During a hotly contested race this year to replace Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, three apartment rental companies that listed the same chief executive and same address in state records each contributed the maximum donation allowed to candidate Carolyn Ramsay. Such a cluster of giving can trigger the suspicion of watchdog groups and city investigators, because if the money is coming from the same business owners, it can exceed legal limits on donations from one source. Campaign finance experts say the key question is whether the money is coming from the same source. But the answer is unclear. Publicly available campaign and business records don’t spell out who owns the companies. The companies’ chief executive did not respond to repeated emails, phone calls and letters seeking information on the firms and the donations.
After a reporter inquired about the contributions, the Ramsay campaign returned two of them without determining whether the donations were proper, to eliminate questions about whether the contributions exceeded limits. The three donations amounted to a sliver of the more than $400,000 Ramsay raised for her unsuccessful runoff campaign.
But the uncertainty surrounding the contributions illustrates a far larger problem: Business entities routinely donate to city candidates, but it isn’t always clear who owns them. That makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the public to get a full picture of who is financially backing candidates. It also makes it difficult to ensure that city campaign rules are being followed.
“We restrict the amount that any one individual or entity can give,” said California Common Cause Executive Director Kathay Feng, whose group advocates for open government. “But passing it through numerous companies can be a way of getting around the restrictions.”
Full Article: Follow the money? It’s not always so easy – LA Times.