The state attorney general's office is reviewing more than $1 million in loans made by campaign committees of state Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys) in recent years to numerous individuals and nonprofit organizations, including hundreds of thousands of dollars advanced to Robbins' business partners.
Robbins, while maintaining he has done nothing wrong, said that he will no longer loan campaign funds to business associates because the advances can be misconstrued by the media and that he plans to establish a special investment committee to approve future loans.
"The loans we made were legal, were proper, were good economics, produced a better return for our committees than the funds of other legislators' committees and, by doing so, reduced the amount of money we needed to raise elsewhere," Robbins said.
The inquiry was prompted by newspaper accounts, said attorney general's office press spokesman Duane Peterson. He declined to disclose the scope or any specifics of the review.
"The law is murky," Peterson said. "This entire area of the law contains unchartered waters."
State election law does not prohibit the use of campaign funds as loans. The law does ban personal use of the money if it "creates a substantial personal benefit and does not have more than a negligible political, legislative or governmental purpose."
Robbins, a prolific fund-raiser who has not faced a serious reelection challenge since 1982, reported loaning hundreds of thousands to business associates at a time when he was involved in real estate ventures with them, records show.
He said none of the loans was used in the business transactions in which he was a partner and none has resulted in any profit to him.
Robbins has made four loans totaling $265,000 to business associate Michael R. Goland since 1984 and three loans totaling $85,000 to developer Robert Blake, with whom Robbins and others formed a real estate partnership in 1986, records show.
As of June 30, Robbins' campaign committees reported $764,716 in loans outstanding. About $380,000, including all of Goland's loans, has been repaid since then, Robbins spokeswoman Sandy Miller said Friday.
Goland, 40, is a wealthy San Fernando Valley businessman and philanthropist active in pro-Israel causes who spent more than $1 million to help defeat U.S. Sen. Charles Percy (R-Ill.) in 1984. He once worked for Robbins and has subsequently been involved with the lawmaker in two real estate ventures, according to public records.
Robbins said Goland always repaid the loans on time and used the money in business ventures that do not involve Robbins.
Goland, who owns a chain of mini-storage warehouses, also contributed $19,450 to Robbins' campaign committees in 1985, records show. He could not be reached for comment Friday.
Blake, an Orange County developer, became involved in October, 1986, with Robbins and another Robbins associate, Jerry Simms, in the purchase of a 3,850-acre parcel of undeveloped land north of Moorpark College in Ventura County known as the Strathearn Ranch. Goland acquired the ranch in complex bankruptcy proceedings and subsequently sold it to a partnership headed by Simms. Robbins later became one of Simms' limited partners.
Robbins said none of the money his campaign committee loaned Blake was used in the real estate deal. Blake used "a substantial portion or all of it for improvements in his residence" in Newport Beach, Robbins said.
Blake's attorney, Christopher Ashworth, supported Robbins' assertion that none of the money Robbins' committee loaned Blake was used in the Ventura County Land Co., the limited partnership Simms, Robbins and Blake formed. Ashworth declined further comment on Blake's behalf.
Blake subsequently filed an $8.5-million lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court last December charging Robbins and others with fraud and failing to live up to their partnership agreement.
In the lawsuit, Blake also asserted that Robbins had promised to "provide certain political assistance to the developmental efforts including banking relationships . . . highway construction . . . and general political interaction with the local politicians in Ventura County who are involved in the regulatory affairs relevant to the development of Strathearn Ranch."
The suit charges Robbins with a subsequent "lack of political cooperation."
Robbins said in an interview that he never promised to use his political clout to develop the property. Further, he added, "the irony is I'm being sued for not using political influence."
Robbins and Simms have filed a countersuit, charging Blake and Ashworth with libel and slander.
Robbins also made a $90,000 loan on Nov. 25, 1986, to J. B. Carter Corp., a real estate company whose president is longtime Robbins associate Maury M. White. White, who was a co-investor with Robbins in a large apartment complex in North Hollywood and has worked for Goland, hosted Robbins' first Senate fund-raiser in 1972 and has remained a close friend, the senator said.