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Hahn Passes (a Big) Hat

Finances: Mayor asks for contributions of up to $100,000 in the fight against secession. A rival says solicitations raise questions of propriety.

June 17, 2002|JEFFREY L. RABIN and PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Faced with the twin threats of Hollywood and San Fernando Valley secession, Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn has solicited contributions ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 from companies and lobbyists who do business with the city government.

Those donations are building the L.A. United campaign treasury for the Nov. 5 election, when voters will consider both breakaway efforts. To win, the secession drives must carry a majority of voters in their own areas and in the city overall.

Hahn would not comment on his fund-raising, but the manager of his anti-secession campaign defended the mayor's solicitations as legal and appropriate. Los Angeles ethics rules cap contributions to candidates, but do not limit donations to issue campaigns such as the pro- and anti-secession efforts.

The groups pressing for Hollywood and the Valley to leave Los Angeles also are raising money, and are taking advantage of a technicality in election rules to delay the disclosure of contributions they accept. As a result, the financial supporters of secession might not be made public until October.

Secession opponents, by contrast, will reveal their next disclosure statement in late July, when they report the sources of contributions received in the six months ending June 30. Crucial to that fund-raising drive, say business leaders, lobbyists and others, have been Hahn's personal solicitations.

The mayor is "asking for 25 grand and up," said a Los Angeles business executive who spoke on condition of anonymity. The executive added that larger corporations and a major bank were asked to contribute "100 grand."

During a recent conversation about secession, one City Hall lobbyist said, Hahn asked him to raise a specific sum for the campaign.

Hahn strategist Kam Kuwata said the mayor's phone calls are "totally appropriate."

"He's always known the line, and never crossed the line," Kuwata said. "There's no correlation with what they say and how he treats people's issues. He's always going to treat people's issues on the merits."

Kuwata added that "it would not surprise me" if Hahn were asking for as much as $100,000 from business interests.

He said the mayor's message in the phone calls is simple: "We have a great city, and we need to keep the city together. Will you help our campaign to keep the city united?"

But Richard Katz, head of a campaign committee promoting Valley secession, criticized the mayor's fund-raising. "There may be nothing illegal about it, but it sure raises questions of propriety," Katz said.

Katz noted that the mayor has the power to sign or veto legislation covering everything from business taxes to zoning changes. Katz, a former state assemblyman, said he has been told by several business leaders contacted by Hahn that they feel they have no choice but to contribute. "There is no such thing as a casual phone call from the mayor," Katz said. "Pressure doesn't have to be applied. It's assumed."

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'About the Power Elite'

The secession advocate said Hahn's fund-raising is not a surprise. "This has always been about the power elite and the rest of the city. The downtown business community--those with access to City Hall and the mayor--have a vested interest in seeing that the powers that be are the powers that continue."

Carol Schatz, president and chief executive officer of the Central City Assn., said her members--primarily downtown businesses--have received calls from Hahn.

"The mayor is absolutely right in making these requests," she said. "Our members are responding very positively."

Hahn's predecessor, Mayor Richard Riordan, also sought financial assistance for his efforts to reform the City Charter and elect a slate of candidates to the Los Angeles school board.

Los Angeles attorney Dana Reed said Hahn has made it clear that the anti-secession campaign "is of critical importance to him."

"Our clients are supportive of the mayor's efforts, and they are anxious to participate," Reed said.

City Hall lobbyist John Ek said the firm of Rose & Kindel, where he works, has been asked to assist in raising money to fight secession. He declined to identify who sought the donation for the L.A. United campaign.

"We have been approached by a number of people and are out there raising money against secession," he said. Ek represents United Airlines and other interests at Los Angeles International Airport.

In addition to direct requests, the mayor's anti-secession campaign has sent invitations to its first major fund-raising event, a reception and dinner next week at the posh City Club atop the Wells Fargo Center downtown.

"Please join Mayor James K. Hahn and L.A. United at a reception to keep the great city of Los Angeles together," the invitation reads.

The $1,000 reception and $10,000 "Angel's Circle" dinner June 25 will mark the start of what is expected to be a series of fund-raisers.

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