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Hahn to Pay Fines in Ethics Case

A city panel accuses the mayor of accepting improper campaign contributions.

September 05, 2003|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn has agreed to pay $53,522 in fines for 64 violations of campaign restrictions stemming from his 2001 election, including acceptance of excessive contributions and failing to provide copies of mailers and telephone solicitation transcripts to the city Ethics Commission.

The violations are detailed in a written stipulation signed by Hahn and his campaign treasurer and released Thursday by the Ethics Commission. The panel will meet Tuesday to consider ratifying the settlement.

In addition, 29 companies and individuals, including three city commissioners, admitted to having provided excessive contributions to Hahn and his opponent in the runoff election, Antonio Villaraigosa, who is now a councilman. Those contributors have agreed to pay a combined $28,250 in fines.

The Ethics Commission also alleged Thursday that a construction contractor, Rafael Gabai, and his company, Gabai Construction, had provided excess contributions to the 2001 Hahn campaign, although Gabai has refused to stipulate to the charge and is demanding an administrative hearing.

All of the penalties are administrative fines and do not involve criminal allegations.

Hahn, who has begun raising money for a 2005 reelection campaign, declined to comment directly, instead directing calls to Ronald Turovsky, his attorney.

Turovsky said the violations acknowledged by the mayor resulted from "unintentional, inadvertent and minor errors" by Hahn's campaign. He said the 36 contributions that exceeded city limits represented a fraction of the 9,300 contributions received by the mayor's campaign in 2001.

"Though the mayor did not concur with all of the findings, he did feel it was best to quickly put this matter behind him so he could stay focused on serving the city," Turovsky said.

Because the violations were committed by Hahn's campaign committees, the mayor is allowed to pay the fines from political accounts. Turovsky said Hahn had created a legal defense fund to cover the cost of his representation in the case, as well as the fines.

The Ethics Commission has aggressively policed the campaign finance limits over the years.

"The purpose is to uphold the integrity of city contribution limits designed to make sure no single person can unduly influence the election or the candidate," said Rebecca Avila, chairwoman of California Common Cause and former executive director of the Ethics Commission.

The commission's current executive director, LeeAnn Pelham, declined comment Thursday on the stipulations, citing a policy against discussing cases, pending panel approval.

Documents released Thursday show that the campaign violations had been discovered during routine audits by the panel. City law sets a $1,000 limit on the amount an individual or company can contribute to a candidate for mayor in each election. The stipulation shows that 36 contributions totaling $43,800 were made in excess of that limit to Hahn's primary and general election campaign committees, as well as to two political officeholder accounts.

The biggest excess contribution came from the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and its chief operating officer, Peter Zen, who recently quit as Hahn's appointee to the city Convention Center Commission.

Ethics officials said the hotel had given Hahn's runoff committee a $1,000 contribution, and then provided the campaign with $12,000 in discounts on telephone calls made by Hahn campaign workers at the hotel. The hotel also incurred $2,637 in expenses hosting a fund-raiser for Hahn; that money also counted as part of the excess contribution.

Other excess contribution violations involved $1,000 each given to Hahn in 2001 by two companies co-owned by Efren Abratique, who is a Hahn appointee to the city Building and Safety Commission. In calculating how much a source can donate, multiple firms with the same owner are considered as one contributor.

Fines also were levied for excess contributions to Hahn that involved Lisa Greer Quateman, a member of the city Industrial Development Authority, as well as a firm she owns.

Others fined include owners of three real estate firms, a meat-packing company and construction, metals and concrete businesses.

Five individuals and companies were fined for making excessive contributions to Villaraigosa's 2001 campaign committee.

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