Travel

Buscaino uses donor funds for family trips to Hawaii, Italy

Buscaino uses donor funds for family trips to Hawaii, Italy

Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who is running for mayor, has spent tens of thousands of dollars from his civil service account on trips to Hawaii, Italy and elsewhere for his family since he was elected, according to a Times analysis of city records.

The spending, which is allowed under city ethics rules, far exceeds the amount spent by other city officials on family members’ trips during that time, the analysis showed. .

These accounts exist to help fund council members’ office operations and constituent services. The money comes from donors, not taxpayers, and cannot be used for campaign purposes.

Buscaino has spent nearly $65,000 in government account funds to travel with his family since 2013, records show. The second-highest total spent from public service funds by a council member on family travel during this period is $4,800.

Buscaino declined an interview request, but said in a statement that his trip with his family “allows me to fulfill the city’s charter mandate that I spend all of my time in official duties without depriving my young children time with their father”.

“Perhaps other chosen ones [officials] are comfortable leaving their wives and children at home for long periods of time while they travel, but not me,” he added.

In 2019, the councilman traveled to Maui, where he attended the Hawaii State Association. counties annual meeting. It took place at Wailea Beach Resort, which “offers scenic luxury in a breathtaking travel destination. Experience elegant waterfront comfort in beautifully appointed, family-friendly hotel rooms,” according to its website.

Buscaino was joined by his wife, Geralyn, and their two children. He paid more than $4,400 of officials’ funds for the family’s airfare, lodging and meals, according to disclosure forms filed with the city’s ethics commission.

“Perhaps other chosen ones [officials] are comfortable leaving their wives and children at home for periods of time while they travel, but I’m not,” Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino said.

(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

In 2016, Buscaino used donor funds to pay for a trip with his family to Italy. The week-long excursion, which cost over $15,200, included stints in Palermo and Rome as Buscaino as part of the Italian Business Exchange Delegation. Buscaino, other board members and other attendees meet with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and local business leaders.

Board members who have served with Buscaino since his election, including Paul Krekorian, Paul Koretz and Curren Price, have also used officials’ funds to pay for family trips. Krekorian spent about $4,800, which was the second highest total, on a four-day trip to Mexico with his wife and two children in 2015.

Krekorian and his wife were invited by the Ambassador of Armenia to Mexico to to participate at ceremonies commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Hugh Esten, Krekorian’s special adviser, said in a statement.

“Council member Krekorian used funds from his public servant account to pay for his own travel expenses, as well as airfare for his wife and children, as the law explicitly permits,” Esten said, noting that the children were 9 and 6 at the time.

Jessica Levinson, a professor of election law at Loyola Law School and former chairman of the city’s ethics commission, said these accounts “actually serve a good purpose” because they give elected officials a limited pot of money – not taxpayers – to help pay for activities that serve their neighborhoods.

Subsidizing travel for family members is probably not what that money was intended for, Levinson said.

“It’s just that it’s not intended for this money to be used in this way,” she said. “I think the idea is probably that you can bring your family if necessary for public business, but you should be very judicious about it.”

The city one ethics rules say that “an elected municipal officer may control a committee of officials to pay expenses connected with the performance of duties associated with the exercise of an elected municipal office”.

Paying travel expenses with official funds is permit as long as the expense takes place “the day before, the day and the day after the event if the participant cannot reasonably be accommodated at his home. These expenses may also be incurred and incurred for members of the elected municipal official’s immediate family and household.

In 2022, the mayor and other citywide office holders cannot raise or spend more than $193,000 per year from these accounts; the limit is $120,000 for council members.

Since 2013, Buscaino has spent more than $659,000 on the account for all purposes, nearly $182,000 more than Price, the No. 2 overall spender, according to the Times analysis.

Buscaino is running for mayor on a platform that includes increasing the size of the Los Angeles Police Department and cleaning up homeless encampments.

During his tenure on the board, Buscaino took on a active role in organizations such than the National League of Cities. He regularly attended conventions and assumed a leadership position in the group, whose members are local elected officials “focused on improving the quality of life for their current and future constituents,” according to its website.

Buscaino’s family accompanied him to organization meetings and other conferences in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Chicago, St. Paul, Minnesota, Salt Lake City, Miami, Cleveland, West Palm Beach, Florida, San Antonio and New York, according to disclosure forms.

In 2018, the Buscaino family traveled to Catalina Island to attend a “community 4th of July celebration” and meet with a local elected official, according to his revelation. Accommodation at the Pavilion hotel cost around $590 in his government account.

Buscaino’s spending of officials’ funds for all trips — not just with his family — also far exceeded other board members who served as long as he did.

Records show he has spent more than $122,000 on all travel, which may include staff travel as well as his own, since taking office. Councilman Gil Cedillo is the second-biggest spender for all trips from public servants’ funds, at nearly $49,000.

In July 2019, for example, Cedillo spent $1,250 from his government account to attend a conference with Major League Baseball and attend the 90th All-Star Game at Progressive Field in Cleveland. His the disclosure forms stated that it was “for the purpose of consultation/coordination efforts between the City of Los Angeles and the LA Dodgers for the LA event in 2020.”

In a statement, Cedillo said the trip was for city business, noting that this year’s All-Star Game was to be played in Los Angeles and saying it would “spur positive economic growth” in the city.

Two other mayoral candidates have government accounts but have spent little on travel.

Atty of the city. Mike Feuer has spent more than $185,000, including $16,700 on travel, since his election in 2013.

Councilman Kevin de León has spent nearly $223,000 — nothing on travel — since taking office in October 2020, according to disclosure documents.

Some council members have used their officials’ funds to pay for events in their district or to hire consultants. Some use this money to pay for meals or small gifts that they have offered to their staff or to their constituents.

In December 2021, board chairwoman Nury Martinez said she spent over $300 on cupcakes for several of her fellow board members.

“The past few years have been incredibly difficult, so the board chair likes to treat her colleagues on their birthdays with cupcakes for them and their families,” Martinez spokeswoman Sophie Gilchrist said.

Councilman Mitch O’Farrell reported in his June 2021 filing that he paid Public Storage nearly $830 for a storage unit for a homeless couple. In December 2018, Paul Koretz bought $260 in Starbucks gift cards for parking attendants, janitors and sergeants at City Hall.

In 2022, the most a the donor can give to an official account is $900. City council members can also transfer $120,000 from their campaign fundraising accounts to their office holder accounts.

Bob Stern, co-author of the 1974 voter-approved State Political Reform Act, said he had no problem with Buscaino traveling far and wide to meet with government officials from across the country. and of the world. It’s bringing in the family that troubles the longtime lawyer and ethics expert.

“I think there’s a problem when people take advantage of this system,” he said. “Again, for me, it’s only the family that’s the problem. It’s not about taking him on trips. I would actually encourage [government officials] go to Paris to see the high-speed train. It is important to do so. So I want to make a real distinction between going on a trip legitimately and taking the family.