MONTEBELLO >> There was no city council election in 2016, but that’s didn’t stop three council members from raising more than $53,000 during that year, according to campaign finance documents filed with the Montebello City Clerk’s office.
Some of those funds came from city contractors, the documents showed.
Councilwoman Vanessa Delgado, who doesn’t have to run until 2020, raised $25,727. Councilman Art Barajas and Mayor Vivian Romero, whose terms don’t end until 2018, raised $16,199 and $12,950, respectively.
All three received thousands of dollars from several contributors, all of which have hundreds of thousands of dollars in city contracts. Those contributors included:
• Nationwide Environmental Services, which receives $1 million annually from the city to sweep streets and remove graffiti. The company gave $1,000 to each of the three candidates.
• Advanced Avant Garde Corp., which has $400,000 in contracts with Montebello, gave $1,000 to Romero and $250 to Barajas. Lissette Calleros, one of the company’s partners gave $250 to Delgado.
• Advanced Applied Engineering, which received more than $400,000 during the last five months to provide engineering services to Montebello, gave $700 each to Barajas and Romero and $500 to Delgado.
• Helms and Hill, the Montebello Police Department’s towing company, gave $500 each to Barajas and Delgado.
Kathay Feng, executive director for California Common Cause, criticized the practice of taking money from city contractors and called it unusual for fund-raising to happen in a small city so far removed from an election.
“The concern is that people who have contracts with a city are looking to curry favor and secure votes for a future contract or more favorable terms,” Feng said.
Though she said she understood the need for political fundraising, Feng said doing so years before an election was worthy of concern from residents.
“When they’re not raising money with six to nine months of an election and when the money is coming largely from vendors and potential vendors, that raises some red flags,” she said.
Romero said the contributions she received were legal.
“The FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission) has allowed for any elected officials at the local level to get campaign contributions,” she said. “There’s nothing unlawful about it.”
Delgado said she has raised money to contribute back to the city.
“I was able to give money for scholarships,” she said. “I also gave it to candidates who I think are doing a good job in other communities.”
Delgado also spent $4,700 on mailers for Measure W, the proposal to sell the city’s water system that was voted down in June 2016.
Barajas said he didn’t do anything different than other candidates.
“I didn’t force any of these people to give me donations in exchange for their contracts,” he said. “Previous council members I’m pretty sure had donations (from city contractors).”
But not everybody takes money from contractors, said former long-time La Mirada Councilman Hal Malkin.
“Absolutely not,” Malkin said. “Everybody does not do it.”
Still, he conceded there are some cities, excluding not La Mirada, where candidates take money from contractors. (But) is it worth selling your soul?” he asked.
Councilman Bill Molinari hasn’t raised any money yet. Councilman Jack Hadjinian has raised only $2,250.