Highlights of the Anaheim Corruption Investigation A Closer Look at How Lobbyists in OC Avoid Registration 

Highlights of the Anaheim Corruption Investigation A Closer Look at How Lobbyists in OC Avoid Registration

Residents of Orange County have just been given a front-row seat to see how special interests influence local officials via the lobbyists they have selected to represent them.


The findings aren’t very encouraging.


An investigation that was carried out by the JL Group that was commissioned by the city of Anaheim concluded that the city’s regulatory approach did not provide openness. Multiple lobbyists were accused of concealing their meetings or unlawfully influencing municipal authorities over the course of the study.


The investigation found that the sort of influence described above at Anaheim city hall was a major contributor to the squandering of millions of dollars in public money with no oversight or accountability.

This was found to be the case despite the fact that there was very little oversight or control.





According to what the investigators noted in their report, “We observed that there has been a lack of oversight and meaningful enforcement concerning lobbying in the City.”


However, this problem is not unique to Anaheim, and the article has sparked a discussion on a local level about who precisely should be needed to register as a lobbyist in order to attempt to influence policy at city halls. The issue is far more widespread than that.


What exactly is a “Lobbyist”? 

The California Fair Political Turmoil Techniques Commission states that

a lobbyist is someone who receives compensation to directly communicate with state, legislative, or agency officials in order to influence legislative or administrative action on behalf of their employer or client.



However, discussing this practice openly is something that very few people are willing to do.




COMPLETE COVERAGE: The Scandal of Corruption in Anaheim

Even Denah Hoard, executive director of the Orange County Ethics Commission, which monitors the lobbyists in the county, refused to comment beyond defining the county’s standards for lobbying. The commission is responsible for monitoring the lobbyists in the county.


According to the investigators, having professional advocates go up against the interests of citizens may create an imbalance at city hall. Although there is nothing unlawful about special interests paying advocates to make their case in front of elected officials, having professional advocates go up against the interests of locals can create an imbalance.




In one case, investigators pointed out how a nonprofit organization known as Anaheim First, which was managed by the Chamber of Commerce and established by local lobbyists, functioned as a “thinly veiled data mining operation” with the intention of funnelling tax monies back to the Chamber of Commerce.


According to what was written by the investigators, “We conclude that had Anaheim First been funded at any level, the Chamber would have received significant sums of money.” “We have further come to the conclusion that there was a general plan that certain lobbyists operating in the city would have a hand in this activity in order to derive profits for themselves as well,”


Although the various cities in Orange County have somewhat varying policies about how to handle lobbyists, they all describe lobbying in the same way, which is as receiving payment to try to influence the result of legislative or policy decisions.


It is not required of firm workers, members of the press, or public commentators to register as lobbyists in the majority of localities and in the state. These are only some of the carve-outs that allow persons to avoid registering.


There are around 300 clients being represented at the county level by roughly 80 registered lobbyists, as stated in the disclosures provided by the county.


Disclosures reveal that there are now twenty registered lobbyists representing around thirty different clients in Anaheim.


Investigators criticize lobbyists in Anaheim for failing to provide relevant information.

Investigators from Anaheim called out many lobbyists for failing to properly disclose all of their meetings and activities in their reports. One of those lobbyists, Curt Pringle, who has been working as a lobbyist for Orange County for the longest amount of time, was singled out.


According to the website of the business, he established his lobbying firm, Pringle and Associates, in 1999. This was after he had left the state Assembly, where he had served as the final Republican Speaker, and before he was elected to the position of Mayor of Anaheim in 2002, where he remained in office until 2010.


An anonymous source referred to Pringle as the “Godfather” of local politics, and investigators highlight throughout the report how he was instrumental in the rise to power of the city’s Chamber of Commerce as well as the movement of policy away from the spotlight.


One of Pringle’s former workers, Todd Priest, who is now one of Pringle’s competitors with his own lobbying business, said that Pringle would often take Priest into meetings in order to avoid being required to register as a lobbyist himself. Priest is now employed by another lobbying firm.


“Curt never wanted to fancy himself a lobbyist,” Priest claimed in conversations with investigators who were looking into the matter. Because I was the registered lobbyist, he would want me to be there at the meeting. But what I mean is that nobody cares about Todd Priest now that Curt is around. The fact that the previous Speaker was there was the most important thing.”


The investigators said that he did not disclose several meetings with municipal employees and elected officials, and they cited a total of 22 meetings that they believed he did not report.


In a statement that was made public last week, Pringle said that all of his work had been fully reported in accordance with the regulations of Anaheim; nonetheless, he refused to participate in an interview.


“We believe that we have abided by these requirements, contrary to some of the references from the third-party report,” Pringle said in a statement that was emailed to reporters who had requested a response on the claims that were included in the report. “The report contains a great number of other statements that, in our opinion, are not factual and, more appropriately, could be interpreted as “gossip.”


Along with Todd Ament, the former chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce, another former employee of Pringle’s, Jeff Flint, was criticized in the report for failing to declare his job as a lobbyist. The criticism was directed against Jeff Flint.


“Along with Todd Ament, he (Flint) was involved with lobbying activities for a wide array of clients (high profile clients, developer clients, and hoteliers, among others), policy making, and advising to the highest levels of the City,” the investigators stated in their report.


“We believe that both Jeff Flint and Curt Pringle may have knowingly submitted false reports,” investigators added. “We believe that both Jeff Flint and Curt Pringle may have knowingly submitted false reports.” “The preponderance of the credible evidence shows that Todd Ament appears to have violated the lobbying ordinance on multiple occasions by failing to register.”


While Flint has not responded to demands for comment, Ament’s attorneys have refused to comment on the matter.


Ament pled guilty to two charges of wire fraud, fabricating his tax returns, and lying to a mortgage lender in the aftermath of an FBI affidavit that was filed in court last year that halted the sale of Angel Stadium. Pringle and Flint have not been charged with any crimes; nonetheless, Ament was the one who admitted to all three offences.


Ament is presently awaiting his punishment for the crime he committed.


In addition, Irvine has a difficult time regulating lobbyists.

The problem of lobbyists failing to disclose all of their activity is not something that is unique to Anaheim; the problem exists everywhere.


At Irvine City Hall, there are ten lobbyists that are registered to represent ten different clients.


Investigators alleged that Melahat Rafiei did not adequately reveal her lobbying work when she sought to have a retail cannabis proposal ordinance authorized. Melahat Rafiei is a renowned political strategist and a former leader of the county Democratic Party. She was called out for her work in Anaheim by investigators, who claimed that she did not properly disclose her lobbying work.


Rafiei entered a guilty plea to one count of attempted wire fraud earlier this year and acknowledged attempting to bribe members of the Irvine City Council in 2018 while she was seeking to have a retail cannabis ordinance adopted there. She is presently waiting to be sentenced after entering her guilty plea.




However, a study conducted by Voice of OC of the city’s yearly lobbying filings from 2017 to 2019 revealed that neither Rafiei nor her consulting business was included in any of the disclosures.


FBI affidavits, interviews with city council members and city officials, and Rafiei’s signed plea deal all indicate that throughout her time working for the city, Rafiei often met with city councilmembers and municipal personnel to discuss policy and to advocate for the legalization of retail cannabis sales. Rafiei also signed a plea bargain admitting guilt in the case.


Although Rafiei was well recognized for her work as a political adviser for a number of local officials, she never revealed that she also worked as a lobbyist.




Rafiei’s attorney, Alaleh Kamran, cast doubt on the veracity of the JL Group’s report by stating that the company attempted to contact her, but she was unable to get a response from them when she sought to pursue the matter further.


Kamran noted in a book that “accuracy requires ‘completeness,'” “If they did not follow up with my office, how can they or anyone else claim that their report is complete?”


Kamran did not bring out any particular mistakes that were included in the report.


Councilwoman Kathleen Treseder of Irvine, who has been an outspoken opponent of Rafiei and the power of lobbyists at city hall, said that the report from Anaheim has “parallels” to what she has seen in Irvine.


“You have this shadow government that’s held power for a decade or more behind the scenes in Irvine, and they decide how a lot of the council members will vote,” Treseder said. “You have this shadow government that’s held power for more than a decade.” “The results of the vote were the same regardless of who showed up, what we said, or what evidence we presented,” the author writes.


After the news of Rafiei’s arrest became public, Irvine Councilwoman Tammy Kim dismissed her as a consultant, and she said that while she does not believe lobbyists today govern city hall, in the past, they may have had that position. Rafiei was sacked.


“I believe that there were council members who had those relationships (with lobbyists), and I think that’s where the outsized nature comes from,” Kim said in an interview. “I think that’s where the outsized nature comes from.” When such partnerships are defeated by a majority vote or do not make it through, the dynamic will shift in a different direction.


Not just Rafiei but other lobbyists have come under scrutiny from municipal authorities recently.


The plan to manage a $150 million amphitheatre that was submitted by promoter Live Nation was rejected by the municipal council of Irvine last month.




Patrick Strader, a long-time registered lobbyist in Irvine, was the one who negotiated that arrangement. He represented the corporation publicly at the council meeting, and he also advocated on the company’s behalf in meetings with municipal executives that were held behind closed doors.


However, Strader did not mention that he was lobbying on behalf of the corporation in the documentation that he submitted. He said that he was doing the job for free and didn’t see the need to reveal it since there was no exchange of monetary value. This led to a great deal of confusion among the members of the council.


Treseder said that it was obvious that the individual was functioning as a lobbyist. “I believe that completely undermines the purpose of any lobbying ordinance,” you said.


What Should I Do Now?

The members of the city councils in Anaheim and Irvine seem to be moving in the direction of a significant debate on the topic of what lobbying will look like in their respective communities in the future.


Treseder has indicated that she is planning to initiate a conversation over the tightening of Irvine’s lobbying regulations in the not-too-distant future.


“I think it’s great to learn from Anaheim and learn from that report and consider all of those recommendations,” Treseder said. “It is undeniably necessary for us.”


The next meeting of the City Council in Anaheim has been set to include a debate that has been arranged by Mayor Ashleigh Aitken to look at several approaches to improve the city’s openness with regard to lobbying.




The regulation of interactions between significant interests in Anaheim, such as Disney and the city hall, is anticipated to be the primary topic of discussion during this meeting.


Carrie Nocella, the Director of External Affairs for Disney, has never registered as a lobbyist in Anaheim, despite the fact that the FBI Affidavit from the previous year and the municipal inquiry from this year mention her dealings within city hall.


Although Nocella is mentioned numerous times throughout the city investigators’ report as attending meetings for years with Flint, Ament, Pringle, and other city leaders, and she was also listed as advising former Mayor Harry Sidhu on the talking points of his speeches, according to city records, she has never been registered as a lobbyist. This is despite the fact that Nocella was also listed as advising Sidhu on the talking points of his speeches.


Jessica Good, a representative for Disney, claims that Nocella is not a lobbyist according to Anaheim’s definition of the term, which reads that “a regular employee of an organization communicating to the City during the course of his or her employment” is not considered to be a lobbyist.


The investigators said that they were aware of reports that Nocella “had bragged about having information concerning City Council Closed Session” privately; nevertheless, they were “unable to determine if those rumours were true.”


“Nocella was asked to participate in this investigation, but, through her attorney, she refused to do so,” the investigators noted in their report.


On Tuesday, August 15, municipal officials from Anaheim will get together to address reform topics like lobbying disclosures and other changes.



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