In the 2014 American elections, candidates and other committees raised a total of $6.85 billion, of which $504 million was raised in California. A Congressional campaign needed about $1.4 million to be successful last year, and lobbyists spent another $3.21 billion.
All of which begs the question, why does a meager aggregate $118,000 in donations from Hollywood Park Land Co. to three Inglewood officials over several years, in full compliance with campaign laws, become newsworthy. It doesn’t. Consider the facts.
There has been enough political corruption at all levels of government to merit public scrutiny. Nevertheless, these incidents are aberrations. Most political donations are simply a gesture of support for a party or candidate’s ideology, service record or public policy objectives. You may mock this view as naïve. However if it is untrue, given the figures above, our democracy is under the exclusive control of corporate and special interest operatives. Don’t believe that. The system, though far from perfect, still works.
Hollywood Park Land Co. (HPLC) has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in land located in the City. They are poised to spend a great deal more on a multi-billion dollar sports and entertainment mixed use development project. Must sinister forces be at play or could their support of local political candidates be tied to wanting their investment prospects enhanced through capable civic leadership? It is the mayor and council members who oversee the professional management of the City’s development processes. It is their public policies that define the community’s quality of life and attract residents, businesses and visitors to the City. Does anyone really find it unusual that HPLC wishes to endorse elected officials who are likely to preserve their investment? Is it irrational to the point of suspicion when they actively support the campaigns of those who share their vision of a better Inglewood, and in whom they have confidence can help them realize it?
For the suggestion of impropriety to be plausible, there needs to be some form of quid pro quo. But where is the connection? HPLC long ago received entitlements for a project already underway. The current City of Champions Initiative proposes to add a $2 billion sports and entertainment complex featuring an 80,000-seat state-of-the-art stadium and smaller performing arts venue entirely financed with private capital. If approved, this citizen initiative eliminates discretionary approvals by local government in deference to the will of the people. All the mayor and city council need do to catapult Inglewood into the rarified stratosphere of world sports and entertainment capitals is to extend their arms in a warm welcome. To create thousands of local jobs, infuse $25 million annually in new revenues at City Hall and help create a regional economic stimulus of $1.8 billion annually all that this august body must do is recognize the unprecedented, unparalleled project benefits.
One implication is that Inglewood officials might be “fast tracking” stadium approvals in appreciation for campaign donations. This theory disregards one of the indisputable advantages of building a stadium in Inglewood. Smaller cities are more adept at getting projects approved. Or, in this case, smaller electorates can place initiatives on the ballot faster. In any event, it is paradoxical and humorous that when a government acts efficiently its motives are brought into question. The City is merely acting responsibly, efficiently and in its best interests to help foster a world-class development in the context of developer, team and NFL-sensitive time tables.
The public focus and our focus in Inglewood should be on the billions of dollars destined to embellish our community and fuel a robust regional economy. Campaign donations are part of the American political landscape. Despite innuendos cast by opposing interests, it is neither suspicious money, nor tainted money. It is “smart money” contributed by smart corporate minds to support smart elected officials who are worthy of partnering with. It is money well spent to restore Inglewood’s status as the City of Champions.
Mark F. Weinberg is a Municipal Management Consultant and former City Manager in both California and Washington State. He served as Inglewood City Manager in 2003-2005 and again in 2010-2011.