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By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
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By Gustavo Arellano
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By Steve Lowery
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It's by now old news that chief California GOP fund-raiser, El Toro caesar and alleged tenant-swindler George Leon Argyros may soon be winging his way to Madrid as the next U.S. ambassador to Spain. But anti-airport forces need not fear that Argyros is bugging out of the airport battle: he has already taken steps to ensure that his own brand of pro-airport extremists are firmly in control of the county's richest city, Newport Beach.
The case in point concerns longtime airport booster Gary Proctor, who sat on the pro-airport El Toro Citizens Advisory Commission with Argyros for six years. In November, Proctor—whose $820,000 home and family are in San Jose—got himself elected to the Newport Beach City Council with an astonishing 65 percent of the vote.
Proctor is an airport hard-liner, and he ran on one issue: the only way to protect Newport from an expanded John Wayne Airport is to build a massive international airport at El Toro. He is now the city's de facto point man on all airport-related funding and policies.
The Weekly has learned that many of Argyros' closest friends and business associates played key behind-the-scenes roles in getting the 1,000 mile-per-week commuter onto the council. While it isn't at all surprising that Argyros' friends would fund Proctor's campaign, what is surprising is the speed with which that investment has already paid a dividend—in the form of a $150,000 city grant, with the prospect of more money on the way—to a pro-airport group Argyros openly chairs and funds.
Here's how it happened: during the 2000 campaign, a front group with the high-sounding name Newport Beach Tomorrow dumped $28,000 worth of pro-Proctor mailers on city residents during the last week of the council race. Campaign-finance disclosure statements show this was the group's sole action during the election. (Nobody from the group returned the Weekly's repeated calls for comment.)
Argyros' name appears nowhere in Newport Beach Tomorrow financial statements, but he has long-standing connections to the group's members. Its address and phone number—listed in the statements—is for the Rinker Co., located one flight above Argyros' own headquarters in a Costa Mesa office building owned by Argyros' development firm Arnel. The company's owner, Harry S. Rinker, is a close friend and business partner of Argyros. A Chapman University trustee like Argyros, Rinker donated $5 million to the school in 1999; in recognition of the gift, university officials named the law library after Rinker. The pair spent the past decade writing $1,000-plus checks to the same Republican candidates and incumbents. They frequent the same black-tie benefits and society schmooze fests.
The group's contribution lists also suggest Argyros' influence—developers and businessmen known for their large-scale political donations to right-wing causes and candidates, including:
•Coatings Resource, the Huntington Beach-based paint-manufacturing firm run by Ed Laird, whose political and financial influence over Surf City politics and embattled Councilman Dave Garofalo have already achieved an unprecedented level of notoriety in the pages of the Weekly.
•Brad Freeman, George W. Bush's California finance chairman and (like Argyros) a former member of Bush the Elder's Team 100, an exclusive group of GOP loyalists who donated at least $100,000 to the 1988 George H.W. Bush presidential campaign.
•Byron Allumbaugh, a member of the board of directors of Carl Karcher Enterprises and (like Argyros) a member of the Horatio Alger Association, a group of rich businesspeople who "help young people to understand and value the opportunities presented by America's free enterprise system." (Note to the association: Horatio Alger stories are notable for the element of luck—the discovery of an orphan who belongs to a grieving rich family, the winning of the lottery—rather than hard work.)
•Don Koll, boss of the corporate and residential development firm Koll Co. Koll moved through the 1992 Bush campaign Team 100 circles with Argyros.
•Thomas Tucker, chairman of the Orange County New Majority, a group of so-called "moderate" Republicans—including Argyros—seeking even more financial control over Orange County politics.
•Rockwell Schnabel, a wealthy local businessman and former U.S. ambassador to Finland who, according to the March 25 Baltimore Sun, moved $250,000 in soft money to the GOP during the 2000 election. Also like Argyros, the Sun reported, Schnabel is shortlisted for an ambassadorship, this one in sunny Italy.
The donations ranged from a stingy $300 (Koll) to a generous $5,000 (Freeman, Tucker). Because Newport Beach Tomorrow is a committee not formally tied to any single candidate, its benefactors don't have to adhere to the city's $500 contribution cap. The financial statements also show the group retained powerful election-law attorney and Argyros buddy Dana Reed.
And now the efforts are paying off. On March 13, the City Council unanimously approved a massive escalation in pro-airport spending, setting aside $3.69 million for "an El Toro public-information and outreach program." For years, Newport officials and activists have criticized South County cities—taking care to single out Irvine—for spending city monies on anti-airport projects. Now Newport is mimicking those very cities.
During the meeting, Proctor made a motion to direct some of the money to Citizens for Jobs & the Economy (CJ&E)—a pro-airport group of GOP developers chaired by Argyros. On March 27, the council did just that, granting $150,000 to CJ&E.
The first of 15 $10,000 installments went out to CJ&E on April 1. The agreement says the money will "complete polling, develop messages/strategy, obtain legal analysis of activities to ensure compliance with agreement, and [for] state and federal lobbying."
The council also awarded $120,000 to the Airport Working Group to fund pro-airport litigation and something vaguely described as "support[ing] our efforts to extend the [John Wayne Airport] settlement agreement." The remaining $3.3 million in city funds will be doled out "only after existing funds have been spent on permitted activities."
Proctor didn't participate in the March 27 vote because he was, according to his spokeswoman, "out of town."