California Speaker Under Fire for Sharing Penthouse With Fundraiser
LOS ANGELES – California's second-most powerful politician, whose lavish campaign spending is already under scrutiny, shares a luxury downtown penthouse with a prominent Democratic Party fundraiser, The Associated Press has learned.
The fundraiser has collected nearly $600,000 from state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez's political committees and the state Democratic Party since 2005. State law does not prohibit legislators from living with friends or fundraisers, but some watchdog groups say such arrangements can raise potential conflicts because of the proximity of political power and contributors' money.
Nunez, a Los Angeles Democrat, pays $1,000 of the $4,325 rent to live part-time in the loft-style apartment, which is in a trendy neighborhood in his district and has 20-foot ceilings and sweeping views. He also owns a $1.2 million ranch-style home in Sacramento with his wife.
Nunez told The Associated Press that he sees no conflict in living with his chief fundraiser, Dan Weitzman, a friend who began working as a fundraiser for him several years ago. The speaker explained that he pays a share of the rent because he uses only one room and spends only two or three days there a week.
"Dan and I have been friends for years; we are good friends," Nunez said. "I brought him on to be my chief fundraiser because I needed someone who was going to work hard, and no one works harder than Dan Weitzman."
Kathay Feng, executive director of the nonprofit watchdog group California Common Cause, said the living arrangement is troubling because donors whom Weitzman solicits often seek an audience with Nunez because of his political position. A shared apartment could enable that access, she said. The state Fair Political Practices Commission should expand its review of a complaint that was filed previously over Nunez's use of campaign funds and investigate his living arrangement with Weitzman, Feng said.
Weitzman said in a telephone interview that he and Nunez do not meet with or entertain donors at the building.
"It's not that kind of place. I have an office there, fax machine, computer, phone," he said.
Weitzman said that his time at the apartment varies and that he typically is there a couple of days each week. Asked about Feng's comment that the arrangement raises ethical issues, he said, "I just disagree."
The speaker and Weitzman spend time together at the apartment only rarely, said Nunez spokesman Steve Maviglio. Weitzman also owns a home in Sacramento, Maviglio said.
Details of the speaker's Los Angeles lifestyle — gleaned from interviews and records reviewed by The Associated Press — emerged as he faces scrutiny for spending thousands of campaign dollars on lavish overseas trips, expensive dinners and fancy gifts. He has said there is nothing improper about those expenditures.
Nunez, 40, the son of an immigrant gardener, grew up in Tijuana and a San Diego neighborhood distinguished by junkyards and liquor stores. Today, his mortgage, rent and property tax bills total more than $8,000 a month — about equal to his entire take-home pay as a lawmaker.
Nunez makes $130,000 a year in the Legislature, plus $170 for expenses each day the Assembly is in session. His wife, Maria Robles, also brings in a six-figure income through her political consulting business.
California law requires that campaign fund expenditures for travel and entertainment be directly related to a political, legislative or governmental purpose.
Nunez's expenses — covered by campaign funds — include $8,745 at the Hotel Arts in Barcelona, Spain; $5,149 for a "meeting" at a wine seller in France's Bordeaux region; and $2,562 for "office expenses" at Louis Vuitton, a Parisian store that specializes in leather goods, clothing, fashion accessories and jewelry, the Times reported.
"Everything about that is on the record, it's out there. It's legitimate," Nunez said.