Election 2020 for Beverly Hills is shaping up to be a four-way contest between the three leading candidates — Lili Bosse, Julian Gold and Lori Greene Gordon — and the new independent political action committee ‘Beverly Hills United to Support Bosse and Gold.’ The PAC is better-resourced than any candidate and in the closing days of this election it is burning through its $110,000 with a singular purpose: To associate candidates Bosse & Gold in the minds of voters.
The ‘Beverly Hills United to Support Bosse and Gold’ political action committee (PAC) in two weeks raised $90,000 from just twelve contributors — most of them corporations and LLCs that invest in commercial property. Half of that money comes from Rodeo Drive property owners. I looked at who exactly was behind the contributions in a recent post, Who’s Behind the Bosse-Gold PAC?
From looking at the PAC mailers & ads, PAC contributors and campaign contributions to the leading candidates one can make some observations.
One city council candidate is at a disadvantage.
Julian Gold M.D. is #5 in the ballot order that was determined by Los Angeles County (which now administers our municipal elections). That’s a problem for this candidate if a voter uses a touchscreen to mark their ballot: Gold appears not on the initial screen (four candidates) but on the second screen. For example, a voter could make two choices for city council and then move on to the next section without having seen all of the candidates…unless the ‘more’ button is touched.
Gold’s campaign is highlighting the ‘more’ button and emphasizing vote-by-mail.
Candidate Gold’s mailer provides voting instructions for example. “Step 1: Click the ‘More’ button to view Julian Gold. If you accidentally select two candidates on screen 1, please click ‘More’ again and unselect one candidate so you can vote for Julian.” (Step two is choosing Gold of course.)
Another candidate Gold mailer stresses the importance of voting by mail and even designs the mailer around a vote-by-mail ballot request form. Vote-by-mail is important to the candidate because the touchscreen ballot problem goes away when a voter uses a paper ballot.
Bosse and Gordon mailers? None mentions the touchscreen issue. Some Bosse mailers mention vote-by-mail in noting that the voting process has changed this cycle. Voters are directed to the County Registrar’s website for information. Online visitors to the Bosse and Gordon websites will not see mention of the touchscreen either. Or the vote-by-mail option.
Bosse-Gold PAC messaging makes the same points.
If we are looking for parallel messaging, then consider that the Bosse-Gold PAC has featured the ‘more’ button and vote-by-mail option in nearly every mailer and ad. One mailer, for example, shows instructions in a callout box (titled “How to use the new voting system to re-elect Councilmembers Bosse & Gold”).
Another mailer features an image of the touchscreen and also provides directions. In bold font it says, “HIT the MORE button to vote for Julian Gold M.D.”
Another mailer suggests the urgency. “To see the list of all the City Council when voting in person, HIT MORE — DO NOT HIT NEXT.” All of these PAC mailers also inform voters of the vote-by-mail option.
By law an independent PAC cannot coordinate with a campaign but the messaging is awfully consistent between the campaign and PAC material.
Let’s look beyond the messaging to the meta-message.
The goal of the PAC mailers & ads is to put Bosse and Gold in the frame together. Side-by-side in mailers they celebrate their shared endorsements, for example. There they appear together at a ceremonial ribbon-cutting. They even appear standing together as cartoon likenesses (surrounded by cartoon supporters).
The most important point: the goal of the PAC mailers is to make, and then reinforce, the association between the candidates in the mind of the voter. Think Bosse-Gold. Think Bosse-Gold.
Consider the text of the PAC materials. The overt messaging. The candidate bios are cursory; candidate accomplishments appear as a few bullet points; and in place of substantive policy ideas are generic platitudes.
“Thanks Lili and Julian for protecting our lives and prosperity,” says one mailer. “Bosse and Gold work vigilantly to uphold our democratic values through innovative, effective leadership,” says another. Pure filler.
Of course a PAC called ‘Beverly Hills United to Support Bosse and Gold’ could have supported each candidate individually yet this PAC made no such individual contribution to either candidate.
That’s because the goal of the PAC campaign generally is to associate the candidates. Again that’s the meta-message. Think Bosse-Gold.
Why the meta-message? We can only speculate. Perhaps it is to leverage one candidate’s popularity for the benefit of the other less-popular candidate. That’s the genius of the virtual candidate slate: they don’t actually have to run on a slate if the PAC campaign can imply the slate. Notably Bosse and Gold don’t appear together in any recent image. The council events pictured in the PAC mailers are years old.
In reality neither candidate has endorsed the other. And we don’t see candidate slates in local races because why shine a spotlight on a competitor?
The PAC ostensibly supports two candidates. Who is the intended real beneficiary?
Remember that old adage — follow the money? It is as true today as when a source advised Watergate reporters in the 1970s. So we dug into the $110,000 contributed to the ‘Beverly Hills United to Support Bosse and Gold’ PAC. It came from a handful of individuals with investments in commercial property (including office, retail, and multifamily). Read more: Who’s Behind the Bosse-Gold PAC?
To get at the tricky question of PAC motive, we looked at which among PAC contributors also contributed to the leading three candidates. We examined campaign disclosures filed as of February 21 (the latest available). So — who’s giving to whom?
A few things to note about the table. First we see that 8 of 13 PAC donors also supported candidate Julian Gold. No surprise there! The PAC was formed to support Gold and Bosse. But only two PAC funders also contributed to Bosse and they contributed only $900. And those two contributors also gave $900 to Gold. (Gordon received no contribution from a PAC contributor or anyone affiliated.)
Second, PAC funders contributed to Gold to the tune of $14,400 in this election cycle. That’s more than 40% of the total $33,885 Gold raised to date. (Gold is the most prodigious fundraiser by far among all of the candidates.) So we see a very significant overlap between PAC funders and Gold contributors but not so much between PAC funders and the Bosse campaign.
Third, there’s a good bit of ‘bundling’ by persons and entities affiliated with the Bosse-Gold PAC. Bundled contributions went overwhelmingly to candidate Gold. Bundling allows PAC contributors, their relatives and employees to favor candidates with multiple contributions. PAC-contributor affiliates gave $11,250 in bundled contributions to Gold. The majority of direct-to-candidate contributions to Gold were bundled. (Bundling is not unlawful unless the contributions are at the behest of, and reimbursed by, a third party.)
Fourth, bundled contributions were a key source of support for the Gold candidate committee. The Mahboubi family behind Dominium Management Corporation collectively contributed $4,500 to candidate Gold’s committee (all on the same day). Dominium contributed $9,500 to the PAC. Other PAC funders gave generously too.
In second place by dollar amount was the family behind Outsourcing & Management: the Frems. They contributed $3,150 in total to candidate Gold: $2,250 from family members, $450 from an Outsourcing employee, and $450 last fall from the company itself last fall. Another $450 was contributed by a Frem company called Taskmaverick. Though his Outsourcing & Management company, Frem contributed $5,000 to the PAC.
Four members of the Megdal family donated a total of $1,800 to candidate Gold plus $450 from a Megdal employee (all gave on the same day). Elliot Megdal & Associates contributed $9,000 to the PAC.
Rodeo Drive businessman Stephen Massman organized the PAC and contributed $9,999. His family donated $1,800 to candidate Gold.
And the office of real estate tycoon Steve Gordon, who was actually the first contributor to the Bosse-Gold PAC with $9,500 in January, bundled three $450 contributions from employees to total $1,350 for Gold support. (Oddly he himself did not contribute to the candidate’s committee.)
PAC contributor KMJ DE LLC does not appear in campaign contributions but cross-referencing addresses shows that another entity tied to the same Rodeo Drive property owner, Mark Tronstein, did contribute. It is listed in the filings as Rodeo Drive Associates ($450).
Which candidate is most harmed? Planning commissioner Lori Greene Gordon.
We take for granted that a political action committee ostensibly organized to support Bosse and Gold would send any love Gordon’s way. Yet it is conspicuous is that not a single contributor to the PAC has contributed to candidate Gordon. Why is it conspicuous? Gordon and all of the PAC contributors are in the same business.
Gordon’s family firm is an owner-manager of commercial property in Beverly Hills and beyond. “I have worked in business for nearly 40 years as an owner/manager of GTL/KG Properties,” she says on her website. So presumably she understands the concerns of property owners and developers.
She certainly understands the development environment. She served on the planning commission for five years. On the campaign trails she’s called for ‘streamling’ approvals of projects that comply with city zoning — which incidentally is a goal that she and candidate Gold share. They also talk similarly about increasing density to meet state housing requirements. They have more in common in some ways that differences. Yet no property owner PAC has sent a mailer out on her behalf.
The question is why Gordon wasn’t their candidate. And why they put so much effort — $100,000 and mailer-after-mailer — to evidently give candidate Gold a boost. Those questions will find no answer.
The ‘Beverly Hills United to Support Bosse and Gold’ PAC suggests a worrying new turn for municipal elections: big money in local politics. Unknown motives and questionable means are funded by outside money that respects neither contribution limits (as enacted by city voters) nor the voluntary limit on expenditures (as agreed by all candidates).
We expect our city council candidates to run respectable, independent campaigns. However the PAC’s evident effort to leverage one candidate’s appeal for another candidate’s gain falls short of that standard. When the skullduggery of professional politics emerges it should be cause for concern.
Finally, the only curb on PACs like the ‘Beverly Hills United to Support Bosse and Gold’ is a candidate’s concern for his or her reputation. Ours is a small town and reputation matters. So it’s important to know who disavows or condemns the PAC and the funders behind it.
A well-reported article in the Beverly Press got Bosse and Gold on the record about the PAC. Their quotes are telling. “I had no knowledge of the PAC,” said Bosse. “I am not running against anyone and I am not running with anyone. I am running my own campaign on my record and integrity.”
In contrast Gold told the Beverly Press:
From what I’ve seen, many of the people represented in this PAC are very important merchants and landowners and residents in our community. I certainly appreciate that support.”
Two different perspectives indeed. While the ‘Beverly Hills United to Support Bosse and Gold’ PAC by law cannot coordinate its support with any candidate committee, there are too many parallels between PAC interests and Gold’s concerns, and too much overlap in contributors, not to question it.