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Candidate's independent donor is Dad

Father is spending $120,000 to get his son elected, but he avoids cash limits by not discussing the gift.

May 17, 2008|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Michael Blumenfield thinks his son Bob would do a fine job representing the San Fernando Valley in the state Legislature.

So he poured $120,000 into campaign advertising and, he said, never discussed it with his son, who lives in the same Woodland Hills neighborhood.

By law, such "independent expenditures" cannot be coordinated with candidates. They are most often used by business and union interests to mail brochures and air TV ads for or against candidates in the weeks before an election.

Donations to independent efforts are unrestricted. They have become increasingly common since 2000, when voters capped the size of direct donations to state politicians.

Observers say they've rarely seen a candidate's family run a campaign outside the control of the candidate, although in 2001, five brothers and other relatives and friends financed a $10,000 radio ad campaign on behalf of Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge.

And although one of Bob Blumenfield's opponents in the Assembly race has complained to a state watchdog agency about the father's advertising, Michael Blumenfield said he's only trying to help his son fulfill his dreams.

"If there's anything we could do for him, we would," he said, "and we would only do it in the most legal and proper way."

Other donors to the effort on behalf of Blumenfield include his sister-in-law, who gave $15,000, and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Valley Village), for whom Bob Blumenfield worked as a district director until last month.

Berman's political campaign kicked in $100,000 to help pay for an ad that features the junior Blumenfield, his wife and young daughter. In all, more than $154,000 has been raised on the candidate's behalf outside his campaign.

Blumenfield is on the June 3 ballot for the Democratic nomination in the 40th Assembly District. The seat is now held by Lloyd Levine, a Democrat from Van Nuys who is running for state Senate. Levine's father, Larry, is Blumenfield's campaign manager.

Larry Levine said he knew nothing about the television advertising until opposing candidate Stuart Waldman of Van Nuys sent out a news release Wednesday accusing Blumenfield of "laundering" funds from his father and boss.

"There has been no coordination," said Levine. "None."

He noted that an independent expenditure committee funded by real estate professionals, dentists and other business interests has spent nearly $300,000 supporting Waldman, a former chief of staff to Lloyd Levine.

Levine said if Waldman is getting support from "virtually every special interest in Sacramento," and Blumenfield is getting support from "Bob's boss and father -- two people who know about him and care about him personally -- which is worse?"

Waldman's wife, Nicole Kuklok-Waldman, this week filed two complaints with the Fair Political Practices Commission against Bob Blumenfield. She noted that Blumenfield sent out a mass e-mail to supporters and others Thursday telling them how to find the independently produced television ad on YouTube, "where you can check it out if you don't see it on your TV."

State law bars candidates from decisions about advertising paid for by independent expenditures, including those regarding the content, timing, location, intended audience or volume of distribution.

"Mr. Blumenfield cannot turn a blind eye to the production and distribution of the commercial," Kuklok-Waldman wrote in her complaint, "and then distribute the commercial himself, through his Candidate Committee, and claim to be within the bounds of the law."

FPPC spokesman Roman Porter said the agency had received a sworn complaint in the matter. The agency has 14 days to notify Kuklok-Waldman whether it will investigate.

Two other Democrats are vying to represent the district, which includes Northridge, Canoga Park and West Hills.

One of them, Laurette Healey of Van Nuys, a former advisor to the state controller, said the controversy illustrates the need for taxpayer-funded campaigns.

"The vote in this district, and any district should not be determined by the size of someone's bank account," she said.

The other, Dan McCory of Reseda, who leads a freelance writers' union, said, "Pumping that much money into the race probably will influence it.

"The person who raises the most money doesn't always win," he said, "but almost always."

With less than three weeks until the primary election, only one other legislative race has inspired more independent expenditures, according to the Fair Political Practices Commission, which began Friday to track and post such expenditures on its website. That's the Democratic contest between West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon and Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada for an Assembly seat. More than $482,000 has been spent in that campaign outside the control of candidates.

Close behind is the $400,000 spent so far in the Democratic race for a state Senate seat that encompasses Compton, Rancho Palos Verdes and parts of Long Beach and San Pedro. Real estate, energy, health insurance, tobacco and other business interests have spent $45,400 to oppose Assemblyman Merv Dymally (D-Compton) and $352,000 to support former Assemblyman Rod Wright of Inglewood.

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nancy.vogel@latimes.com

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