In the wake of an explosive FBI affidavit alleging deep corruption at city hall, the same interests called out by federal agents for influencing policy making are spending huge sums for the November election, heavily backing their preferred candidates.
Disney’s already spent at least $1.3 million on its main political spending vehicle, the Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR) political action committee, to back the entertainment juggernaut’s preferred candidates.
All this comes in the wake of an FBI corruption probe surfaced in late May, which saw the resignation of former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, who denied any wrongdoing.
Federal agents allege Sidhu tried to ram through the Angel Stadium land sale for $1 million in campaign spending.
And the former head of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, Todd Ament, pleaded guilty to a series of federal fraud charges earlier this year.
The probe sent waves of angry residents to city hall meetings, demanding resignations, campaign finance reforms and a thorough investigation of council members and key city staff that could be tied to the FBI corruption affidavits.
So far, SOAR hasn’t spent any money on the mayor’s race and campaign finance disclosures show the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce has largely been inactive after candidates returned direct contributions to them.
Many residents have demanded city officials curb the resort’s influence on city policymaking.
Despite staying out of the mayor’s race, SOAR has been busy.
The Disney campaign spending vehicle has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for internet ads and direct political mailers to bolster their campaigns.
The resort-friendly candidates all refused to answer Voice of OC’s candidate questionnaire, while the OC Register’s editorial board said it’s time to clean house and endorsed candidates not heavily backed by resort interests.
“Anaheim residents are correct to be angry that the council continues to sidestep reform. Fortunately, voters have a clear choice in the election – between the status quo and reformers,” the Register’s editorial board wrote.
Campaign for Citywide Mayor Seat
Councilman Trevor O’Neil threw his name into the race at the 11th hour in what might be the first citywide mayor’s race in recent years where resort-friendly political action committees aren’t spending big money.
Anaheim campaign finance disclosures show both the chamber of commerce and SOAR haven’t spent money on the race.
And the Anaheim/Orange County Hotel & Lodging Association PAC doesn’t show any activity outside of direct contributions to candidate Lori Galloway and O’Neil. The PAC has also spent nearly $22,000 on polling.
O’Neil’s been able to fundraise to $109,000 so far this year and had just over $60,000 on hand as of Sept. 24, according to disclosures.
He’s been criticized by scores of residents for being too cozy with the resort industry and for backing the now-dead Angel Stadium land sale. He also rejected any ideas of local campaign finance reform following the FBI corruption probe.
Ashleigh Aitken, candidate for mayor, has out fundraised O’Neil by $72,000 this year.
Aitken, whose father Wylie Aitken sits on Voice of OC’s Board of Directors, had at least $205,000 cash on hand as of Sept. 24 – much of that comes from the $208,000 she fundraised last year.
She is backed by the Anaheim Firefighters Association, which has spent over $25,000 on Aitken for signs and magnets as of Oct. 6.
Candidate Lorri Galloway fundraised nearly $32,000 this year and she had $11,000 on hand as of Sept. 24.
While the resort PACs have so far stayed out of the race, the Lincoln Club of Orange County recently waded into the fight for mayor.
The Republican group is backing Democrat Galloway – who has in recent years run for mayor and county supervisor – through $35,000 of recent political mailers, while spending at least $46,000 to oppose Democrat Aitken.
Yet O’Neil, a Republican, is listed as their endorsed candidate on the Lincoln Club’s online voter guide.
Labor is also rallying behind Aitken, who serves on the OC Fair Board.
As of Sept. 26, the Helping Working Families Get Ahead PAC has spent roughly $27,000 to support Aitken.
The group’s funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents a host of workers in grocery stores, pharmacies and the hospitality industry.
The Manufactured Housing Educational Trust PAC – an interest group that opposed the push for rent control on senior mobile home parks in the city – has spent nearly $15,000 on slate mailers for O’Neil, who was also against the rent control push.
He also got a maximum donation of $2,200 from John Saunders, who owns the Rancho La Paz Mobile Home park – where seniors kicked off efforts for rent control after facing rent hikes a few years ago.
Earlier this year, O’Neil called for strengthening property owner rights in Anaheim.
District 2 Campaign
SOAR is heavily spending to back appointed Councilwoman Ma’ae, who used to sit on the PAC’s advisory committee.
As of Oct. 7, SOAR has spent $136,000 to bolster Ma’ae’s campaign.
Ma’ae is also backed by the Anaheim Firefighters Association who as of Oct. 6 spent around $9,000 on her campaign for signs and magnets.
Many residents were outraged when she was appointed to the city council last year, which drew criticism that the appointment process was politicized, predetermined and rushed.
Like O’Neil, Ma’ae has been criticized for being too close to resort interests.
Ma’ae was also a key member of Anaheim First – a Chamber of Commerce-created group that was supposed to give neighborhood spending recommendations to city council members.
City officials pulled the plug on the chamber-created advisory group shortly after the corruption probe landed in the public eye.
Ma’ae has fundraised just over $55,000 this year.
Her opponent, Carlos Leon has raised just over $47,000 this year as of Sept. 26.
Like Aitken, Leon is also getting support from the grocery union.
The Helping Working Families Get Ahead PAC had spent nearly $20,000 to support Leon as of Oct. 3.
District 3 Campaign
In district 3, SOAR is backing Rubalcava and as of Oct. 7 has spent about $126,000 in support of her campaign.
She comes from the OC Fair Board and is chief operating officer of the Orange County Business Council, which voiced support for the Angel Stadium land sale that would’ve seen the stadium and the roughly 150 acres it sits on sell for $150 million cash.
The Anaheim Firefighters Association are also backing Rubalcava and as of Oct. 6 spent a little more than $9,000 on Rubalcava for signs and magnets.
She’s been able to fundraise at least $80,000 this year, with donations from apartment and real estate PACs. Rubalcava has also received donations from various labor unions throughout the state and hotels in Anaheim.
Meanwhile, her opponent – Al Jabbar – has fundraised $54,000 so far, including donations from Planned Parenthood and the Orange County Employees Association, which represents county employees.
Jabar is also OC Supervisor Doug Chaffee’s chief of staff.
The Anaheim Resort Workers for an Honest City Council PAC has spent just under $2,000 to help bolster Jabar’s campaign. The newly formed committee is backed by the UNITE HERE union, which represents scores of resort employees.
District 6 Campaign
As of Oct. 7, SOAR had spent roughly $150,000 to help Meeks’ campaign for District 6 in Anaheim Hills. Meeks is a city planning commissioner who threw her hat in the race after O’Neil decided to run for mayor right before the filing deadline.
Meeks has fundraised at least $44,000 so far, while her opponent Hari Shankar Lal has fundraised at least $51,000.
She also backed the Angel Stadium land sale until it fell apart after the FBI corruption probe was made public earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Shankar Lal has been showing up to city council meetings and calling out council members following the corruption probe going public in May.
Filings detailing spending within 90 days of the election don’t show any political action committees throwing their support behind Shankar Lal.
Election day is November 8.
Spencer Custodio is the civic editor. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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