First of three parts...
There are political hacks, and then there is SanTana councilmember Carlos Bustamante, the Orange County Republican Party's Great Brown Hope and a man who seemingly never met a political donation he didn't accept and subsequently vote for his donor's interests. Seriously, people: I've read through hundreds of campaign-finance records and tracked multiple politicians in my years at the Weekly, but Bustamante is one of the hackiest of the hack I've encountered.
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We were going to limit our mini-investigation of Bustamante to two posts, but the ever-vigilant Orange Juice! clued us into something. Tomorrow, the SanTana City Council will decide on whether to loan C & C Development nearly $9 million to acquire and renovate properties in the city's Townsend neighborhood. It's almost a near-certainty: in March of last year, the SanTana Housing Authority helped C & C head Barry Cottle secure a $15 million tax-exempt bond for another project in the city. Not only that, but Bustamante owes Cottle something. On Dec. 21, 2006, Cottle and his relative Mary Cottle each donated $249 toward Bustamante's failed 2007 First Supervisorial run, neatly evading SanTana campaign finance rules which state councilmembers can't vote on projects for 12 months involving anyone who donated $250 or more "to the councilmember or to any campaign committee controlled by the councilmember."
Even if the Cottles did give Bustamante $250, he'd still be able to vote on C & C's request since more than a year has passed since the Cottles' donations. Interestingly enough, the original vote on the project was scheduled for Dec. 3 but postponed an extra 30 days per a city council vote.
Now, nowhere in this episode did Bustamante come close to running afoul of conflict-of-interest laws--he merely accepted money from an ingeniously donating developer on whose project he'll probably vote on tomorrow night. But Bustamante hasn't always been so careful about letting a year pass before voting on his patrons' projects.
Visit this blog Tuesday morning for Part 2...