After Harassment Allegations, Former Garcetti Advisor Rick Jacobs Got Lucrative Consulting Payments From Mayor’s Longtime Union Ally
A former advisor to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti received lucrative contracting fees from a powerful labor ally of the mayor’s — including payments after the advisor, Rick Jacobs, was accused of sexual harassment and groping by a number of men in 2020.
The Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters is a staunch Garcetti supporter and has financially backed the mayor’s political efforts dating to his first city council campaign in 2001. All told, the union and related groups have made contributions to Garcetti-aligned campaigns and organizations that tally well over $1 million.
Additional reporting by Libby Denkmann
Garcetti and Jacobs stopped communicating last October, according to testimony by both men in an ongoing harassment lawsuit against the city that targets Jacobs. But while Garcetti cut ties with his former aide in the wake of the harassment allegations, the carpenters union has stood by him.
Last month, in a filing to the U.S. Department of Labor, the union disclosed that RDJ Strategic Advisors, a consulting group helmed by Jacobs, received $215,000 in fees between April 2020 and March of this year. It shows 14 separate consulting payments to Jacobs’ firm.
Most of those payments took place after a lawsuit was filed last year against the city of Los Angeles by an LAPD officer — a former member of Garcetti’s security detail — who alleges that Jacobs routinely forced unwanted touching by hugging, grabbing his biceps, and massaging his shoulders.
The carpenters union did not respond to a request for comment — including questions about the nature of the work Jacobs’ firm has provided, whether his firm continues to consult, and if the union has concerns about the allegations of sexual harassment. An attorney for Jacobs also did not respond.
Garcetti spokesperson Alex Comisar said the mayor was not involved in securing Jacobs’ consulting work with the union, but declined to comment further.
Jacobs met the future mayor and his wife while volunteering for the Howard Dean presidential campaign in 2003. The prolific fundraiser became a vital connection to wealthy Los Angeles donors for Garcetti. Their relationship grew tighter over the years, and starting in 2013 — after Garcetti became mayor — Jacobs worked closely with him, first as his deputy chief of staff and later as a political aide. The pair remained close after Jacobs took a planned leave of absence from City Hall in 2016.
Over the years, the carpenters union, Garcetti and Jacobs have shared common causes.
Disclosures show Jacobs was paid more than a half million dollars as the CEO of the Accelerator for America, a nonprofit launched by Garcetti in 2017. The organization, created at a time when Garcetti was exploring a presidential bid, got off the ground with a $500,000 contribution from the national carpenters union.
The prior year, a carpenters-affiliated political group donated another half million dollars to Garcetti's effort to pass Measure M, the 2016 transit ballot measure. Jacobs led the campaign for that ballot measure, which passed easily. His group was paid more than $300,000 to consult.
The local carpenters union's support of Garcetti’s political career long predates his tenure as mayor. Garcetti first received a campaign contribution from a carpenters political group when he ran for city council in 2001. The carpenters have steadfastly supported Garcetti in the years since, including in both his campaigns for mayor.
There has also been a flow of staff from Garcetti’s office to the union. Derek Mazzeo, a former Garcetti staffer, now serves as the carpenters’ political director. Cecilia Cabello, who worked for Garcetti for years, held a position at the carpenters union in 2017.
The recently-disclosed payments are not Jacobs’ first from the carpenters union. In the previous fiscal year, before allegations about Jacobs' sexual harassment were made public by LAPD officer Matthew Garza and others, the union paid his firm $120,392. The disclosures do not make clear the nature of the work performed by Jacobs’ group.
On LinkedIn, no one other than Jacobs lists RDJ Strategic Advisors as an employer. He describes his work as "Drawing upon … his deep relationships with elected, labor, business and advocacy leaders nationwide," and emphasizes that he "builds teams, creates strategies and drives focused execution."
“So often, institutions and organizations are not holding people who are committing harassment and abuse in positions of power accountable.”
Laura Palumbo of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center said it’s common for powerful men accused of sexual misconduct to continue tapping into professional networks for employment opportunities.
“So often, institutions and organizations are not holding people who are committing harassment and abuse in positions of power accountable,” she said.
Palumbo pointed to a report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that found when there is workplace misbehavior from a “superstar” — such as someone skilled at raising money — employers can be tempted to ignore the misconduct.
“In short, superstar status can be a breeding ground for harassment,” the report found.
A Growing Number Of Allegations
The intense scrutiny of Jacobs’ behavior comes at a delicate moment for Garcetti, who is reportedly being considered by the Biden administration for the ambassadorship to India.
The lawsuit against the city claims Garcetti was often present when Jacobs subjected the LAPD officer to inappropriate touching and comments. Garcetti has denied the claims, testifying in a deposition that “I have not witnessed that, and I have never witnessed that.”
“It came out of thin air, the accusations,” the mayor said in the deposition.
Garcetti has denied making a comment to the effect of, "I can’t believe Rick worked out at City Hall and that we got through it without a lawsuit." His multiple denials have been contradicted by Jeremy Bernard, former president of the nonprofit Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles, who testified: “[Garcetti] did make that comment … there might have been a couple of us he had said that to because I’ve heard that from others.”
After the lawsuit was filed in July 2020, Garcetti initially kept Jacobs in his orbit. He remained on the board of the Mayor’s Fund, and he kept his job as CEO of Garcetti’s Accelerator for America nonprofit.
“This is something that should take a process forward, but shouldn’t keep somebody who has been a committed public servant from being able to continue to serve our community and our world,” Garcetti said of Jacobs at the time.
But the tone of the mayor’s response changed as more accusers spoke up.
In October, journalist Yashar Ali published an account of his experiences with Jacobs, alleging Garcetti's advisor would routinely forcibly kiss him on the lips at events and comment on his “soft lips.”
Two other men spoke anonymously to the L.A. Times that month, saying they feared retaliation if they went public with their experiences of Jacobs groping or trying to forcibly kiss them.
It was then that Garcetti issued a statement saying: “I take seriously all allegations of harassment. Rick Jacobs has stepped away from his non-profit and volunteer political work.”
A former Garcetti aide, Henry Casas, testified in December that he was on the receiving end of unwanted touching by Jacobs — and said the behavior was “common knowledge,” even the subject of gossip, among City Hall employees who worked for the mayor.
“Massaging the shoulders, hugging. Inappropriate, I guess, things that would come out of his mouth,” Casas testified. He said Jacobs regularly made comments about other city employees being “strong” and “handsome” while grabbing their biceps.
In June of this year, LAist reported that two sealed depositions include testimony that Jacobs groped and sexually harassed colleagues. An attorney for the witnesses said they feared retaliation for speaking out. Yesterday afternoon, a deposition by Garcetti’s former director of communications was unsealed. Naomi Seligman testified she was told by a senior Garcetti staff member that Jacobs was untouchable.