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City Council members propose banning developer contributions to LA politicians

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“The best way to restore trust in government is to avoid even the appearance of a conflict”

Los Angeles City Hall
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Three City Council members today called for a ban on developer contributions to local politicians, saying it would boost public trust in government.

City councilmen Joe Buscaino, Paul Krekorian, and David Ryu introduced a motion that would outlaw contributions from developers and “their principals” to the city’s elected officials and candidates for city office. (The motion says “developers” and “their principals” will need to be defined). It would apply to developers who are currently seeking approval for projects.

“The best way to restore trust in government is to avoid even the appearance of a conflict," councilman David Ryu said in a statement.

The city already prohibits political contributions from registered lobbyists and from companies holding and bidding on city contracts.

The motion, which needs approval from the full council before becoming law, was introduced less than two months before voters will take up Measure S, formerly known as the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative. The March 7 ballot measure would freeze most major real estate development citywide for two years.

Measure S backers have railed against developers’ influence on City Hall. At one point, they told Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti that if, among other planning reforms, he restricted private meetings between developers and elected officials, they would not place the measure on the ballot.

Jill Stewart, a spokeswoman for the Measure S campaign, told Curbed she was “very happy” that some council members are “going after what looks like some sort of reform.” But she called it merely a first step.

The question is, Stewart said, “Will they obey? ... Will they stop taking money?”

How much money do developers give to City Council members?

We don’t have the totals for each council member, but the Los Angeles Times recently did an analysis that provides some context. It found that shopping mall developer Rick Caruso and his affiliates had donated more than $476,000 to City Council members and their “pet projects” over the past five years.

Caruso is in the midst of building a shopping center in Pacific Palisades, and, in urging fellow City Council members to support the project (which they did), Mike Bonin, who reps the neighborhood, described Caruso as “riding in on a white horse” to revive the sleepy downtown. Caruso and his employees donated $6,400 to Bonin’s 2013 and 2017 election bids, a Curbed review of recent finance records show.

“Virtually every candidate and every elected official probably at some time or another has received a contribution from someone in the real estate industry,” Krekorian said. “This is something that’s obviously very much on the public’s mind. There’s a lot of concern about inappropriate development taking place in the city, and, rightly or wrongly, the public feels that their voice is not equal to that of people with significant amounts of money who are contributing to the political process.”