The Los Angeles Ethics Commission Tuesday is scheduled to consider whether to fine a real estate company $71,000 for allegedly violating the city’s political campaign finance laws.
According to commission documents, Hillcrest LLC already has agreed to admitting it violated the Los Angeles City Charter by making contributions to a city council candidate’s campaign under the names of others and exceeding the city’s individual contribution limits during the 2015 election.
During the 2015 elections, city law prohibited a person from contributing more than $700 to a Los Angeles City Council candidate.
The penalties are against the real estate company and not just one person, the documents stated. However, the Ethics Commission alleges Bruce Makowsky, a Los Angeles real estate developer and the majority owner of Hillcrest, solicited individual campaign donations of $700 on behalf of a candidate under the company’s name.
Ronald Richards, the attorney representing Makowsky in the case, said the offense was deemed a “strict liability” and could not be defended by arguing someone had no intent to violate the law.
“You are liable if actions occur that violate the law regardless of someone’s state of mind,” Richards said in a written statement. “The company is very happy and hopeful that this matter can be put behind them. The resolution strikes a fair balance between the parties.”
The Ethics Commission documents stated that after receiving a whistleblower complaint, city staff found evidence that Makowsky met with Joan Pelico at a party in December 2013. At the time, Pelico was the chief of staff for City Council District 5 and had recently announced her intent to run as a candidate for Council District 4 during the 2015 City Council elections.
On April 14, 2014, Makowsky contributed the maximum $700 to Pelico’s campaign committee. Later, he asked his executive assistant to request additional $700 contributions from employees and business associates of Hillcrest LLC and to tell them that they would be reimbursed.
At that request, 10 people associated with Hillcrest provided $700 personal checks payable to Pelico’s campaign, which made the total donation more than $7,000.
Hillcrest LLC business funds were used to reimburse each of the 10 contributors, but Pelico’s campaign was never informed that Hillcrest LLC was the true source of the contributions and no evidence was found that would indicate that Pelico knew the contributions were reimbursed, according to the commission’s documents.
Makowsky stated that Pelico asked him to contribute to her campaign, informed him of the campaign contribution limits and encouraged him to find others to contribute.
Pelico told the Los Angeles Times on Friday that when investigators first brought the issue to her attention, she was “pretty pissed off.”
“It goes against everything I stand for and believe in,” Pelico told the Times.
Pelico lost in the 2015 primary, finishing eighth out of 14 candidates as City Councilman David Ryu was elected.
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