Hahn to return funds from businessman fined in campaign money-laundering case

A representative for U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn said Friday that her campaign will return $1,500 from a businessman fined in a campaign money-laundering case at Los Angeles City Hall.

Hahn campaign spokesman Dave Jacobson said the congresswoman, who is running for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, did not know that  the contributor, businessman Peter Barker, was fined $170,000 in 2013 for laundering dozens of campaign donations.

Barker, president of Anaheim-based Barker Management Inc., admitted to Ethics Commission investigators that he had personally reimbursed his employees or their spouses for 68 donations in violation of campaign finance laws. Two years after receiving that fine, he gave $1,500 to Hahn's supervisorial bid.

"Once the Times notified the campaign about the issue, the campaign immediately directed its compliance team to return said contribution," Jacobson said in an e-mail.

Barker, whose company specializes in managing affordable housing developments, had no comment on the contribution -- or Hahn's decision to return it -- when contacted by The Times.

Hahn, a San Pedro Democrat, and two other candidates are running in the June 7 election to replace Supervisor Don Knabe in a sprawling district that stretches from Diamond Bar to Marina del Rey.

Knabe aide Steve Napolitano, who is also running, said Hahn has not gone far enough in erasing a "perception problem" about the donor. Hahn, he said, also should return $10,000 in donations provided by Barker and his company to her congressional campaign in 2011.

"If she’s going to give it back for this campaign, she should give it back for other campaigns as well,” he said.

Jacobson, the Hahn spokesman, said her congressional campaign account is no longer active and therefore cannot return any money.

The city's ethics laws prohibit donors from giving money under someone else's name. Barker did so repeatedly in city contests over 12 years, bypassing campaign contribution limits, according to the Ethics Commission's 2013 report.

In Los Angeles, donors are limited to no more than $700 per council candidate per election cycle, and no more than $1,400 per election cycle for each citywide candidate -- mayor, city attorney and city controller.

Of the nearly $42,000 in donations improperly reimbursed by Barker, $7,000 went to Hahn while she was serving on the City Council, the report states. That laundered money went to both her re-election campaigns and her office holder account, which pays for meals, travel and other expenses.

Kathay Feng, who heads the watchdog group California Common Cause, said Hahn's decision to accept the $1,500 donation even after Barker was fined raises questions about her campaign's work in vetting donations.

“It suggests that there are not tight controls," she said.

The Ethics Commission opened its investigation into Barker after The Times reported on the campaign fundraising activities of Advanced Development and Investment, a Los Angeles-based developer that repeatedly received city funding to build affordable housing projects. In 2012, the commission fined the company $165,000, saying company employees had laundered at least 33 donations.

Two months later, the commission turned to Barker, one of  the company’s subcontractors. In its report, the panel found that Barker had reimbursed 53 contributions to council members and council candidates in amounts ranging from $500 to $700. Fourteen of those contributions went to Hahn.

Although Barker received a significant fine, investigators said they found no evidence of wrongdoing by Hahn or other recipients of the contributions, which included Mayor Eric Garcetti and Council President Herb Wesson.


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