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Villaraigosa acknowledges attending some premier events free of charge

The mayor says he considers his appearances at sporting and cultural events to be part of his duty to promote and represent L.A. A spokeswoman says he believes he's in full compliance with the law.

May 29, 2010|By Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times

Since taking office in 2005, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has sat courtside next to movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg at three Lakers games at Staples Center. He has cheered alongside Tommy Lasorda and Dodgers owner Frank McCourt in the owner's box at Dodger Stadium. Rarely has he missed an awards show: the Academy Awards, the Grammys, the Emmys and the BET Awards —anywhere there was a red carpet in Los Angeles, odds were Villaraigosa was photographed standing on it.

It's no surprise that the mayor attends many of the city's premier sporting and cultural events. But Villaraigosa acknowledged this week that he goes to some of them free of charge. He said he considers those appearances to be part of his official duty to promote and represent Los Angeles.

State and city laws require politicians to report gifts they receive — and say who gave them — and limit the value of tickets they can accept to $420 from any one source in a year. Elected officials are exempt from those requirements, however, if they conduct official business or have a "ceremonial" role at an event.

Villaraigosa has taken a more expansive view of that exception than his predecessor: Former Mayor James K. Hahn publicly reported tickets he received to similar sporting events and award shows, including the Academy Awards, the Grammys, a Rose Bowl game, Dodgers and Angels games, a Lakers game and a UCLA- USC football game.

When Hahn went to the 2003 Oscars, he paid $400 out of his own pocket and declared only a portion of the total ticket value — $100 — as a gift, his financial disclosure reports show.

Similarly, a Villaraigosa contemporary, billionaire New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, pays his own way to entertainment and sporting events, including Yankees games, said spokesman Andrew Brent. The only exceptions are events in which the mayor is speaking or otherwise participating.

Villaraigosa spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said the mayor believes he is in "full compliance with all applicable laws and regulations." At some events, the mayor's official duties including the presentation of a decorative city proclamation that he presents to athletes, entertainers or organizers.

"The mayor attends events each year to promote Los Angeles as a world-class business, cultural and entertainment destination — including the Academy, Grammy and Emmy awards ceremonies — which is an important duty of the chief executive of the nation's second-largest city," Hamilton said. "The mayor holds himself and his administration to the highest ethical standards."

The mayor's practice of accepting free tickets when conducting official business was first reported this week by KTTV-Channel 11. A courtside seat to just one regular-season Lakers game runs $3,100, according to a team official.

The Times' own examination of the mayor's official schedules for 2008 and 2009 found that Villaraigosa has been attending such events for years — and many were conspicuous in their public service. For example, in June 2008, Villaraigosa went to a Lakers-Suns playoff game and appeared at a news conference to announce the National Basketball Assn.'s decision to bring the 2011 All-Star game to Los Angeles.

Others were less clear.

On July 13, Villaraigosa's companion, KTLA reporter Lu Parker, sent out a tweet announcing that she was attending a Beyonce concert that night at Staples Center. It was the same day Villaraigosa announced that the city would not bill Staples' owner, Anschutz Entertainment Group, for the cost of city services provided at the arena's Michael Jackson memorial.

Hours after a mayor's spokesperson told a Times reporter that Villaraigosa was not attending the Beyonce concert, the mayor's office put in a rush order for a proclamation for the singer, to be presented by Villaraigosa in person that night. The certificate recognized her "international success and contributions to the entertainment industry."

The only ticket to an awards show, concert or sporting event that Villaraigosa reported as a gift was in 2006, when he attended the Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood as a guest of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He declared receipt of a $100 "ticket discount."

Every year thereafter, Villaraigosa has attended the event without reporting his tickets as a gift.

For the last five years combined, the total value of the four tickets he received to the Oscar ceremony and Governor's Balls is $21,000, according to academy spokeswoman Leslie Unger.

The Times also reviewed thousands of photographs by news organizations — including The Times, the Associated Press, Getty Images and Reuters — to confirm that the mayor attended various events. And the paper examined roughly 10,000 proclamation orders from the mayor's office for 2007-09.

Most of the events were logged on the mayor's schedules, which were obtained last year by The Times for 2008 and 2009 under the California Public Records Act. However, seven Lakers games and two Dodgers playoff games he attended do not appear on the schedule. On those dates, entries for the same hours that the events took place were blacked out, and the mayor's deputy legal counsel at the time, Gabriel Sandoval, classified the information as "personal and/or private." Sandoval stated that disclosure of those schedule details would be "an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

On Friday, a spokesman for the mayor said staff members had confirmed that 81 events appeared on the mayor's official schedule, although they were uncertain if he attended every one; they also are working to determine whether Villaraigosa or the city paid for any of those tickets directly.

Many of the events Villaraigosa attended were at facilities owned by companies involved in millions of dollars' worth of city contracts or real estate projects — among them the Dodgers and AEG, which also owns the downtown L.A. Live entertainment complex. In addition to Lakers games, the mayor has also attended the Grammy Awards and two Emmy Awards ceremonies at Staples and the Nokia Theatre, which AEG owns. The city has waived hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for the awards shows as an incentive to keep them in Los Angeles.

City ethics regulations prohibit the mayor from accepting more than $100 in gifts a year from a person or entity doing business with the city.

AEG spokesman Michael Roth said the company in general is not involved in distributing tickets to events at its venues, including Lakers games and the Grammy and Emmy awards.

"However, on certain occasions when the mayor was performing an official ceremonial function at a Staples Center event [such as granting a proclamation or participating in a press conference], AEG has invited the mayor to attend the event as a guest in its suite at the arena," Roth said.

Villaraigosa has not declared his tickets to any other sporting event or awards show as a gift, city ethics records show.

A spokesman for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences said it has provided two Emmy tickets to the mayor's office since the 1940s, and the value of each ticket to the 2010 event was $1,300. Officials with the Grammy Awards did not return calls seeking comment.

Over the last five years, Villaraigosa has attended 13 Lakers games and 12 Dodgers games, including four opening day baseball games. They mayor's office has six season tickets for the Dodgers, which city employees are required to pay for if used.

Lakers spokesman John Black said none of the courtside seats were provided by the Lakers.

Calls to the Dodgers were not returned.

phil.willon

@latimes.com

Twitter.com/LATimesWillon

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