When a Conflict of Interest Isn't But Should Be: The Carlos Bustamante Story

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.

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 N 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 N 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 N 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…

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