Former state Controller Kathleen Connell has complied with a demand to
give up $22,000 in political contributions to her 2001 Los Angeles mayoral
campaign because the donors have admitted the money was laundered.
The action increases pressure on other L.A. politicians who have received
laundered contributions -- including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City
Atty. Rocky Delgadillo and Councilman Jack Weiss - - to write checks to
the state or city.
"Any contributions found to be coming from laundered funds should
be given to the state," said Kathay Feng, executive director of California
Common Cause. "It shows that the elected official does care about
transparency and wants clean hands."
At least 19 contributions received by Connell's campaign committees
were made in the name of someone other than the true source of the money,
according to the contributors, who admitted that the money was donated
in a scheme hatched with an executive of Casden Properties Inc.
Connell's decision to write a check to the state general fund at the
insistence of the state Fair Political Practices Commission puts the spotlight
on contributions that went to Villaraigosa, Delgadillo and others that
were laundered in the same scheme.
Most said they would consider returning funds if formally notified that
the contributions were laundered.
The state Political Reform Act requires that when a campaign committee
receives a contribution made in the name of another person -- an act known
as political money-laundering -- it must pay the amount to the state general
fund, said John M. Applebaum, chief of enforcement for the FPPC.
The City Charter has a similar provision. A memo to the state commission
this week from Applebaum disclosed that Connell wrote a check to the state
after receiving a letter of demand from his office.
"We have no evidence to suggest these committees were aware they had
received laundered contributions or had otherwise violated the act,"
The same finding -- that there was no evidence candidates knew money they
received had been laundered -- was reached in all the city cases.
The Los Angeles Ethics Commission last year won settlements from John Archibald,
a vice president for Casden Properties, and more than two dozen people,
including subcontractors, their employees, relatives and associates.
The individuals admitted to a scheme in which subcontractors reimbursed
the employees, relatives and friends for 19 contributions made to Connell's
mayoral campaign and to the campaign committees of Villaraigosa, Delgadillo,
Weiss, Councilwoman Wendy Greuel and others.
Villaraigosa's 2003 council campaign received $2,000 in contributions
that were later found to be from other sources.
Stephen Kaufman, the mayor's campaign attorney, said, "We are
reviewing the state and city laws to determine whether they apply to these
contributions, and if so, we will promptly reimburse the general fund."
Weiss' campaign received $5,000 in laundered contributions, Greuel
$3,500, Councilman Bernard C. Parks $2,500, Councilman Tony Cardenas $2,500
and Delgadillo $2,000, according to documents released by the Ethics Commission
in cases in which settlements were reached.
Weiss refused to return contributions to Casden subcontractors when called
on to do so in the last election by challenger David T. Vahedi.
Vahedi said Thursday that Weiss should not only give up the laundered contributions
but also the city matching funds he received for them. Contributions from
individuals were matched by the city dollar for dollar.
"If the money was given illegally, then the matching funds should
not have been given to him in the first place," Vahedi said.
FPPC officials declined to say whether demand letters similar to the one
Connell received have been sent to other L.A.-area politicians.
Delgadillo has not received a letter from the state commission identifying
funds that were laundered and that should be returned, said campaign advisor
"We would certainly be responsive if we did get such a letter,"
Greuel also said she was not aware of which contributions might have been
laundered and has not been put on notice by the state commission.
"I will comply fully with any request of the Fair Political Practices
Commission," Greuel said.
Weiss also has not given up the contributions identified in city Ethics
Commission documents as having been laundered.
"If Jack receives a communication from a regulatory agency, he will
read it and consider what to do with it," said Larry Levine, a campaign
advisor to Weiss.
No politicians for L.A. city office have been implicated for having knowledge
that contributions were laundered, though all the donations have been
listed for months on the website of the city Ethics Commission.
Fred Woocher, an attorney for Connell, said she reopened her city committee
to pay the state, but he said some of the other politicians may be able
to argue that they have closed their committees and therefore do not have
any money to give up.
The commission is wrapping up the last cases in the Casden Properties investigation
and plans to officially notify all city officials.