Election 2016: County Supervisor Race Gets Ugly
Napolitano sues Hahn over PAC contributions, her campaign fires back with ‘slumlord’ accusations
By Gary Walker
Allegations of illegal campaign contributions and slumlord profiteering have taken the hotly contested race between Janice Hahn and Steve Napolitano down an increasingly acrimonious path as the Nov. 8 election approaches.
The congresswoman and former Manhattan Beach mayor are vying to replace termed-out L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe, whose district includes county-governed Marina del Rey as well as Playa del Rey and parts of Westchester.
Napolitano, a Knabe deputy who finished second in the June primary, has methodically hammered Hahn over nearly $400,000 in campaign contributions from political action committees that appear to exceed campaign funding limits, calling those contributions “the largest campaign violation in Los Angeles County history.”
Hahn’s camp, which has until Oct. 20 to clear up the matter with county election officials, has fired back at Napolitano over health and safety code violations at a South Los Angeles apartment building he owns and rents to Section 8 government housing voucher tenants. The building has been cited for rodent infestation, heating and water deficiencies, electrical hazards and failure to install carbon monoxide detectors — prompting chief Hahn campaign strategist John Shallman to call Napolitano a “millionaire slumlord.”
In an effort to compel Hahn to immediately return PAC contributions in excess of the $150,000 per election cycle limit on PAC contributions that was set in 1996 by Proposition B, Napolitano filed a lawsuit against Hahn in Los Angeles Superior Court on Sept. 27.
Primary and general election contests count as separate cycles. Hahn’s campaign accepted $524,369 from PACs since fundraising began, but which money belongs to each election cycle was not immediately clear.
Knowingly violating Proposition B is punishable by fines and even jail time, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s office.
Registrar-Recorder spokeswoman Brenda Duran said the office considers any contributions received by the Hahn campaign in excess of the “permitted primary/general aggregate of $300,000 to be a possible violation.”
The court dismissed Napolitano’s complaint on Sept. 29, but the Hahn campaign must still return any unlawful contributions by Registrar Recorder – County Clerk Dean Logan’s Oct. 20 deadline — a deadline he’s already extended once at the Hahn campaign’s request.
“In [the] court hearing, the judge stated that our actions were reasonable,” Duran said.
Hahn’s camp has said they’ve already returned some of the PAC contributions in question.
Despite losing in court, Napolitano claimed victory in the bigger picture.
“We got what we wanted. [They] admitted that she had violated the county’s finance laws,” he said.
Robert Stern, an expert on campaign finance reform, is unsure if Napolitano’s focus on possible Prop. B violations will resonate with voters.
“It was a little unusual to see the registrar-recorder weigh in like he did. But it’s up to the candidate to make it an issue for voters,” said Stern, who was president of the Center for Governmental Studies.
Following the judge’s ruling, Shallman ridiculed the lawsuit, calling it a “humiliating defeat,” and accused Napolitano of trying to usurp the county registrar’s authority by attempting to force Hahn into refunding the donations prior to the Oct. 19 deadline.
“Steve Napolitano just wasted the court’s time and taxpayer dollars chasing his political objective to distract voters from his shameful record as a millionaire slumlord who earns taxpayer subsidies to provide vermin-infested, unsafe apartments to poor families,” Shallman said.
Napolitano confirmed that some of his tenants qualify for Section 8 housing vouchers — “a wonderful program that more landlords should use,” he said.
“I’ve never been sued, and there have been no complaints about me,” he added. “They’re desperate and they’re trying to distract from their illegal contributions.”
Stern said the harsh back and forth between the candidates has become the norm in political campaigns — even in ostensibly nonpartisan municipal and county contests.
“When it’s a competitive race, the tone tends to get testier,” he said.