Campaign operatives for Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich on Friday lodged a complaint against his most prominent challenger in next week's election, accusing former lawmaker Mike Feuer and his political consultant of flouting city campaign finance disclosure laws.
The complaint, filed with the City Ethics Commission by Trutanich chief strategist Rick Taylor and campaign spokesman John Schwada, alleges that Feuer and consultant John Shallman have arranged to waive or postpone Shallman's fees, which the Trutanich campaign said amounts to an illegal "in-kind donation" that greatly exceeds the city's limits on individuals' contributions. (The limit in the city attorney's race is $1,300 per person.) In the complaint, copies of which they released to reporters, Taylor and Schwada estimated the value of Shallman's consulting services to be between $150,000 and $250,000.
Not charging the Feuer campaign for all but about $11,000 in services "amounts to a giant, illegal, in-kind contribution to Feuer's campaign," Taylor and Schwada said in a statement, "allowing him to spend the money that should be going for Shallman's fees on political ads" and amounts to "cheating the other candidates and cheating the voters."
Shallman, in response to an earlier inquiry by The Times about his arrangement with Feuer, said their contract is legal and calls for an all-or-nothing settlement once the race is over. Shallman will be owed money only if Feuer wins the office, with the amount to be determined after the election. The consultant said he vetted the arrangement in advance with the Ethics Commission, which has a policy of not commenting on possible or pending investigations.
"We were very careful about this, to be sure that everything was aboveboard," Shallman said. "The reality is, you can make whatever deal you want."
The Feuer campaign issued a statement through spokesman Dave Jacobson after learning about the complaint: "It's a stunning admission that our city attorney doesn't understand the law and obviously failed to consult the Ethics Commission before filing this frivolous complaint."
The no-win, no-pay arrangement is highly unusual, if not unique, in city races, although "contingency" contracts have been used in other contests, according to other consultants and election law experts contacted by The Times.
Shallman said he agreed to such a contract with Feuer because it is important to get the right person in the city attorney's office. "The stakes are too high and winning is too important for the future of Los Angeles," said Shallman, who had a falling out with Trutanich after running his ill-fated race for county district attorney last year, when the strongly favored Trutanich failed to make the runoff and decided to seek reelection to the city post. He has sued Shallman for a full accounting of campaign expenses.
Shallman added he was "very confident" Feuer will win, saying, "This is not a gamble."
A poll released Saturday showed that Feuer had a small lead over Trutanich and private attorney Greg Smith but that 40% of likely voters were still undecided. It seems improbable that any candidate can win a majority Tuesday, making a May runoff likely between the top two primary finishers.
Westside homeowner activist Mike Eveloff, a Trutanich supporter, said the no-win, no-pay arrangement gave Feuer an unfair advantage by hiding the true cost of the campaign.
"It creates an unlevel playing field" because other candidates must show what they are spending on consultants, Eveloff said. "It just feels wrong."