Tonight, Anaheim leaders are looking at changing the rules on how lobbyists and special interests can influence elected officials at city hall in a move that could impact some of their biggest campaign donors and supporters. 

It comes after a scathing report was released a couple weeks ago, in which independent investigators detail outsized influence by Disneyland resort interests on City Hall through the use of political action committees and alleged pay to play schemes.

[Read: Anaheim’s Own Look at City Hall Finds Disneyland Resort Businesses Improperly Steer Policymaking]

Mayor Ashleigh Aitken is calling for a series of potential reforms to the city’s lobbying rules and other regulations with a scheduled discussion for Tuesday night’s city council meeting.

Some of the proposed reforms, like clearly defining what a lobbyist is and public reporting of lobbyist meetings with city officials, could mark a major change in how some of the city’s biggest businesses are forced to report when and how they try to influence their local government. 

There’s also a proposal to put every city council members’ calendar – which details who they’ve been meeting with – online for residents to see. It could also apply to the city manager and assistant city manager.

[Read: Anaheim Mayor Proposes Reform Discussions a Week After Corruption Probe Drops]

Aitken and the rest of the city council did not respond to requests for comment last week. 

Aitken’s father, Wylie Aitken, chairs Voice of OC’s board of directors.

Resort Interests Donating to City Council Campaigns

Disneyland resort area interests are continuing to pour money into city council races as city leaders debate reforms. 

Aitken and Councilwoman Norma Kurtz are the only two council members with active committees for their next elections, in 2026 and 2024 respectively. 

In June alone, Kurtz received nearly $10,000 for her election campaign, nearly all of which came from hotel owners, lobbyists and political action committees funded by resort interests. 

This will be Kurtz’s first campaign, after she was appointed by a city council majority whose campaigns are heavily financed by resort interests. 

In the last two years, Aitken received $6,000 from many of the same hoteliers, lobbyists and resort interests as Kurtz.  

Both also received money from the city’s police union, which was directly called out by investigators from the JL Group as part of the shadowy group that influences Anaheim City Hall. 

“The so-called ‘Cabal’ seemed to be comprised of: the Chamber, SOAR, and Disney, and then the Police & Fire Associations and Building Trades,” investigators wrote. “The apparent plan was that the Platinum Triangle, the Resort, and Disney would all prosper together.” 

The resort’s political action committees typically start spending money on its preferred candidates during election years, which bumps local political spending well into the seven-digit mark.

Tuesday’s expected discussion comes two weeks after the release of an independent corruption probe report in which investigators from the JL Group detail loose regulations and a lack of accountability over lobbyists – with multiple lobbyists accused of improperly influencing city leaders.

Investigators also say city officials routinely ignored Anaheim’s own lobbyist registration ordinance.

[Read: Anaheim’s Corruption Investigation Highlights How Lobbyists Across OC Slip Past Registration Rules]

The report documents how leaders of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and lobbyists helped organize resort district interests such as hotel owners, Disney and other business leaders, to help influence city policy from behind the scenes. 

[Read: Inside The Shadowy Anaheim Chamber of Commerce Retreat Called Out By the FBI]

While city leaders could be taking some action on lobbying reform, all attempts at improving transparency for or campaign finance reform have fallen flat over the years. 

Campaign Finance Reform? 

After news broke of the FBI’s investigation into city hall last year, city council members held multiple discussions to look at requiring more reporting of campaign spending and a rule that would block anyone from approving projects or contracts connected to their campaign donors for a certain period of time.

The city council deadlocked in a 3-3 vote that wouldn’t break over multiple meetings. 

[Read: Anaheim City Council Deadlocks on Campaign Finance Reform Following FBI Corruption Probe]

While one of Aitken’s campaign promises was to “Enact common sense campaign finance reforms to increase election transparency,” according to her website, she has not brought forward a discussion on such reform to the dais in her seven months on council.

Former City Councilman Jose Moreno said in a phone interview last Wednesday that the money poured into campaigns and political action committees is where the real problem is at. 

“Anything other than that is dressing,” Moreno said. “If you’re not dealing with that component, you’re not really resolving the fundamental issue.”

The biggest spender in recent years is Disney, which invested over $1.3 million in the 2022 Anaheim City Council race alone – paying for things like political mailers and digital advertising for resort-friendly council candidates through its chief local political action committee, Support Our Anaheim Resort.

Even after sworn FBI affidavits emerged last year in which federal agents alleged resort interests had outsized influence on city hall, Disney continued to spend heavily on Anaheim’s 2022 election through SOAR.

In their report, JL Group investigators say SOAR and other political action committees were used by former Anaheim Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament to gain power, fundraise and groom elected officials friendly to resort interests. 

“The agenda (of SOAR), I presume, was pretty much whatever Todd wanted to talk about,” said Paul Kott, a member of SOAR’s advisory committee, based on his dealings with Ament, in an interview with Voice of OC. “Todd was really the founder of SOAR, with Disney’s assistance.” 

Ament’s lawyers declined to comment.

[Read: New Players, Same Game: Has Anything Really Changed in Anaheim?]

“If someone was being groomed as an Anaheim elected official and were in Ament’s graces, he would have them join SOAR,” city investigators wrote in their 353-page report. 

Kott, one of SOAR’s founding board members, told investigators that Ament helped turn the group from an industry fundraising group to one of the city’s largest power brokers. 

“Everything he [Ament] seemed to do year after year led me to believe that his efforts were not driven by what’s good for Anaheim but what’s better for him, and what’s better for him became this kind of a power broker model,” Kott said in interviews with city investigators.  

While the Chamber of Commerce used to spend heavily on campaigns during election years, they didn’t in 2022 after Ament pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges and revelations surfaced of the FBI’s investigation of former Mayor Harry Sidhu and the chamber’s CEO. 

Sidhu has maintained innocence through his lawyer and hasn’t been charged with a crime.

[Read: Anaheim Chamber CEO Todd Ament Pleads Guilty to Fraud Charges, Could Face Decades in Federal Prison

But the FBI probe didn’t stop the rest of the resort area’s leaders from investing in local elections. 

In 2022, Disney-funded SOAR spent almost $547,000 on Councilwoman Natalie Meek’s campaign and $380,000 on Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava, putting out digital ads and mailers supporting their candidacy. 

It’s similar to previous spending.

In 2020, the political action committee spent $437,000 supporting Councilman Stephen Faessel’s campaign, over $400,000 in support of Avelino Valencia, a former city councilman and now assemblyman, and $121,000 in support of Councilman Jose Diaz. 

SOAR donated $1,000 to City Councilwoman Norma Campos Kurtz’s 2024 campaign in June this year.

Kurtz, a former member of SOAR, was appointed to the city council after Valencia was elected to the State Assembly.

Current and former board members of the Chamber of Commerce and SOAR, such as hoteliers William O’Connell and Bharat Patel, also invested in the race.

O’Connell and his business partners invested over $11,000 in city council races, while Patel put up just over $4,000 according to disclosures in the last two years. 

Those two and other developers were all part of former Mayor Sidhu’s campaigns and were “hand-picked,” by Todd Ament to favor resort interests according to the investigative report.  

Patel and O’Connell didn’t respond for comment. They’re both listed as SOAR advisory committee members on the PAC’s website

Ross McCune, a board member of the Chamber of Commerce and owner of Caisteal Builders, was also involved, according to city investigators, who say former mayor Sidhu inappropriately steered contracts his way. 

“The facts demonstrated that Mayor Sidhu intervened in this RFP process and through Ament brought potential tenants to the location, advising them that they could lease the property,” investigators wrote. “But that tenant improvements would need to be done through…Ross McCune’s construction company, Caisteal Builders, Inc.” 

McCune did not respond for comment.

Caisteal Builders and its employees spent over $3,000 on council candidates in the last election.  

Shopoff Realty, another one of Sidhu’s favored contractors according to investigators, has given over $7,000 to the Orange County Business Council’s spending committee since 2021, which spent $1,500 on Meeks campaign. 

Investigators allege Rubalcava, who used to work at the OC Business Council, improperly tried directing city staff to work with the business group.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Ross McCune as a member of SOAR’s advisory committee. We regret the error.

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.


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