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Link between donation, bill denied

Legislation backed by Perata benefits the owner of Staples Center. But a check to a group the senator runs was not related, both sides say.

September 22, 2007|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO -- One of the last things lawmakers did before they adjourned at 3:26 a.m. on Sept. 12 was to pass a measure that would make Anschutz Entertainment Group, owner of Staples Center, eligible for millions of dollars in state funds to improve the downtown area around its arena.

Hours later that same day, a $10,000 check from the Anschutz company arrived at the fundraising office of a political committee run by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland), who helped shepherd the legislation.

Company officials said they had committed to the donation in June and the check coincidentally arrived the same day the Legislature passed a bill the company had sought.

"There is absolutely no correlation to any legislation and our contribution," AEG spokesman Michael Roth said.

Perata's committee, Leadership California, can accept unlimited donations to help pay for ballot measure campaigns, such as the $5.4-billion water bond that Perata seeks to place on the Feb. 5 ballot.

There's nothing illegal about the donations so long as no quid pro quo was arranged, said Robert Stern, president of the nonprofit Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. But the Anschutz check coming so close to final action on a bill the company sought "looks like a thank you," he said.

The donation is presumably to help Perata pay for a ballot measure campaign, said Stern, "but the reason it is given, in my mind, has more to do with governmental access."

"This is the way, unfortunately, that our system works," said Stern.

Companies owned or controlled by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz have been major donors to politicians and their ballot measures. For example, Anschutz companies have donated $927,000 to political causes in California since 2005, including $100,000 to Rebuilding California, the Perata-controlled committee that funded several infrastructure bond measures on last November's ballot. That committee's name has since been changed to Leadership California.

The legislation Anschutz sought would allow it, in partnership with Los Angeles, to apply for some of the $2.8 billion voters agreed to borrow when they passed housing bond Proposition 1C in November.

The company seeks $50 million in public funds, much of it from the housing bond, to pay for improvements along the Figueroa Street corridor, which stretches about three miles from Staples Center to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Exposition Park. The Anschutz group is developing LA Live, a $2.5-billion, 4-million-square-foot sports and entertainment complex in downtown L.A.

Legislative language that would allow Anschutz to apply for bond funds was inserted by the Senate Rules Committee, which is headed by Perata, into a bill on Sept. 7. The author of that bill, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles), said he was first approached by Perata about finding a way to allow inner-city developers who included affordable housing within their projects to tap Proposition 1C. "Sen. Perata talked to me about it and I said it seems fair to me as long as you're doing competitive bidding," Nuñez said.

He said he had his staff take a deeper look at the issue after nonprofit housing developers complained but still found merit in the amendments.

The amended bill, AB 1053, passed both the Senate and Assembly in the waning hours of the legislative session with little debate.

A spokeswoman for Perata referred calls to Paul Hefner, spokesman for Leadership California. Hefner said Anschutz's $10,000 check was sent Sept. 6 and arrived at the committee's fundraising office on Sept. 12 to fulfill a pledge made at a June 28 fundraiser in Sacramento.

"Leadership California didn't even receive the contribution . . . until after the Legislature had already adjourned for the year," said Hefner. "Obviously it didn't have any effect on anyone."


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