In May an FBI probe into local Anaheim political corruption was made
public. Specifically the probe was researching how corporations like
Disney influence the decisions of City Council. It is alleged that City
Council officials allow undue influence into their decision making based
upon campaign donations.
The probe has led to the resignation of Anaheim mayor Harry Signh and
criminal charges brought against Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Ament due to
various corruption schemes. Since this has come to light, a move to reform
local council members’ voting rules has emerged.
Despite calls by the FBI to lessen the influence Disney and others have,
it’s business as usual as Disney continues to contribute huge amounts of
money to upcoming local elections. Most recently Disney contributed 1.3
million dollars to the city’s mayoral election through its Political
Action Committee SOAR (Support Our Anaheim Resort) according to a recent
report from VoiceofOC.org. The report states that this is far more than
anyone has spent on the local elections in the city in a very long time.
It’s also alleged that SOAR has engaged in deceptive (but legal) slate
mailers in an attempt to influence the city’s elections. They’ve sent out
mailers encouraging voters to vote for candidates they support under such
guises as “Firefighters Voter Guide,” “COPS Voter Guide,” and “California
Senior Advocates League Voter Guide”. This can confuse voters who are
often misled by who exactly is endorsing a candidate.
When Voice of OC tried to reach Disney for comment they were given a wild
goose chase of sorts with Disney referring them to SOAR who referred them
to Jill Kanzler Executive Director of SOAR. Kanzler declined to comment or
sit down for an interview but later sent a prepared statement:
“SOAR has always been transparent about its campaign fundraising and
spending — following state and local campaign finance rules and
regulations including 24-hour reporting when required and disclaimers
disclosing major funders.” wrote Kanzler.
It is important to note that Disney has not been accused of any wrongdoing
in the probe, however, SOAR has been referenced directly in FBI documents.
Jodi Balma, a political science professor at Fullerton College, thinks the
reason SOAR has not been accused of wrongdoing is because they can employ
expensive lawyers. She told VOOC, “They are Anaheim politics. They
dominate. And have for a long time. And I think the FBI has revealed what
many of us have known for years, which is just their outsize influence in
City Council elections. “And I think Disney – through SOAR – has figured
out how to legally exploit our City Council rules in Anaheim. So they
don’t need to break the law because they control the law. And you see that
with the reluctance to close the loopholes on campaign finance.”