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L.A. County's father-son, supervisor-lobbyist relationship

November 29, 2012|By Patt Morrison
  • L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe, holding a sign from his proudest accomplishment, the "safe surrender" program for saving newborns, which just reached the 100-baby mark. A new report asks questions again about Knabe and his lobbyist-son's clients' business with L.A. County.
L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe, holding a sign from his proudest accomplishment,… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

Dad’s a politician! Junior’s a lobbyist! Sounds like it has potential for a sitcom -- or maybe a conflict of interest?

KCET’s SoCal Connected has put a stronger lens in its news microscope to scrutinize the public-political relationship between L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe and his son Matt, a lobbyist whose firm’s clients sometimes wind up with financial dealings with the Board of Supervisors, dealings that can be worth millions.

Each of the five supervisors is responsible for a bigger population than some U.S. senators, which is one reason they’ve been referred to for years as “the five little kings,” even when there's a woman or two on the board.

The county’s size and reach and budget mean that each supervisor has tremendous influence and tremendous authority. Supervisor Knabe chooses not to recuse himself from voting on matters involving his son’s firm, and it is not illegal for him to cast votes on them, even those that have financial advantages for his son's business clients, as the KCET report discusses.

The question of appearances is one The Times has raised before, in 2006 and again in 2011 by my colleague Jim Newton, and also in my “Patt Morrison Asks” column Q&A with the supervisor last year.

Knabe told KCET that there have been “rare” occasions when his son brings up a business matter and Knabe tells him that “we've reached a point where we can't talk anymore.” They are rare because “we both know our limits in that situation.” If the deal in question is “not a good deal for the county … there is no way that being my son would change my vote.”

Last year, when I asked about even the appearance of a potential conflict in a son having dealings with the father’s “business,” the supervisor told me: “I have absolutely no problem with it. We have defined rules. I am but one vote so [Matt Knabe] is not effective if he can’t deliver other people. He’s been very very successful and works very hard at it, so he should get credit for that. But the fact is his last name is Knabe; he pays a price for that.”

The KCET story asks whether L.A. County taxpayers pay a price too.

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