Beat Reporting

“BIG MONEY, UNLIKELY DONORS” – LOS ANGELES TIMES

David Zahniser, Emily Alpert Reyes, Joe Fox, and Len De Groot

A proposed six-story apartment complex in Los Angeles’ Harbor Gateway neighborhood was facing enormous hurdles: the area was zoned for heavy manufacturing and the mayor’s nine-member Planning Commission rejected the plans. Suddenly, in 2015, the mayor and the L.A. City Council changed the site’s zoning and approved the $72 million project. As he examined the campaign contributions to politicians who came to support the project, Los Angeles Times reporter David Zahniser noticed that, invariably, the contributions had occurred on the same day, in the same amount, from a string of seemingly unconnected donors. With help from colleague Emily Alpert Reyes, Zahniser examined public campaign contribution reports, property records, business filings and court records, in addition to conducting dozens of interviews, to track down the Torrance-based real-estate developer who, between 2008 and 2015, gave more than $600,000 to lobby public officials to approve the 352-unit complex. An interactive graphic database showed the web of more than 100 campaign donors who were directly or indirectly linked to the real-estate developer, including relatives, employees and business associates.

Gerald Loeb Awards 2017