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SPECIAL REPORT * Lockheed workers' gifts to Garcetti campaign a month before he urged extra pay for firm puts spotlight on . . . : Political Donations and Government Decisions

August 15, 1999|NICHOLAS RICCARDI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti's reelection campaign received a total of $15,000 from 21 Lockheed Martin IMS employees, most of whom live out of state, a little more than a month before the prosecutor's office recommended that the Board of Supervisors pay the company an extra $2.5 million for running Los Angeles County's child support computer system.

The supervisors are scheduled to act on Garcetti's recommendation Tuesday.

Lockheed and Garcetti's campaign denied that there was a connection between the gifts and the contract increase, saying the deal had been in the works for months before the donations were made.

The donors listed in the latest campaign disclosure reports include several Lockheed executives and the company's controller. All but three live outside California and none list residences in Los Angeles County. A review of county campaign records for the past 13 years shows that none of Garcetti's Lockheed donors had ever given to a Los Angeles County candidate before.

A Lockheed spokesman said the company asked employees to give money to Garcetti's campaign because the prosecutor has had "a positive impact." Lockheed itself gave $1,000 to Garcetti's campaign in May, and $1,000 to the prosecutor's officeholder account, which can be used for campaign expenditures.

A voter-approved county law limits contributions from individuals or corporations to $1,000 in races in which candidates agree to voluntary fund-raising limits.

Lockheed spokesman Ron Jury said the gifts were appropriate. "These people were asked, 'Would you be willing to make a contribution to Gil Garcetti as an individual?' " he said. "They had a choice."

Jury said no donors were reimbursed by the company, and a spokeswoman for the state Fair Political Practices Commission said that in such instances the donations do not violate California law.

Charlotte Dobbs, a veteran fund-raiser working on Garcetti's campaign, said multiple gifts such as the Lockheed employees' are not unusual in any race. "When people meet Gil, they really like him," she said. "He's a very warm, honest person who's doing a fine job."

Lockheed filed its legal claim over the child support issue in February. A month later a top Garcetti aide wrote a memo to the county counsel's office saying the claim should be paid because the company's workload had risen 134% since 1995, rather than the 36% increase projected in the contract. Fewer than 60 days later, the first donations to Garcetti's campaign were made.

In its claim, Lockheed alleged that it was being shortchanged because its computer system was collecting more child support than had been projected in its initial 1995 contract.

The next month, Assistant Dist. Atty. Sharon Matsumoto wrote a memo to the county counsel's office, saying that Lockheed performed the work "competently" and that the office wanted to avoid litigation. She noted that the Board of Supervisors would have to approve the increase.

On May 14, Lockheed Martin IMS made its $2,000 in corporate donations. It sponsored a dinner at which about eight executives met with Garcetti in Washington, part of a fund-raising event that included other Capitol lobbyists, according to Garcetti's campaign and Lockheed.

In late June, Jury said, Lockheed employees were solicited for donations. On June 25, 29 and 30, the 21 employees' checks were received, according to Garcetti's campaign statement. The gifts ranged from $250 to $1,000, the maximum allowed by county regulations.

Reached at their homes, Lockheed employees refused to discuss the donations in detail.

George Crocker of Austin, Texas, said he gives to candidates "who can make a positive contribution to the community." Asked why an Austin resident was concerned about Los Angeles, Crocker--who gave Garcetti $993.16 on June 30--replied: "I visit a lot," refused to discuss the matter further and hung up.

Craig Holeman of Californians for Political Reform said the donations are troubling.

"This is a classic example of trying to buy influence over an officeholder," he said. "The fact that it's the elected official in charge of enforcing campaign finance laws makes it doubly ironic."

'It Stinks,' Says Garcetti Challenger

Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephen L. Cooley, who is challenging Garcetti in the March 2000 primary, called the donations "a transparent attempt to defeat the contribution limits passed by the voters in 1996. . . . It stinks."

The county's campaign law caps personal donations to campaigns at $1,000 if candidates agree to abide by limits on overall campaign fund-raising. If such a candidate spends some of his or her personal money on the campaign, the limits are raised for any opponent who had also agreed to them.

The law also prohibits fund-raising more than 18 months before an election. Therefore, the campaign disclosure forms filed this month--covering Jan. 1 to June 30, the initial reporting period--contain the first snapshot of fund-raising for the district attorney's race.

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