LA Council Members Want To Restrict Contributions From Big Developers

The $1 billion Metropolis project in downtown Los Angeles is funded by Greenland, a Chinese state-owned real estate behemoth. (Photo by Ben Bergman/KPCC )

Los Angeles residents may wonder why this isn't already prohibited, but a handful of council members on Tuesday proposed a ban on campaign contributions from real estate developers of significant projects.

Developers covered by the proposed restrictions include those whose projects would add or construct more than 4,000 square feet of residential floor area or 15,000 square feet of commercial space.

The council members also want to look for ways to restrict developers from making contributions to favored causes supported by officials, donations known as "behested payments."

In August 2017, KPCC investigated millions of dollars in behested payments raised by Mayor Eric Garcetti from individuals, businesses and foundations. In recent years, some of the contributors won large contracts and crucial city approvals for their projects.

Garcetti at the time had set a city record in using the little-known and minimally regulated behested payments to largely benefit the Mayor's Fund of Los Angeles, a charity he helped start after his election in 2013.

Councilman David Ryu authored the new motion calling for the restrictions on developers' campaign contributions and behested payments, a move backed by council members Paul Koretz, Mike Bonin, Paul Krekorian, Nury Martinez and Joe Buscaino and seconded by Council President Herb Wesson. The motion seeks to ban contributions from certain developers from the time of their planning applications until 12 months after they are finally resolved.

This motion is the second of its kind. A previous motion from early 2017 expired over the recent council recess. Ryu's office hopes the latest motion, which for the first time calls for steps banning behested payments from developers, will move more quickly.

"What it does is it limits the perception that there is this pay-to-play style of politics at City Hall," said Estevan Montemayor, Ryu's deputy chief of staff. Montemayor said Ryu has pushed for the reform measure since he was elected, but it ran into delays.

"This is our first opportunity to reintroduce the idea," Montemayor said.

The proposal calls on the chief legislative analyst and L.A. Ethics Commission staff to report back on ways the city could restrict behested payments.

The council proposal comes the same week that a Federal Bureau of Investigation search warrant emerged showing the agency's ongoing corruption probe reaches deep into city departments and City Hall.

Initial details about the investigation suggested a focus on Councilman Jose Huizar, whose Boyle Heights home and City Hall office were searched by FBI agents in November. But the search warrant revealed the federal investigation extends to other elected officials and their staff.

Federal agents also may be investigating the role of Chinese investment in the development of high-profile projects, particularly in downtown Los Angeles.

The Ryu motion will first be reviewed by the council's Rules Committee and requires approval by the full council before it could take effect.

Mary Plummer contributed to this report.