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Williams' Fund-Raising Is Called Into Question

A former campaign staffer says church groups were used as cover for donations.

May 09, 2003|Peter Y. Hong | Times Staff Writer

Deron Williams' campaign for Los Angeles City Council raised money and conducted other activities using the names of church organizations headed by Williams' cousin, documents and interviews show.

A former deputy campaign manager said the purpose was to get around limits on political fund-raising.

Mark Matsumura, the former campaign staffer, said that on Williams' instructions he organized a fund-raising dinner, solicited contributions from individuals and arranged a donation of office space to the campaign, in each case using one of two church groups as cover.

Two Williams supporters confirmed in recent interviews that they were directed to make their checks out not to the campaign, but to Covenant Community Development Corp., a nonprofit organization founded by the candidate's cousin.

The Times obtained copies of 11 checks that donors wrote to "CCDC." On two of the checks, handwritten notations by the contributors state that the money was intended for Williams' campaign.

Matsumura, who left the campaign in March, said Williams told him the advantage of using CCDC was that supporters who had contributed $500, the legal maximum, to Williams' campaign committee could make additional donations to the church group.

Three people who wrote checks to CCDC had previously given $500 to Williams' campaign, according to campaign finance reports.

Williams declined repeated requests for an interview and referred questions to Roderick Wright, a former assemblyman who ran against him in the March primary and is now working for his campaign.

Wright said it would be inappropriate to comment because Matsumura is "in litigation" with the campaign. He was referring to a Small Claims Court case in which Matsumura is seeking $5,000 in salary he says he was promised but not paid.

Most of the checks made out to CCDC were collected at a Feb. 18 fund-raising dinner hosted by Williams' cousin, Bishop L. Daniel Williams, pastor at Baptist Church of the New Covenant in Norwalk.

Promotional materials for the dinner made no mention of Deron Williams' candidacy, instead describing the event as a tribute to prominent African Americans and Korean Americans.

A flier said that "all checks are payable to CCDC" and that donations were tax-deductible. The flier also mentioned a second group led by Bishop Williams -- the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles and Southern California.

Matsumura said checks totaling $6,700 were collected at the dinner.

Bishop Williams said in an interview that the event was intended "to support Deron Williams" in a general way, without funding campaign activities.

"None of the money was to go directly to Deron's campaign," he said. "That's not legal."

An Explanation

Asked how the money could be used to support the campaign legally, Bishop Williams cited efforts to register voters and reach out to ethnic constituencies. But he stopped short of saying that donations to CCDC were actually spent on such things.

Asked what became of the contributors' checks, Bishop Williams said: "I'm not going to tell you."

Matsumura, who said he left the campaign because of disagreements with the Williamses, said he did not know what happened to the money.

Deron Williams, 35, a longtime aide to departing Councilman Nate Holden, is running for his boss' 10th District seat. He finished first among five candidates in the March 4 primary and will face Martin Ludlow, a former legislative aide, in a May 20 runoff election.

Matsumura, 42, a Presbyterian minister from Rowland Heights, said he met Deron Williams in 2001 while working on a Los Angeles congressional campaign and was drawn to him, in part because "he always invoked God's name." He joined Williams' council campaign in January, first as a volunteer, then as a paid staffer.

Matsumura said the candidate told him to work with Bishop Williams to raise money independent of the campaign organization. Matsumura said he and the bishop moved into a donated office, set up a phone bank and began planning the Feb. 18 dinner.

Matsumura said Deron Williams told the two that checks collected at the event should be payable to the Baptist Ministers Conference.

Matsumura said Bishop Williams replied that the checks should be made out to the CCDC.

The bishop said that idea originated with Matsumura. "He asked me could we utilize an entity so the money could come in. That's how the CCDC came up."

Bishop Williams established the nonprofit CCDC in 1998. Its articles of incorporation say its purpose is to "build bridges between the church community and governmental agencies" and to promote educational, youth and housing programs.

Matsumura said Deron Williams assured him that fund-raising through CCDC was legal.

As the dinner approached, Matsumura reached out to fellow Korean Americans.

Donor in the Dark

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