Opinion: Common Sense


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]

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  1. Excellent research Michele..we all should be aware before our town is gone and work with those that are transparent..Dark Money has no place here. To date what you mentioned as far as the local radio station, Tyler, on behalf of we the tax payers besides new equipment has received on public record $147,000 his new asking of $40,000..why are we subsidizing a small business. I would love to know how many in this town actually listen to the radio, in addition the only business that gets free advertising throughout the canyon in signage. The radio station is highly biased towards development and people’s age…again why do the residents have to pay our taxes for this? Fair question? Where is our tax money going, when will we have a oversight committee or accountant for transparency?

  2. Thank you Michele for addressing this Dark Money and city government influence issue. It’s real, it’s here, and it’s dangerous for taxpayers. The fact is, today city governments are riddled with trust and transparency issues regarding how public funds are being spent and for whom they are directed towards. Apparently Laguna Beach has succumbed and we now have private hidden investors (LB residents/property and business owners or not – we’ll never know) involved in a city infrastructure project who pony up money but don’t want locals knowing it In addition, non-profits are tapping heavily into free public money. Here’s an example of similar concerns in an OC City:

    As for the “Chamber’s Secret 7 Donors” not being Chamber members: the role of Board Members in any organization is to attract and find money to meet the organizations goals. NO one cares that they aren’t Chamber members and this really isn’t the issue here. Interesting that NO Chamber member contributed to this fundraising effort though when the Chamber wholeheartedly supports such a project. Wonder why?
    Per your point though, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the Chamber, radio station or PAC donors. These groups are HIDING their donors which says their intentions are questionable and probably not in the best interest of all LB residents but rather for special interests. I hope residents will stop and think about this before supporting any of these non-profit groups financially. If you are not allowed to know exactly who you are dealing with, you won’t know what they are supporting or where your money is actually going. Don’t settle for being in the dark when it comes to your hard earned money. NO transparency. NO trust. NO support.


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