Rotten Anaheim

We all know that Anaheim’s political swamp stinks. We’ve been saying it for years. This blog (sorta) predicted an FBI informant would expose the Cabal running the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce a decade ago. Obvious corruption in multi-million dollar gifts of public funds, illegal bond measures, and preferential access doled out by the city council all neatly follow campaign contributions and gifts from the Chamber. All you really had to do was look.

We weren’t alone in our warnings: The Voice of OC, the OC Weekly, the Anaheim Investigator, and even at times the OC Register all documented clearly questionable dealings between the Anaheim officials and the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. For years, the Chamber’s benefactors like Disney, like hotel developer Bill O’Connell, like Arte Moreno and the Angels, poured millions upon millions of dollars into swamp things– candidates, propogandist bloggers, and lobbyists– to ensure that when it was time to dole out tax dollars, they would be the first mouth at the table to be fed.

Anaheim Chamber of Secrets
Illustration used at the (more innocent) time of the “Gardenwalk Giveaway.” After a while, the corruption became pretty open — but, once the Feds moved in, they still kept some secrets from each other!

For years, voters bought all of it. Chamber-backed candidates have nearly a perfect election record. Employees of the Chamber sat on multiple commissions, including the powerful Charter Review Commission, enabling a culture of corruption that we’re finally seeing laid bare in multiple FBI affidavits and complaints. Millions of taxpayer dollars shuttled to the chamber lacked any public oversight. The lack of oversight made it easy for unscrupulous people like Todd Ament to, as the FBI alleges, move money between entities without any challenge whatsoever from the city, let alone the Chamber’s own accounting team. Even when caught red-handed spending taxpayer money on the Chamber’s political assets, city officials and employees looked the other way: “Just gadflies crying because they’re losers” they’d claim, never considering for a moment that the appearance of impropriety existed because of actual impropriety.

The real sin in all of this mess isn’t Harry Sidhu’s alleged tax evasion, his alleged betrayal of the public in exchange for campaign donations, or Todd Ament’s alleged pilfering of funds to buy a resort home in Big Bear. The real sin is tolerating a culture that for decades consistently allowed the Chamber of Commerce to control a majority vote of the Anaheim City Council. Without those reliable votes, the Chamber is really isn’t anything special. Those reliable votes attended Cabal-sponsored “retreats”, had direct access to Chamber-linked political operatives who told them how to rationalize any vote the Chamber ordered, had access to city staff orchestrating outcomes before a vote ever occurred, and had access to the city’s legal team to obscure public records from legitimate public requests.

There were hundreds of opportunities for employees at the Chamber, employees at the city, and even employees at the huge corporations funding the Chamber Cabal to intercede with a simple act of curiosity. In the last decade, only two city employees ever questioned any of the Chamber’s activity: City Attorney Christina Talley and City Manager Chris Zapata. Both were fired by the “reliable votes” of the Chamber almost instantly upon demand. During the same decade, zero employees at the Chamber of Commerce– including those with duties to oversee funds– blew a whistle. In the same decade, zero employees at Disney, zero employees at the Angels, and zero employees at any of the hotels benefiting from the Chamber’s Visit Anaheim subsidiary said anything to anyone about potential illegal activity. Hundreds and hundreds of people involved in dozens of projects said nothing. They just cashed their checks written by the taxpayer, went home to their pools and wine, and soaked up the California sun.

The FBI won’t get everyone who’s responsible for turning Anaheim into a fever swamp. Their resources aren’t infinite and the little fish have all scattered and shredded their trails as their bigger brethren wriggle and twist on the hook of justice. The future for the little fish is probably rosier than one might expect. After all, the corruption apparatus is really still there. They still have the votes. They still have plenty of money. Worse still, the public has an exceptionally short memory, so really . . . all those little fish have to do is wait for the next news cycle, after which everyone will forget.

Except us.

We’re still here, little fishies. And guess what?

We’re gonna name names.

Run and hide little fishy. Run and hide.

About Ryan Cantor

Our conservative columnist, raised in North Orange County, works as an auditor.