By Amanda Biers-Melcher
In retrospect, if I were to pinpoint the exact moment I should have known the architects of Burbank’s rent control measure had already shifted their attention from their professed goal of bringing housing justice to the citizens of Burbank to their actual goal — securing one of two open seats on Burbank’s City Council for perennial candidate Konstantine Anthony — it was an hour and four minutes into the Burbank City Council’s August 7th emergency meeting.
That’s when Anthony — using his allotted three minutes of public speaking time to crow about the court ruling which forced the city to put the measure (which he characterized as “not perfect, but what in life is?”) on the November ballot— reminded listeners that he was running for City Council and started to spit out the address of his campaign website.
The mayor said he was out of time and stopped him — thus providing an opportunity for his campaign manager-girlfriend, who helped engineer the scheme to put Anthony front-and-center during the legal battle over the measure — to step in and do it for him.
Their pivot was so sudden, you could almost hear the gears squeak.
So, I suppose I should not have been surprised to discover — when I reviewed their most recent financial disclosures — that this quarter, the “Burbank Tenants Rights Committee in Support of Measure RC,” which was formed to fight for rent control laws in Burbank which would be more restrictive than those passed by Sacramento lawmakers last year, spent . . . nothing.
That’s right. The election is a little more than a month away. Ballots will start showing up in mailboxes as early as next week. And where are the champions of housing justice who made so much noise about how they’d fight for the city’s working poor and the renters who comprise the majority of Burbank residents by delivering rent control to Burbank once and for all?
Right now, Measure RC is all dressed up, sitting at the table and perusing the menu. But the “Burbank Tenants Right Committee in Support of Measure RC ” just slipped into the ladies’ room and is calling an Uber.
I am sure the fact that nobody is lifting a finger to pass this ballot measure comes as a bit of a shock to the one supporter who donated $25 this quarter — not to mention all the donors that kicked in money in prior months.
The committee has taken in more than $46,000 in contributions this calendar year. Twenty-three thousand dollars of that total consists of loans from Anthony and Rowder, who led the organization until last April when Anthony announced his city council candidacy and handed the reins to David Dobson, now the committee treasurer, according to the committee’s CA Form 460.
The ballot measure committee is currently more than $27,000 in debt. About $4000 of that is for past-due legal bills. Payment on the interest-free loans is due by the end of the year.
Anthony, who last month asked the city to loan him money to pay printing costs for his candidate’s statement because he is indigent, loaned the committee $9,000 in April.
Meanwhile, “Konstantine Anthony for Burbank City Council 2020” raked in more than $16,000 this quarter, bringing its total to more than $31,000 this calendar year. After expenses — including salary and payroll costs for his campaign staff — the candidate still has roughly $15,000 in his coffers.
In recent months, Anthony has tried to distance himself from the Burbank Tenants Rights Committee — the non-profit organization he and Rowder created to back the rent control measure. But the outstanding loans continue to tie the two to the organization financially.
Unlike typical non-profits, BTRC was formed as a 501(c) (4) — or C-4 — nonprofit, which means it is allowed to make independent expenditures on behalf of political candidates, under certain circumstances, without losing its tax-exempt status.
This “dark money” spending is considered a major loophole in election spending because it permits wealthy donors to anonymously pass unlimited amounts of cash through nonprofits without contributing directly to campaigns (which place limits and disclosure requirements on donors). To keep its tax-exempt status, the organization just needs to demonstrate that politics is not its primary activity and that it engages in activities that promote social welfare.
The Burbank Tenants Rights Committee, for example, has been hosting “information sessions” for tenants, and Gloria Kelly — who describes herself BTRC’s “legal liaison” — has been offering aggrieved tenants consultations with housing law attorneys via social media. But so far, the BTRC has not made any independent expenditures to support Anthony’s council run, according to the city clerk’s website , and Kelly says they don’t intend to.
However, the question of how — and whether — the BTRC will pay back the money it owes Anthony and Rowder (or settle its legal bill) remains unanswered.
In a recent social media exchange Anthony suggested he might donate any unused campaign funds from his city council run to the organization, before walking that statement back in a later communication. Such a cash infusion would allow the committee to pay Anthony back the $9000 he loaned it and, thus, benefit him personally.
While election laws specifically attempt to prevent candidates and ballot committees from mingling funds or personally benefiting from their campaign fundraising efforts, the city attorney says such a move would not technically be illegal. Whether it would be ethical — and how such a move might resonate with voters — is another question entirely.
As for the obviously-flawed Measure RC, without a committee actively backing it, without a single yard sign in sight — it’s hard to imagine it won’t flop at the polls, which, in my opinion, is good news for Burbank.
Further, we once again get another window into the character of Konstantine Anthony — who seemed to have no problem walking away from the cause he used to make a name for himself the moment it was politically expedient to do so, leaving supporters of the ballot measure high and dry and the committee formed to support it deeply in debt.
And, this, ultimately is good news for Burbank too. Because I doubt I am the only voter in Burbank who believes when you’re deciding who to vote for, character counts.