Courtesy Kevin de León

When Kevin de León, a prominent state lawmaker, was elected to the Los Angeles City Council in 2020, it was at the beginning of the end for a different politician. Then outgoing City Councilmember José Huizar had been arrested for a political pay-to-play crime. De León assumed office by appointment not long before he the term he was elected to earlier in 2020 officially began. (Huizar’s recent conviction drew curtains on one of the biggest corruption cases in the country.)

Now de León is potentially facing an unceremonious departure of his own after a recording leaked of a conversation where he and other top LA City elected officials made racist and homophobic remarks as they discussed drawing new council district lines lines beneficial to their individual future electoral and political ambitions. 

De León has resisted calls for him to resign, including from President Joe Biden. Now seven people are challenging de León’s claim to the seat. He was also a mayoral candidate in 2022.

You can also find a video statement (transcript) de León made on the City Clerk’s website.

Connections. It’s all about who you know:

De León is his own connection. As the sitting council member for the CD14 seat, he has an advantage that others running for the seat do not – the incumbent’s ability to have frequent opportunities to get his face, name, and message out to voters without necessarily drawing from campaign funds.

Last year, for example, his office sent out 67 mailers, totaling 1.2 million pieces of mail, to residents of CD14 notifying them about different city-sponsored events like food distribution programs. That cost the city about $460,000. 

De León’s office also spent the most of any council office in so-called discretionary funds allotted to his district – $5.2 million from mid-2022 until mid-2023. His office has spent so far another $6.2 million this fiscal year, which started in July of 2023 and ends this June.

De León held leadership roles in the state legislature and was often at the center of some of the state’s biggest legislative battles. He was viewed as a political star long before getting elected to the Los Angeles City Council. He unsuccessfully challenged Dianne Feinstein for her Senate seat because, in his words, he had political capital to spend

Some coverage of the leaked tapes, including at the Los Angeles Times, treated the scandal as a stumble that did not need to lead to De León’s resignation, and at least one of the paper’s columnist imagined that he could make a comeback.

All of this has cost de León some of his political capital. His former ally, Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, is now challenging de León for the council seat. Another state representative, Wendy Carrillo, is also challenging him. Most of the top endorsements have not gone to de León, but Santiago.

Fundraising: Who’s handing out the cash?

A troubled year for de León has not dampened the amount of funds going to the incumbent’s campaign account. De León will remain on the LA City Council until his term ends in December, even if he is eliminated in the March primary election. 

His funds come from a variety of interests including: jewelers, real estate investors, a hotel owner who spends on politics, and a lobbyist tied to the proposal for a gondola between Union Station and Dodger Stadium

At least half of his funds are big checks of $900, the maximum a single donor can give to candidates. The total of all of the maximum checks is $266,400, which makes up the majority of the $331,385.03 he has raised.

In a recent filing released Feb. 17, de León disclosed several maximum $900 donations from jewelry shops and individual jewelers. They include SG Diamonds, Norman Silverman Diamonds, Ladd Diamonds Inc., KR Gems And Diamonds, Baida Jewelry, Gems West, Jeweler Wholesale Mart, totaling $6,300.

He also received a $900 check from Fabian Nunez of Actum LLC, a firm that lobbies the city on a variety of issues, including a Gondola project that is now going through the city’s approval process

He has also received a total of $3,600 from people who are employed at or run World Harvest, a company that has a contract with de León’s office to do food distribution.

Among the more notable donations include several from people who have the same last name as Efrem Harkham, who owns Luxe Hotels. One of the hotels, Luxe City Center hotel, was described as a favorite location for politicians to hold fundraisers, according to an LA Times story about politicians not paying their bills at that hotel. De León’s campaign received maximum contributions from Aron Harkham, who is listed as being employed at EH Summit, which operates hotels. Ben Harkham, managing director of Luxe hotels, gave $900 in January.

De León also has received contributions from the owners of the Hollywood Forever cemetery, Culture Clash co-founder and writer Ricardo Salinas, and former LADWP Commissioners William Funderburk.

De León has also added $160,992.00 in matching funds to help his campaign.

Spending inside the Campaign:

De León spent nearly $300,000 as of Feb. 17, more than $72,000 of that on mailers. He spent nearly $60,000 on canvassers, mostly in early 2024. His next biggest cost was on a campaign consultant, Pacific Cove Strategies, costing $47,300. He also spent on polling done by Brick Editorial.

He also spent $14,600 on campaign paraphernalia, around $10,000 on digital ads, and $14,000 on internet costs.

Gifts and income:

De León has several years worth of Form 700 State of Economic Interest filings on the City Ethics website, starting in 2020. The most recent statement filed for the City Council campaign lists stock investments in internet provider AOL and technology companies Hewlett Packard, Cisco, and CDC Software. He also reported receiving a $126 LA Philharmonic ticket for an Oct. 5, 2023 gala celebrating Frank Gehry.

In 2020, de León’s disclosures included more sources of income than they do now. They include income from California Community Foundation, a nonprofit for which he was a contractor. He listed income from a role as an adviser at two nonprofits, Elemental Excelerator and New Venture Fund. He had income of more than $100,000 from being a strategic adviser for the NECA/IBEW labor union, as a distinguished fellow at USC, and as a consultant for nonprofit Healthy Housing Foundation.

Endorsements, and what’s being said about them:

De León does not have an endorsement page on his campaign website.

Elizabeth has been on the local government beat since 2006, and likes making her friends take public transportation for her birthday.