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Film Agency Flubs Its Role

September 12, 2002

The agency that issues film permits in Los Angeles County starred in its own drama last week. Prosecutors searched its offices and the home of its president as part of an investigation into questionable spending that included more than $200,000 to political campaigns.

The plot turned to farce when the agency president, his attorney and their co-stars--politicians who created the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., sat on its board and pocketed its contributions--started quibbling over whether the agency was public or private, barred from making political donations or not.

Legality aside, they muffed their lines. They forgot the key word: "wrong."

Worried about film production (and jobs and tax revenues) fleeing the county for more hospitable settings, Los Angeles city and county governments created the film agency in 1995; the board's 45 members include the City Council and county Board of Supervisors.

The mission was and is a valid one: wooing film companies and making life easier for them by having one agency handle permits, street closings, police and fire services and all the other headaches that go with turning real streets, buildings and homes into movie sets. It's the means that are under investigation.

A county audit of the film agency turned up such extravagances as 100% tips at fancy restaurants (subsidies for actors-in-waiting, no doubt) and a $3,000 initiation fee and $200-a-month charges for agency President Cody Cluff's membership in a Beverly Hills cigar club.

But even more misguided were the political contributions, including donations to more than a dozen politicians who now serve or once served on the agency's board. That's right, many of the politicians who created and were supposed to be shepherding the agency accepted and even solicited donations, as though the film agency needed to convince them that filmmaking should stay in L.A.

Everybody knows that promotion costs money; no one is quibbling with the wining-and-dining part of the job, showoff tips excluded. But board members need to get rid of agency executives who can't tell when marketing crosses into misuse of public money, including those who spend $3,000 to puff cigars.

Likewise, voters need to elect City Council members and county supervisors who understand that a quasi-public film agency has no business donating public money to politicians, themselves included. That kind of sleazy "generosity" invariably leads to kickbacks, cronyism and other forms of corruption.

It's also stupid. Los Angeles politicians who are not already working to keep the tinsel in this town don't need campaign contributions. They need to look for another job.

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