QUESTION May Mayor Hahn use his officeholder account to pay to attend the Academy Awards, GRAMMY Awards, and sporting competitions such as the NBA All-Star Game, and similar events held in the City?
Jimmy Hahn was boring and unimaginative but he wasn’t stupid or an incompetent lawyer and he didn’t think he was anything except the mayor of Los Angeles — not its king.
That’s why he asked the Ethics Commission in 2004 how far his official and ceremonial duties extended and how he should deal with attending major sports and entertainment events.
Here’s the heart of the answer LeAnn Pelham, executive director of the commission, gave him (read full letter hereEthics-Advice.pdf:
“The Mayor acts not only as the City’s chief executive but also as its business ambassador and chief marketer. As such, officeholder account funds may be used for the Mayor to attend the Academy Awards, the GRAMMYs, or the NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles, subject to the application of the blackout period
Your letter also inquires as to whether Mayor Hahn could use officeholder funds to pay to attend events “similar” to the Academy Awards, GRAMMY Awards, and NBA-All Star Game held in the City of Los Angeles. Without further information as to the specific nature of those events and the role the Mayor would play in attending them, we cannot provide advice to you regarding whether officeholder funds may to used to pay for him to attend such events.”
In other words, pay for the tickets out of the $75,000 you can raise a year for your officerholder account and represent the city at these major events. The blackout period she referred to is the 12 months before an election which means Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa could not use this reading of the law from March 2008 to March 2009 when he was narrowly elected to a second term without a runoff against runner-up Walter Moore.
This is the document the mayor’s lawyer Brian Currey distributed to the news media Friday along with records of 99 event freebies — documents the mainstream media reported shed little new light on the conflicts of interest the mayor had in taking valuable tickets from AEG and others.
The gap between the advice given Hahn by ethics officials about paying for tickets and the propriety of attending major events like the Oscars in his official capacity and taking freebies to just about any event he wanted to attend and bringing friends and family with him was filled by none other than AEG, the beneficiary of hundreds of millions of dollars in city subsidies.
AEG lobbyist Chris Modrzejewski asked Villaraigosa to attend the Lakers home opener on Nov. 3, 2005 and recognize the Lakers Youth Foundation in a halftime ceremony, saying in an email exchange with staff:
“For the mayor to accept the tickets he must have an ‘official’ role. For tomorrow it would be to at half time present a certificate to the Lakers organization for their work in the community. He will present it to either [former Lakers star] Magic Johnson or [team executive] Jeanie Buss depending on availability…I’ll get you some language for a cert (certificate).”
Around the same time as that email, David Zahniser of the Times noted: “Villaraigosa supported a plan — ultimately approved by the City Council — to provide at least $246 million in tax breaks for a hotel planned for the AEG development known as L.A. Live. AEG shows up in the mayor’s records as the donor of two tickets for Lakers games. Villaraigosa’s records do not show who paid for the mayor to attend some of the concerts held at AEG facilities, including performances by Shakira, Juanes and Tina Turner.”
Prior to Nov. 3, the mayor’s event log shows he attended only two events: Chivas vs. America soccer game and an Aretha Franklin concert, presenting certificates at both. He participated in the Latin Grammy Awards pre-show the day of the Lakers opener and only one more event in 2005, the UCLA-USC football game. His freeloading gathered steam in 2006 with 24 events listed.
According to the ethics advice letter to Hahn, elected officials are barred from using their officeholder accounts to pay for events and various other things during the 12-month “black-out period” before an election .
“These types of expenditures are prohibited from the officeholder account during the black-out period so that they are not used or perceived to be used to benefit the officeholder’s campaign for re-election to elective City office,” the letter states.
The mayor attended more than 20 events between March 2008 and the March 2009 but since he’s a freeloader he didn’t violate the city ethics law in that regard since he didn’t pay for any of the tickets and didn’t report them.
But by his own admission that he was always in every case acting in an official capacity, he violated the law by promoting himself and his campaign for re-election — not to mention promoting the city as its “business ambassador and chief marketer.”
Maybe we should just forget the whole thing like the mayor suggests on the first page of the 422 pages he released.
“Applicable regulations provide that a ticket or pass received by an elected official is not a ‘gift’ if the official performs an official or ceremonial role or function on behalf of the agency. If the ticket or pass is not a ‘gift,’ it is not reportable and is not subject to gift limitations. Thus,
there was no requirement that the Mayor maintain records about the number, source, or value of the tickets or admissions received.”
His attorney Brian Currey reiterated that view at Friday’s press briefing, according to Rick Orlov in the Daily News.
“It has been the mayor’s practice to engage in official acts while attending these events. He feels, very strongly, it is part of his job to attend the important entertainment industry, cultural events and sporting events in the city of Los Angeles.”
As to all those concerns about conflicts of interest hidden by the mayor’s failure to report his freebies, Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Szabo offers this ends justify the means logic:
“Do you remember what downtown looked like?” Szabo said. “It is part of the mayor’s duty to promote development.”
Maybe we shouldn’t just forget about the whole thing but say, “Thanks, Mr. Mayor, job well done.”
All of this reminds me of the Alabama politician got re-elected after being caught taking bribes and kickbacks by declaring, “Sure I stole but I stole for you.”
Villaraigosa now says he will pay for the tickets or pay fines if the Ethics Commission investigation finds he violated the law. “If it’s determined that the mayor needs to reimburse for guests, then he certainly will do so,” Currey added.
The mayor’s bigger problem is the likelihood District Attorney will more from making an inquiry to conducting a full investigation with subpoenas and a grand jury and look beyond “Ticket-Gate” to meals and fine wines he’s taken as gifts and the links between fund-raising for the mayor’s various political and other campaigns and the mayoral favors bestowed on donors.
If the mayor gets away with this, he will have achieved something historic: Abolished the rule of law with regards to city and state ethics laws meant to prevent political corruption.
For that he would deserve a place the Political Hall of Fame — or it is Shame.