Is the Republican Party of Los Angeles County (RPLAC) being intentionally run into the ground? A post-election examination of the organization’s financial reports reveals either stunning incompetence or an intentional downing. In a year when a combination of liberalized ballot harvesting laws, Motor Voter registration, and a huge influx of Democrat activist cash were forecast to make a large impact on Democrat voter turnout, the county party did next to nothing to affect voter turnout, and raised less than $750,000. Total. In two years.
Shockingly, of the small amount of money RPLAC brought in, $258,000 of the $333,000 it contributed to candidates (77 percent) went to benefit candidates outside LA County – some as far away as Madera County – most of whom lost. RPLAC’s investment in its own county was also in vain. The one local candidate the party contributed to, former Asm. Dante Acosta, lost.
The $258,000 went to just four candidates, only one of whom (an incumbent) won.
- $88,000 to Rob Poythress, a candidate for State Senate from Madera
- $20,000 to Bill Essayli, a candidate for State Assembly from Riverside
- $125,000 to Justin Mendes, a candidate for State Assembly from Hanford
- $25,000 Jordan Cunningham, Assemblyman from San Luis Obispo
All of the out-of-county contributions were made on or after October 1, meaning they weren’t disclosed on the candidates’ 3rd quarter campaign finance forms. Candidates always want to show big fundraising numbers, especially for the last quarterly report before the election, so the timing of these contributions suggests that they were intended to fly under the radar. The contributions weren’t totally secret; candidates for state office have to file “Late Contribution Reports” with the FPPC if contributions above a certain threshold are received after the last quarterly report and before the general election. Republicans wouldn’t have necessarily been scrutinizing their own party’s contributions in the run-up to Nov. 6, though, and the amounts, while significant, weren’t significant enough to attract a spotlight from the Democrats.
In September and October, RPLAC received nearly the same amount, $262,500, from the campaign committees of several out-of-county Republicans in “safe” districts, plus one LA County Republican who was considered vulnerable:
- $36,500 from Asm. Chad Mayes (Riverside/San Bernardino County), 9/13/18
- $13,500 from Asm. Marie Waldron (San Diego County), 10/4/18
- $26,500 from Sen. Brian Jones (San Diego County) – $13,500 on 10/9/18, $10,000 on 10/23/18
- $36,000 from Asm. Tom Lackey (LA County), 10/23/18
- $27,000 from Sen. Pat Bates (Orange/San Diego County), 10/29/18
- $36,500 from Friends of Frank Bigelow (Madera County), $33,500 on 9/24/18, $3,000 on
- $36,500 from Asm. Brian Dahle (Lassen County), 9/14/18
- $13,500 from Asm. Heath Flora (Stanislaus County), 9/24/18
- $36,500 from Asm. James Gallagher (Sutter County), 9/24/18
Why would these candidates contribute to the LA County party instead of their own county, especially since the LA County party was only financially supporting one of its own candidates and sending the rest of the money all over the state? Why would Asm. Lackey contribute to the county party when Assembly District 36 (his district) has its own campaign account? If these office holders wanted to help other Republicans in the state, they could have contributed directly to those candidates. Only they’d have to have done so in much smaller amounts if they wanted to comply with state contribution limits.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission rules effective for the 2017-2018 election cycle state that political parties can make unlimited contributions to state Senate and Assembly candidates. However, individuals, PACs, and other candidate committees can only contribute $4,400 per election to state Senate and Assembly candidates (the primary and general count as two elections, so $8,800 per cycle).
A contribution from a candidate committee to a political party has a higher threshold, though – $36,500. Incidentally, a number of the candidate committees listed above contributed that exact amount to RPLAC.
It’s important to note that political parties “may receive contributions in excess of the limits identified above as long as the contributions are NOT used for state candidate contributions.” So, since everyone stayed under the $36,500 threshold, the party could legally make unlimited contributions to state candidates.
But, who made the call that the $258,000 spent outside the county, and almost exclusively on losing candidates, was a wise use of that money? RPLAC knew that absentee ballot “harvesting” would be a necessity in the 2018 cycle, and that they could leverage Proposition 6, a repeal of new gas taxes, to entice middle-of-the-road voters to the polls, but still someone chose to send that money right back out of the county. Who?
Without any other explanation, it seems that these transactions constituted pass-throughs designed to circumvent contribution limits.
According to RPLAC’s bylaws, a budget must be approved every year. An RPLAC member who spoke to RedState on condition of anonymity said that no budget for 2017-18 was provided to membership and that members did not know that these funds were being sent outside the county until after public FPPC filings were made available.
RPLAC’s Finance Director, Andy Gharakhani, has kept the institution afloat. Instead of schmoozing big donors and raising funding for the party to do things like voter registration and get-out-the-vote operations, Gharakhani-controlled New Majority essentially funded RPLAC during the 2017-18 cycle. New Majority’s contributions totaling $118,500 kept the lights on and the Executive Director paid.
Gharakhani does not have an official position listed on RPLAC’s website, but RPLAC insiders confirmed to RedState that he indeed serves as volunteer Finance Director and that he was appointed to the Executive Board by Chairman Richard Sherman. Howard Hakes, RPLAC First Vice Chair, is a founding member of New Majority’s Los Angeles chapter, and sits on the board of California Trailblazers, whose alumni and all-stars include many of the names mentioned in this article. California Trailblazers supported many of the same candidates RPLAC ended up contributing to in the last days of the 2018 election cycle.
— Howard Hakes (@hhakes) June 26, 2017
It all seems a little incestuous.
Andy Gharakhani himself was paid $25,000 ($2,500 in payroll and $22,500 in “consulting retainers”) by RPLAC during the cycle. Since the party didn’t do anything to support its candidates except send a check to one candidate, it’s not clear what consulting was performed.
RPLAC’s bylaws prohibit a member of the county committee from receiving remuneration “except for prescribed expense reimbursements, and no regular or ex-officio member shall be an employee of or contract with the various arms of the County Committee,” with a few exceptions. One exception is that the county undertake a competitive bidding process, and another is that the member resign their position. There is no indication that any of this happened, and besides, what work would Gharakhani have been contracted to do?
Republicans in Los Angeles County need to ask some hard questions of their county committee and demand accountability for all involved in this unethical and possibly illegal travesty.
UPDATE 11:33 A.M. Pacific, Feb 3, 2019: Numerous Republicans who ran for office in LA County in 2018 have contacted me to state that they asked for help in their races and were denied that help, and that the Executive Board was hostile to participating in the Prop 6 campaign. They have asked to remain anonymous at this time, fearing retaliation.
Follow Miranda on Twitter @M_Morales1986.