90067: Century City- A Hub Of Influence
This story is part of a Neon Tommy Special Report that follows 2012 campaign money in L.A. >>>
With its skyscrapers packed with law offices, hedge funds and private equity firms, Century City is a fount of political campaign money. More political money comes out of this zip code than any other in the state of California.
So far in the 2012 election cycle, contributors from the zip code 90067 have given $4.5 million, which is 182 times as much as the average zip code, according to analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics using Federal Election Commission data as of March. That’s already as much as donors from this area spent on the 2008 election.
Los Angeles lawyer Norman Oberstein has his money on President Barack Obama. Oberstein has given $2,500 to the Obama campaign and credits the president with enacting health care reform, saving the U.S. auto industry and restoring the financial system while putting important regulations in place. But he thinks Obama should push his agenda more aggressively, if he wins a second term.
“I give the president credit for trying, in the first four years, to work with Republicans even when he had the majorities in both houses of Congress,” Oberstein said. “But it does not work.”
Century City is two-thirds business and one-third residential with its high-rise office buildings and perfectly gardened lawns. The area is relatively small (176 acres) and home to law firms and executives, especially those in the entertainment industry along Avenue of the Stars. On the weekends, the bustling city subdues into a large ghost town.
Though about 60 percent of Century City’s political money has gone to Democratic candidates and causes, many of the truly massive sums feed conservative independent expenditure committees, known as super-PACs. Former Univision Chief Jerry Perenchio, known as one of the country’s top political money-movers, gave $2 million to the conservative super PAC led by President George W. Bush's Former Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove: American Crossroads. Perenchio donated $1 million in 2010.
W/F Investment Corp, one of the companies to take advantage of new corporate campaign finance rules in light of recent court decisions, gave $275,000 to Restore Our Future, which backs Mitt Romney.
Most political money, though, comes from individuals in Century City. W/F’s CEO William Fleichman has given Restore Our Future an additional $100,000. Romney’s committee has also received five-figure sums from big financial leaders like Robert Beyer, Mitchell Julis and Richard Kayne.
Since Oberstein donated directly to the Obama campaign -- not the President’s super-PAC -- it makes sense that he opposes Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United v. FEC, which allowed unlimited political contributions from corporations. Oberstein said Supreme Court potential appointments are the key issues he’s watching. “Tea Party-type appointments could affect us for decades and send us backwards on both social and economic issues,” he said.
Not all donors are completely satisfied with their candidate. Pamela Bille, a Los Angeles attorney who supports Obama, gave $500 to the Obama campaign at an event where the Foo Fighters were playing at a billionaire’s home close to her office and her daughter’s school. “I actually went to see the Foo Fighters more than I went to see Obama, to be honest,” she said.
Bille says her top issues are what she sees as the out-of-control corporate interests on Wall Street. She said the Obama administration has disappointed her on this issue. “They don’t get prosecuted for the fraud and the breaches of fiduciary duty, and they’re still getting huge bonuses despite the bailouts,” she said. “But really, it’s mostly that it’s just completely unregulated unlike any other industry that delves into people’s lives.”
Lawyer Sanford Gage – of EnGage Mediation in Century City – and his wife are strong Democratic supporters. Gage has donated $5,000 to the Obama campaign this cycle. Like many, he was horribly dissatisfied with the Iraq war, the tax system and the economy under George W. Bush. Gage thinks Obama’s presidency has improved America’s image throughout the world. He is impressed by the president’s world view and his demeanor during times of difficult decision-making, especially in the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
“He’s done so many positive things that the fact that he hasn’t done everything we wanted is minor by comparison,” Gage said.
Gage wants the top earners to “pay their fair share” of the tax burden. He’s especially appalled by the level of spending by super PACs. “Lobbyists were bad enough. This is letting people buy the government,” he said. “I don’t even want access that way, and I have a big house.”
But not everyone in Century City who cares about government gives money to campaigns.
Ana Kochel spoke to Neon Tommy on her lunch break at Century City's Westfield Shopping Center. Kochel, who has lived in the area for about 30 years, said she doesn’t give money to political campaigns because she can’t stand what’s going on. “I don’t feel like [campaign money is] to our benefit,” she said.
Jonathan Lee has worked in the city for six years and doesn’t contribute to political campaigns, either. “There are better uses for my money,” he said. “My company used to donate, but not anymore,” he said.
Despite the problems, political engagement in Century City is very high. And that’s a good thing, said Oberstein. “Folks are interested and should be. What happens in elections counts.”
Reach Special Project Reporter Ryan Faughnder here.
Reach Special Project Reporter Rosa Trieu here.