Slingshot: Politricking a Pandemic in Anaheim
Ever hear of something called a behested payment?
It's a well-hidden branch of the political money tree, so don't worry if you haven't. I've followed such payments since last year when, by chance, I discovered documents showing Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu soliciting donations for Anaheim Hills' Fourth of July celebration.
Angels Baseball, among others, heeded the mayor's call and wrote a $10,000 check to the Anaheim Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit that lists Todd Ament as principal officer; Ament, of course, is the President and CEO of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, who counted himself as a staunch supporter of Sidhu's mayoral campaign.
Legalized money laundering sure is convoluted!
But with the coronavirus pandemic, behested payments have also emerged as a back channel for campaigning, at least where it concerns Anaheim councilman Stephen Faessel. The bald, bespectacled Republican incumbent in District 5 faces a trio of contenders, chief among them is Democrat Kenneth Batiste.
A flurry of forms documenting such payments at Faessel's behest have appeared since late May and tally more than $88,000. By comparison, the official Faessel reelection campaign reported expenses of $22,095 through June.
Let's follow the money, as they say, shall we?
Faessel's Covid campaign picks up where it last left off. Back in September, I reported on the Anaheim Neighborhood Association's (ANA) $33,000 payment to Bad Fish Media at the councilman's behest to promote his sponsored town halls on civic issues like parks, homelessness and public safety.
Now that Covid-19 is the dominant issue, an amended form in May shows Bad Fish Media, a Core Strategic Group company, making another $3,424 for much the same work, only virtually with a tele-town hall informing residents of the city's pandemic response.
In an election year, it's an easy way to elevate Faessel's profile as being proactive during a crisis, something residents might see as worthy of their votes. But a tele-town hall was only the beginning.
The seven behested payment forms that follow all show money flowing from Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR), an organization whose executive director, Jill Kanzler, contributed to Faessel's campaign as recently as June. In one payment alone, $20,000 went to lobbyist Jeff Flint's C3 Public Strategies company for Covid-19 phone banking; Flint also founded Core Strategic Group and masterminded the supermajority on council in 2018 that Disney currently enjoys.
According to documents, such calls served as public service announcements for senior meals, eviction/renter assistance and something called "Anaheim Proud."
The "Anaheim Proud" website is all about Faessel and his efforts to combat the coronavirus crisis in Anaheim. The councilman is portrayed as a champion of renters, small businesses and others more prone to the ravages of the pandemic. "Steve organized food drives, provided food boxes for drive-through pickup, and offered home-delivery of meals and other supplies to vulnerable residents," the site declares.
Tellingly, it omits any mention of the controversial $6.5 million bailout of Visit Anaheim, a tourism promoting bureau, that Faessel voted for at the onset of the lockdown. And Faessel a champion of renters? Tell that to Rancho La Paz mobile home park residents who couldn't count on him to support rent control protections amid steep hikes prior to the pandemic!
Nowadays, Faessel's social media sites use #AnaheimProud on pandemic postings. A slickly produced video on his efforts during these trying times plays like a campaign ad. "Anaheim Proud" yard signs dot Faessel's district and mailers ensure that residents know he's on the task. Another hefty $31,500 payment went to Hamburger Gibson Creative for pandemic-related "digital communications." The consulting and marketing firm largely caters to Democratic Party candidates and causes; District 5 is majority Democrat by voter registration.
A related controversy emerged last week when Vern Nelson, an Orange Juice Blog scribbler, admitted to stuffing food box donations for Latino residents with pro-Batiste Spanish-language flyers. As wrongheaded and opportunistic as that was, Anaheim progressives attempted to mount a defense by showing community leader Yesenia Rojas, who cried foul over it, pictured with Faessel during a food donation drive.
But now, as all can see, it goes deeper than community service and photo ops (those progressives would've been well-served to check Faessel's ticket disclosure forms, too. Just saying!).
Nelson's food box stuffing isn't that much different than Faessel's Covid campaign, other than being cruder in style and substance. The councilman's actions are much more subtle and sophisticated. In all, the behested money has paid for phone banking, social media, brochures, mailers and yard signs. None of Faessel's council colleagues are doing anything remotely similar, whether up for reelection or not.
Faessel's clearly politricking the pandemic, but in a polished manner. His political pals get paid while he's being promoted in an election year, using a back channel to do so, one that has no financial caps like campaign contributions or gifts do.
Anaheim proud? Far from it.
- Gabriel San Román
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Your Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina
Nightfall is arriving earlier with each passing day. Autumn remains at a distance, but not for much longer. In pre-pandemic times, the seasonal turn promised communal celebrations of Halloween and Día de los Muertos. But much of those will assuredly be cancelled, if they haven't been already.
At least we'll have movies, in part, to patch us through.
Truthfully, I haven't watched Disney-Pixar's Coco since attending a review screening in 2017 at the AMC Theaters at Downtown Disney. But when I sit down for another viewing soon, I'll be paying close attention to one aspect of the film gracias to the Society for Linguistic Anthropology.
The group published a blog last year where USC professor Sarah Benor noted how she had her "Language, Race and Identity in the United States Today" students send letters to Disney executives about how much of the company's heralded vault of films "perpetuate standard language ideology and raciolinguistic stereotypes."
Remember the jive-talking crows in Dumbo? Yeah, Uncle Walt wasn't all that subtle.
A more recent example is how the villainous hyenas Shenzi and Banzai in the animated classic The Lion King got voiced by Whoppi Goldberg and Cheech Marin while all the wholesome characters sounded as white as NPR! Thankfully, when the remake arrived in theaters last summer, Disney dashed the troublesome accents away (sadly, the film was still more of a bore than a roar!).
But Benor's students didn't just mail off critiques.
They affirmed the media empire's positive redirection, encouraging more of the same. More often than not, Coco reappeared as an example. "The use of Spanglish and prosodic elements of the typical Mexican-American or Latino accent allowed the film to build its credibility and authenticity in celebrating the Mexican culture," wrote one student.
Surrounded by brown kids during the review screening, the best audience response I heard came when Miguel told Hector, "No manches!"
See how easy that is, Disney?
Lidia, a señora who sells flowers at an Anaheim intersection, was apparently struck by a driver last week who then fled the scene. She's carried on since then, selling bouquets through the brunt of the heatwave while enduring the excruciating pain caused by the incident.
Why? Because the sidewalk hustle is her only source of income during these hard times.
Cassandra Robledo recounts the ordeal in a GoFundMe campaign that's gone viral and amassed nearly $3,000 in donations so far. Robledo is a friend of Lidia's daughter who tragically passed away about a year ago.
Maybe with a little mutual aid, Lidia can take some much needed time to rest and attend to her pain without having to worry about making ends meet, at least for a few days. City of Kindness, it's time to step up!