For months and months, now, it’s just been bubbling along beneath the surface.
We’ve been hearing rumors that investigators from the states Fair Political Practices Commission (the FPPC) have been in Malibu, taking statements under oath from a number of people, including Jack Lemmon and some other Hollywood luminaries. We understood Malibu city attorney Christi Hogin was often seen with the state investigators, and she was also conducting her own, separate investigation into alleged violations of the city of Malibu’s campaign finance ordinance. The focus of both inquiries has been the last City Council election, when challenger Tom Hasse ousted incumbent Jeff Jennings by only 29 votes.
We kept probing, but no one was talking. The prosecutors declined to comment on an ongoing investigation even to the extent they would neither confirm or deny there was any ongoing investigation. We knew otherwise because Malibu is a very small town and everything leaks sooner or later. Typically it’s sooner, but not this time.
This past week it all changed, and the investigation broke out into the open. The attorneys for the FPPC obtained a subpoena and were attempting to get the financial and bank records from an organization called Malibu Citizens for Less Traffic on PCH. The major domo of that organization, Gil Segel, was resisting that effort mightily. Segel is one of those names that pops up in the background whenever there is a Malibu City Council election. He has been involved at various times with the campaigns of Walt Keller, Carolyn Van Horn and Tom Hasse, among others. Some have called him the godfather of the Malibu No Growth group. Others have not been so kind.
In the 11th hour, his lawyers went to court to block the subpoena, and the matter is now set for a showdown in court on April 23 in Department 85 of the downtown courthouse before Judge O’Brien, a judge with a tough, no-nonsense reputation. Beneath it all are the rumors that a group of major show biz names and high rollers gave a bunch of money for the Hasse campaign. If so, some of them may be a bit queasy about having that information go public, especially since some of them may live in big, big houses on the beach or its bluffs and may be accused of mixing their so-called no-growth environmentalism with a little bit of self-interest, since there seems to be a different set of rules in Malibu for beachside vs. hillside.
The arguments are simple. The Segel group claims to be educational and exempt from disclosure. The FPPC and the city, which is also in this case, say, in essence, but not necessarily in these words: No way, you bought anonymous ads in the Surfside News, and they were political because the message was simple — vote for Hasse and not Jennings.
For our part, it’s perfectly clear that any group that buys pages of advertising in our competition and not in The Malibu Times is so lacking in judgment that any lame argument they put up is almost inherently incredible. However, we’ve decided not to be small-minded about this, and I’m sure we can keep a fair and open mind on the subject — at least until the hanging.
The judge is going to have to decide whether to look at the form or the essence of the law, and it’s anybody’s guess as to what he’ll do. Meanwhile, in support of their respective cases, both sides are going to try to convince the judge, so I guess it’s all coming out. Those court files will certainly make some very interesting reading.
The Segel forces are in an interesting dilemma. If they don’t tell it all to the judge, he might just believe that they’re holding out and find against them. If they tell the judge everything, the record is already public and the info is already out. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this plays out and who’s really involved in the Malibu cityhood races.