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CAMPAIGN 2001 : L.A. CITY COUNCIL

Lobbyists Still Pulling Strings

Rhetoric aside, they could play a major role in determining who replaces Mike Feuer. As a result, 5th District candidates have made it an issue at recent forums.

March 18, 2001|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Early in his run for Los Angeles City Council, Tom Hayden vowed that he would not be dependent on City Hall lobbyists for campaign money.

But one of his first fund-raisers was sponsored by Rose and Kindel, a prominent lobbying firm.

Jack Weiss, one of Hayden's strongest opponents in the 5th District race, also decried the influence of special interests at City Hall, but he has received a flood of money from lobbyists, including Arnie Berghoff, who hosted a campaign fund-raiser for Weiss.

Berghoff is the longtime chief City Hall lobbyist for Browning-Ferris Industries, which operates the controversial Sunshine Canyon Landfill.

Three other candidates in the 5th District race--Robyn Ritter Simon, Ken Gerston and Steve Saltzman--have hired top lobbyists as their political consultants.

Despite the rhetoric from candidates, lobbyists are playing a major role in the election to determine who fills the seat being vacated by Councilman Mike Feuer, who is running for city attorney.

"It just puts the lobbyists in a position of being real puppeteers," said Valley Village accountant Victor Viereck, a candidate who has not accepted lobbyist help. "It's part of the corruption of government."

The prominent role of lobbyists in the 5th District race has emerged as an issue at recent candidate forums. This is in sharp contrast to Feuer's own campaigns for the seat, in which he did not accept contributions from lobbyists.

Hayden, a former state senator who is widely viewed as a front-runner, began his campaign with some straight-forward language on the issue in a Nov. 29 fund-raising letter.

"I talked to a top downtown lobbyist the other day about fund-raising, and he said it can't succeed without the lobbyists because 'we control the flow of money,' " Hayden wrote. "We have to prove that special interests don't control the flow."

But then on Dec. 13 came invitations for a Hayden fund-raiser sponsored by Rose and Kindel, a firm that works at City Hall on behalf of some of the top local corporations, from Walt Disney Co. to United Airlines.

Hayden has received contributions from a Who's Who of other registered City Hall lobbyists as well.

In a statement on his campaign Web site, Hayden said lobbyists have an important role to play as independent professionals advocating for clients, but added the number of them at City Hall creates an "insider culture" that tends to freeze out individuals.

Hayden did not return calls for comment, but his chief political consultant said there was nothing inconsistent about Hayden allowing a lobbying firm to host a fund-raiser for him.

"He doesn't have a problem with having lobbyists helping his campaign," Parke Skelton said. "I don't think that is a hard rule."

Skelton said Hayden has received relatively little lobbyist and special-interest money compared with his total fund-raising, but added, "If he feels there is a direct conflict, he will turn down a check."

Weiss said Hayden's actions have not been consistent with his early letter vowing independence from lobbyists and indicating he would use matching funds.

"It certainly means, for the purposes of this election, Tom Hayden can't claim the mantle of reform," Weiss said.

Weiss, who is the leading fund-raiser in the race, has sparred recently at public forums with Hayden and other candidates about his own acceptance of lobbyist money.

At one face-off in Studio City, Hayden challenged Weiss to return a $500 contribution he received from Planning Associates Inc., a registered lobbyist for a company that wants to build a senior housing project on part of the Studio City Golf and Tennis Complex, which is in the district.

Weiss countered by expressing opposition to the senior housing project.

At a forum last week, candidate Jill Barad criticized Weiss for accepting fund-raising help from Berghoff, the lobbyist for landfill operator BFI.

Weiss also has received contributions from the other lobbyist firm that has been representing BFI at City Hall, the law firm of Weston, Benshoof, Rochefort, Rubalcava and MacCuish, and two of its attorneys, Steve Weston and Dominick Rubalcava.

Weiss told the audience at last week's forum that he will not be soft on Sunshine Canyon just because of the help from Berghoff, Weston and others.

"We absolutely have to hold their feet to the fire. I will have a low threshold for violations," Weiss said in an interview.

A former federal prosecutor who received a large amount of his campaign funds from other deputy U.S. attorneys, Weiss said the lobbyists and contributors to his campaign are not going to get special treatment.

"If I have the honor of winning this election, everybody who contributed to my campaign will come in the front door like everyone else," Weiss said.

That same assurance was offered by other candidates who have received lobbyist funds, including Westwood activist Laura Lake, as well as others who have hired lobbyists to run their campaigns.

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