Rival in mayoral race files ethics complaint against Eric Garcetti
The campaign of Los Angeles mayoral candidate Emanuel Pleitez said Thursday that it has filed a complaint with the City Ethics Commission alleging that opponent Eric Garcetti had a financial conflict of interest when he approved a legal settlement with an outdoor advertising company.
Garcetti, a city councilman, voted in 2006 to approve a lucrative agreement that allowed Clear Channel Outdoor to convert hundreds of billboards to a digital format. At the same time, he held between $2,000 and $10,000 worth of stock in Clear Channel Communications, the billboard company's parent.
Pleitez spokesman John Hill said Garcetti should have recused himself, since his decision involved a potential financial benefit. “Councilmember Garcetti tries to portray himself as so ‘holier than thou,’ but the more you dig the more dirt you find,” said Hill, communications director for Pleitez.
Garcetti's ownership of the Clear Channel shares was first reported by the L.A. Weekly. After neighborhoods began complaining about the brightly lit Clear Channel signs, Garcetti said he wished he had voted differently.
Jeff Millman, Garcetti's spokesman, said the vote did not pose a conflict because Garcetti "didn’t know or have any reason to know that he had a financial interest." In his disclosure forms, Garcetti described Clear Channel Communications, which owns radio stations in dozens of cities, as a radio company.
Garcetti also participated in a 2007 vote on a matter involving Home Depot, even though he had between $2,000 and $10,000 worth of stock in the hardware giant, according to city records. In that case, he voted against Home Depot's interests, rejecting a store planned in Sunland-Tujunga.
Garcetti disposed of the Clear Channel and Home Depot shares in August 2007, giving them to charity. The donations were made exactly one week after Garcetti cast his Home Depot vote, according to forms submitted to the Ethics Commission.
Asked about the Home Depot vote, Millman said the councilman was looking into the matter. A representative of the Ethics Commission would not discuss the allegations but said most cases handled by the agency have a four-year statue of limitations.
Gary Winuk, who handles enforcement for the state Fair Political Practices Commission, said his agency's statute of limitations runs out after five years. The FPPC does not discuss specific cases, he said.
Under state law, a determination that a conflict of interest exists depends on a variety factors, including the size of the elected official's investment and the amount of revenue generated by the vote.
In the case of Clear Channel, experts believe the council's vote generated hundreds of millions of dollars for the company over several years. That surpasses any threshold used by state regulators to determine a conflict of interest.
-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall
Photo: Eric Garcetti answers a question during a mayoral candidates debate at Loyola Marymount University on Feb. 5. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times