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Wesson's choice of fundraiser's wife for ethics panel criticized

Erin Pak is married to Chris Pak, who has aided Mayor Villaraigosa, Councilman Garcetti, Dist. Atty. Lacey and others. She promises to be 'as fair as possible.'

December 20, 2012|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times
  • Council President Herb Wesson refused to say whether Chris Pak or his company had raised money for him. “Everybody has raised money for me,” he says.
Council President Herb Wesson refused to say whether Chris Pak or his company… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson is drawing criticism for choosing the wife of a prominent campaign fundraiser to serve on the Ethics Commission, the panel that enforces the city's laws on campaign contributions and influence peddling.

Erin Pak, who joined the panel last week, is the head of a Koreatown-based healthcare organization. She also is the wife of former City Commissioner Chris Pak, who has raised money for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Councilman Eric Garcetti, Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey and candidates in the March 5 council elections.

Chris Pak's land use consulting firm, Archeon International Group, represents businesses that seek permission to sell alcohol in Koreatown, a neighborhood in Wesson's district. Over the last decade, Archeon and its employees have given at least $47,000 to city candidates, including nine running in the March 5 election, according to interviews and city records.

Kathay Feng, executive director of the campaign finance watchdog group California Common Cause, said the various ties between Pak, her husband and city politicians form a "hornet's nest" of relationships and potential conflicts of interest. Those relationships threaten to create a cloud of suspicion over future votes cast by the commissioner, Feng said.

"Erin may well be somebody who ... cares about ethics and campaign finance," she said. "The challenge is that as a commissioner, she will be sitting and making decisions that will directly impact candidates and [elected officials] who are receiving money from her family, and that's a huge concern."

Ethics Commission records show that Erin Pak has made nine contributions totaling $5,500 to city candidates over the last decade, with each donation reaching the maximum allowed under city law. Of that total, $1,500 went to Wesson. Another company affiliated with her husband made three donations totaling $1,500, a third of it to Wesson.

Wesson spokesman Ed Johnson praised Erin Pak as an outstanding individual who has already served on various public boards, including the city's Commission on Community and Family Services. Asked if Chris Pak or his company had raised money for him, Wesson refused to say. "Everybody has raised money for me," he replied.

Erin Pak, who lives in Playa del Rey, said she would not be affected by her husband's fundraising activities and promised to be "as fair as possible" when dealing with campaign finance cases. She said neither she nor Archeon will make contributions while she is on the commission. However, she would not guarantee that her husband would stop hosting fundraisers for city candidates.

"Let's hope he's compliant with everything so he doesn't have to come to the Ethics Commission," she said.

The Ethics Commission has had members versed in campaign fundraising before. Former Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, who raised money for himself and for his son's 2001 council campaign, served on the panel from 2002 to 2007. Former school board member Marlene Canter spent three years on the commission.

Erin Pak's husband is enmeshed in city business in ways that neither Canter nor Garcetti were. He accompanied Villaraigosa on a 2006 trade mission to Asia. He worked on the 22-story residential project above Koreatown's Wilshire and Western subway station. His firm also works with the affordable housing developer American Communities, which has repeatedly turned to the city for financial help with its projects.

In June, he and an American Communities executive co-hosted a fundraiser for Eric Garcetti's mayoral campaign. In August, Archeon and American Communities co-hosted a fundraiser for former Villaraigosa aide Matt Szabo, who is running to replace Garcetti on the council.

In September, he worked with Wesson to bring in donors to a Koreatown fundraiser for Lacey's campaign for district attorney, according to campaign consultant Parke Skelton. And two weeks ago, he co-hosted a Koreatown fundraiser for Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), who is running to replace Councilman Ed Reyes.

George Rheault, a frequent Ethics Commission critic, said Erin Pak should recuse herself from voting on any enforcement action involving a city candidate who benefited from her husband's fundraising. Erin Pak said she does not go to all of the fundraisers involving her husband and differs with him on some political choices.

"We haven't always supported the same candidates and we're OK with that."

david.zahniser@latimes.com

Times staff writer Kate Linthicum contributed to this report.

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