Million-dollar “dark money” and “gray money” campaigns give pro-developer majority control of Irvine City Council
The developer takeover of the Irvine City Council began in 2012 with the election of Mayor Steven Choi and Councilmember Christian Shea. They joined Councilmember Jeff Lalloway to form a three-member pro-developer voting bloc on the City Council.
A two-year investigation by the Fair Political Practices Commission, California’s campaign finance watchdog agency, revealed that a New York developer named Howard Rich was behind an illegal $200,000 “dark money” campaign to elect Choi and Shea.
Local Republican political consultant Jon Fleischman was also implicated in the money-laundering scheme and remains under investigation by the FPPC.
The election of Choi and Shea paid off for developers in a big way.
In a series of 3-2 votes, with City Councilmembers Larry Agran and Beth Krom voting NO, the Choi-Shea-Lalloway majority voted to give developer FivePoint Communities the right to build 10,000 homes and control the future development of the Orange County Great Park.
Developers doubled down on their hand-picked Council majority in 2014, spending more than $500,000 in campaigns to re-elect Mayor Choi and Councilmember Lalloway and elect a fourth pro-developer Councilmember, Lynn Schott.
This time the developers used “gray money” — hundreds of thousands of dollars given to front groups with friendly-sounding names like the California Homeowners Association, Friends of the Great Park and the Greater Irvine Education Guide.
These groups in turn sent out dozens of glossy and mostly negative mailers attacking candidates who supported slower growth and supporting Choi, Lalloway and Schott.
Irvine Community News & Views investigative journalists have reviewed State and local campaign reports and have determined that nearly all of this “gray money” is directly or indirectly linked to developer FivePoint Communities.
Heritage Fields El Toro, FivePoint’s parent company, donated at least $150,000 to the Friends of the Great Park Education Committee PAC and the Friends of the Great Park PAC.
Part of that $150,000, plus other money also went to the following: Irvine Neighbors for Great Park Reform – Yes on V; Irvine Neighbors for Term Limits, Yes on W; the California Homeowners Association, and Greater Irvine Education Guide PACs. And those PACs have received money from other pro-developer PACs, like Orange County Jobs Coalition, the Lincoln Club of Orange County and the Orange County Republican Party PACs.
Starpointe Ventures, a lobbyist for developer FivePoint, donated tens of thousands of dollars to the Orange County Republican Party’s PAC, which in turn donated to the other PACs and spent thousands of dollars promoting the pro-developer slate.
Former Councilmember Larry Agran said, “We now have a clear picture of the methods used by developers to corrupt Irvine elections by both illegal and barely legal means. It is now up to our residents to decide if they want to re-establish resident control of City planning and the pace of growth — or leave those decisions to a Council majority that is in the pocket of the developers.”