Dark Money Running Laguna Now
By Michèle Monda
The City Council accepted $20,000 from the Chamber of Commerce to help fund a parking structure study. The city kicked in $15,000. The funds are comingled. I asked the city to provide me with a list of donors from the Chamber for the $20,000. The city said they didn’t know who gave the money. The Chamber stated that it was seven donors, donating $1,000 to $5,000, and that they weren’t current Chamber members. The Chamber refused to give me their names. Why? What are you hiding?
The Chamber is a 501(c)6 organization and as such is not obligated to reveal donors. The Chamber is in favor of building more parking structures at resident expense and has a record of saying so at Council meetings. Existing merchants have already fulfilled their parking requirements. So, who is donating to the Chamber of Commerce? Wait, developers also are on record wanting a free structure. If I was a developer and wanted to hide funding a parking study to further my interests, I would channel it through the Chamber. Now it’s dark money and I’m hidden. With this money from the Chamber and city staff drooling over a parking structure, it is a foregone conclusion that this $35,000 study will be in favor of a taxpayer-funded structure. It’s still unclear if our resident shopper’s permits will be valid in this lot. You pay, you don’t get to play.
According to Opensecrets.org, “Politically active nonprofits – principally 501(c)(4)s and 501(c)(6)s – have become a major force in federal elections over the last three cycles. The term ‘dark money’ is often applied to this category of political spender because these groups do not have to disclose the sources of their funding.” Well folks, it’s here in Laguna now too. If you want to fly under the radar, just donate to a 501(c) and you are anonymous.
In addition to the Chamber, we have a number of these tax-exempt organizations in town that are trying to influence policy. KX FM 104.7 founder and general manager Tyler McCusker has repeatedly said Downtown Laguna is run down and needs a change. We need new development. We need to rip out what we have now, get rid of the old folks in the way and embrace large developments. Where is their donor list? Hasty Honarkar is a current member and Mo Honarkar is a former member of the 14-member KX FM 104.7 Community Advisory Board, according to the station’s website.
And speaking of which, this same radio station is asking for a Community Assistance Grant of $40,000. This is on top of the $13,000 generator we bought them (and $8,900 to repair it), $14,500 antenna, a $3,900 building improvement grant, $16,161 in Capital Grant Agreements, and $62,000 in previous Community Assistance Grants, according to city documents. Should residents be funding a 501(c) that can hide its donors especially when city revenue is questionable right now?
Other organizations in Laguna are also non-profits. According to taxexemptworld.com Laguna has 518 tax-exempt groups. We also have Political Action Groups, like the police employee and firefighter PACs and Liberate Laguna, that have to report donations greater than $100. But suppose they then turned around and bundled those donations into one large donation to a candidate? That bundled money is now anonymous. Dark money.
Whether it is to elect a candidate, or in the case of the Chamber of Commerce, advance your agenda in town with hidden donors’ money, residents need to be mindful that sadly in Laguna today, money talks and residents walk.
Michele has lived in Laguna Beach for 15 years with her husband, Emil, and three sons. She is treasurer of Laguna Beach Sister Cities and former secretary of Laguna Beach Republicans. Email: [email protected]