me -- bribery, IOW.
11k? That AINT thousands, that peanuts. IT won't get him a "lawyer letter".
James Hahn (D), Mayor of LA, under investigation by multiple grand juries.
Kevin Shelley (D), CA Sec of State, under investigation by several state and federal departments for campaign finance violations.
Don Perata (D), CA Senate Leader, house and son's house raided by FBI in pay for play scandal/investigation.