Candidate Giving: Your Ticket into the Guilded Insiders’ Club

Beverly Hills decidesLast post we last looked at the establishment vs. anti-establishment battle that played out in this election. But for such a small town, the networks of influence are difficult to tease out. For old Beverly Hills hands, though, the alliances, favors and grudges are etched in memory. We’re not old hands, however, so for some indication of how the stars do align here we took a look at the campaign contribution and spending reports for the 2013 municipal election. Fortunately, all candidates file Form 460 detailing contributions, contributors, and expenditures. Unfortunately, it only scratches the surface. Let’s started!

What the Form 460 candidate statement looks like in overview.
What the Form 460 candidate statement looks like in overview.

Contributions chase the favorite, and Mayor Willie Brien can claim to be the undisputed leader of the pack with $68,555 in 233 contributions through the end of the latest filing period (2/16).* Not surprisingly he was the biggest spender ($63,316) and as of his mid-February filing had $30,000 in cash on hand for the closing weeks of the campaign, according to our review of the candidates’ Form 460 statements.

Rosenstein was second in contributions with $60,000 in 173 contributions. He loaned his campaign $5,000 to get the ball rolling, but encountered no obstacles on the campaign trail in this regard. By mid-February he had $28,000 in cash on hand after spending $38,485.

Mirisch placed third in contributions with $43,656 collected in 111 contributions. He spent only $28,906 to date (thrifty!) and kept $20,000 on hand for the closing weeks. Mirisch too took on debt ($4,000) to get his campaign going, but like Willie Brien he was able to grow his contributions as the race progressed.

Krasne is the outlier here. She pulled in only 29 small-gift contributions for a total of less than $10,000. She largely self-financed her campaign with a $50,000 loan. Does she not like to make the fundraising calls? Has Krasne fallen out of favor with the establishment? Perhaps her campaign website’s “My vote is not for sale!” admonition put off contributors?

Who is Contributing?

If the money gives an overall view, it is the contributor lists that really tell the story. Krasne appears to have tapped a smaller network of smaller givers without a predominant category of giver. She has served on the Planning Commission and previously on City Council too, which makes her smaller stable of contributors stand out all the more. (Not all real estate interests stayed away, though: two prominent developers, Maynard Britten and Jeffrey Wilson, each with a current interest in developing a western gateway property did pony up.)

Brien contributors form 460
Willie Brien campaign’s Form 460 contributors for early 2013

Smart money likes to chases a winner, and the current Mayor Willie Brien proved to have the widest appeal. His physician colleagues made 35 donations to his campaign (as of mid-February). He proved almost as popular with real estate-aligned interests, though, which made 34 separate contributions to his campaign. Clearly Brien was the candidate to beat!

Mirisch is no doctor, but he proved even more popular among physicians. They made 45 donations to his campaign. The candidate did not much benefit from real estate money, however. Only seven contributions from the city’s constellation of developers, realtors, and investors came in. Perhaps his campaign website dissuaded them?

“Despite the developer lobbyists who sought to increase the heights and density in our commercial areas,” the site says, “John fought hard… [for] keeping our Beverly Hills commercial areas low-rise and built in conformance with our new General Plan.”

If there’s a distinction to be made between establishment and anti-establishment candidates on the basis of contributors, perhaps it’s the degree to which real estate money chases them. (And some contributions are undoubtedly masked. Many attorneys donate, for example, and it’s not clear if they’re representing client interests.)

Rosenstein contributors form 460
Brian Rosenstein campaign’s Form 460 contributors for early 2013

Rosenstein attracted donations physicians too, but fared not so well with only three such contributions. He fared much better with the real estate guys who made 33 separate contributions. Now to be fair, real estate investment is the family business (they made a mint from the sale of the Robinsons May property) and they’ve had a chance to see the candidate in action on the Planning Commission. They might have opened the wallet for a kindred spirit, or they may feel their interests align with his land use policies, or both perhaps.

But it’s not all business in Beverly Hills. Far from it. Our part-time City Council is remunerated at less than $10,000 per annum, which makes Council service a prestige endeavor. Unlike DC’s revolving door, there is not much prospect to cash-out in the private-sector after serving.

Ticket to the Insiders’ Club

But prestige and status are the very real currency that circulates in Beverly Hills. We see it on the society pages and it is reflected in the candidate funding statements. (Commissioners and other longtime City Hall hands turn up in the contributor lists with regularity…and often their partner and even children are on the statement as contributors too.)

Shahram Melamed is a good example. He’s an alum of Team Beverly Hills (Class of 1998) and a onetime candidate for City Council, according to his old campaign website. He’s been the Rotary’s Sergeant-at-Arms, a Friend of Greystone, a Beverly Hills Education Foundation board member, and enjoyed an appointment to the General Plan commission in 2009. Clearly he’s a guy that likes to be involved in and around City Hall. He worked his way up to Planning Commission Vice-Chair too. Maybe he’s interested in a reprise of his Council bid?

Melamed family on form 460
The family that gives together….

Mr. Melamed and his extended family of five each made a contribution to Mayor Brien’s campaign this past December totaling $2,400. They each donated to Brian Rosenstein’s campaign that fall too. The family that gives together stays together.

And maybe his election to City Council would give us a boost: the bio section of his Council campaign website notes that he’s an “avid biker.” We could do a whole lot worse, and in fact with the sitting City Council we have.

Skimming over the Form 460s only begins to suggest the networks at play in Beverly Hills. It works as it does in any big-city small town. In fact it works much like a game like Farmville, too, wherein one can convert some of our real-world currency into the virtual stuff to get ahead. Likewise, in politics it buys the intangibles: the influence, favorable treatment and perhaps a free ride to the gilded insiders club, aka the Beverly Hills establishment. How long before our candidates accept Bitcoin?