Ethics Inquiry Urged; Election: D.A. declines to file charges in probe of Hahn camp's role in hit ads paid for by Indian tribes, but suggests city might take civil action.:[Home Edition]

JEFFREY L. RABINThe Los Angeles Times. (Record edition).Los Angeles, Calif.Feb 7, 2002.  pg. B.1

Full Text (1025   words)

Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times 2002 Allrights reserved)


An investigation by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office has raised "serious questions" about whether one of James K. Hahn's political fund-raisers improperly directed Native American tribes to launch hit mailers against election opponent Antonio Vilaraigosa.


The Public Integrity Division of the district attorney's office concluded there was "insufficient evidence" to make a criminal filing linking the Hahn mayoral campaign to spending by several Southern California Indian tribes.


But the county prosecutor's office on Wednesday suggested that the city Ethics Commission may be able to pursue civil fines against those involved. A four-page summary of the case described "troubling" interlocking relationships between Hahn allies and the Indian tribes, who were supposedly acting independently when they painted Villaraigosa as soft on crime in a series of postcard mailers.


Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said that gaping holes in the state's election laws made any prosecution difficult.


The Times reported in May that Daniel Weinstein, a Hahn supporter and fund-raiser, asked for the contributions in a conference telephone call to the leaders of several Southern California Indian tribes.


Within days, one of those tribes, the Soboba Band of Mission Indians, sent $100,000 to a San Francisco political consulting firm to produce mailers that attacked Hahn's opponent, Villaraigosa, as lenient on child pornographers and sexual predators. Hahn defeated Villaraigosa in the June mayoral runoff.


The attack ads fell outside the city's voter-approved $1,000 limit on direct contributions to candidates for citywide office, because they were considered expenditures "independent" of the Hahn campaign.


The district attorney's eight-month investigation focused on whether the tribes' attacks on Villaraigosa were truly independent. Investigators questioned whether Hahn or his campaign "directed, coordinated, arranged, requested or suggested" any of the expenditures by the Sobobas or two other Indian tribes, which spent a total of $350,000 on anti-Villaraigosa mailers or radio ads.


After interviewing more than 20 witnesses, investigators from the district attorney's office concluded there was insufficient evidence to link Hahn or his campaign to any illegal coordination with the tribes.


A four-page summary of their findings sent Wednesday to the Ethics Commission also said that "the results of the investigation are troubling." The report paints a picture of interlocking relationships among key Hahn campaign officials, supporters like Weinstein and the tribes.


"The responses from those interviewed raises serious questions about sometimes long-standing relationships between those in the Hahn campaign with political supporters and volunteers," the report said. "It also raises concerns about the California laws governing campaign financing."


State law prohibits independent expenditures from being coordinated with a candidate or his or her campaign.


There was an explosion in such independent expenditures during last year's citywide races from Indian tribes, wealthy residents and billboard companies. Hahn, Villaraigosa and Rocky Delgadillo, now city attorney, were among the beneficiaries.


Questions have routinely been raised about whether such efforts are truly at arm's length, or whether they are coordinated with campaigns as a tactic to avoid the limit on contributions in citywide races.


Cooley said in an interview Wednesday that the state law is far too vague about what constitutes coordination between those behind independent expenditures and political campaign officials.


Cooley said loopholes in the law are so big you can "run a Mack truck through them." He called on the state Legislature to tighten the law.


The investigation of the Indian expenditures was launched in June after Villaraigosa alleged that expenditures by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Soboba Band of Mission Indians and the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians were coordinated by Weinstein, a longtime friend and supporter of Hahn.


Those large contributions effectively allowed the Hahn campaign to skirt city contribution limits, Villaraigosa's camp charged.


The district attorney's report said, "All of those interviewed denied that the campaign or Hahn had solicited the money spent on anti-Villaraigosa advertisements and mailers."


So, the report concluded: "Without evidence linking Hahn or campaign staff members to the expenditures, violations of the law cannot be proved."


But Soboba tribal leaders told The Times in May that they and other tribes were asked to contribute $100,000 each to the effort to defeat Villaraigosa in the Los Angeles mayor's race.


The request was made in a conference call by Weinstein, they said.


The district attorney's investigation confirmed that solicitation.


The investigation also found evidence that another Hahn backer, Assemblyman Tony Cardenas (D-Sylmar), participated in a May 21 conference call to the tribal leaders, who assembled at the Coco's restaurant on the Morongo reservation that day.


The report says investigators found evidence that "Cardenas also may have been involved in encouraging the three tribes to get involved in the Los Angeles mayoral race, even though none of the tribes are located in Los Angeles. "


During that call, Cardenas said that "Weinstein would provide the tribes with information on how to defeat Villaraigosa," the D.A.'s report says.


The assemblyman, who is currently running for Los Angeles City Council, could not be reached for comment late Wednesday about the call he allegedly made to the tribes late in the mayoral campaign.


Early in the mayor's race, Cardenas vehemently denied that he had induced the Morongo tribe to pay for anti-Villaraigosa radio ads.


Weinstein, who held two fund-raisers for Hahn and made personal contributions to his campaign, also could not be reached for comment.


Cooley said the Ethics Commission might be able to make a case that campaign laws were violated because the standard for civil fines is significantly lower than the "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt" standard required in a criminal case.


Lee Ann Pelham, executive director of the Ethics Commission, said she had received the findings from the district attorney's investigation. "We are reviewing it," she said.


"We've seen plenty of illustrations of the limits of state law when it comes to making sure that independent expenditures are truly independent," Pelham said. "This speaks to the need to find ways ... to establish laws that draw brighter and clearer lines so these laws can be enforced."


The Ethics Commission requested the district attorney's assistance because the panel's legal counsel is provided by the city attorney's office, which at the time was headed by Hahn.





Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.




Los Angeles California


Hahn, James K

Article types:  



California; Metro Desk



Text Word Count