Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Former LA mayor, Texas mogul back statewide pension overhaul campaign

Former LA Mayor Richard Riordan has made pension reform for public employees a personal crusade.
Former LA Mayor Richard Riordan has made pension reform for public employees a personal crusade.

Former L.A. Mayor Richard J. Riordan, who earlier this year unsuccessfully attempted to place a pension reform measure on the Los Angeles city ballot, is apparently backing a similar statewide effort.

This week, the mayors of five California cities that are facing rising pension burdens — Anaheim, San Bernardino, Santa Ana, San Jose and Pacific Grove — announced plans to gather signatures for a statewide initiative on the 2014 ballot. The measure would give all California cities and voters the right to unilaterally reduce pension benefits for current municipal employees.

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed is leading the fundraising effort for the initiative. Last June, voters in San Jose approved a pension and benefits overhaul for future employees that was backed by Reed and the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce.

But reducing pension benefits for current employees is a more sensitive matter.

Documents that Reed filed with the San Jose City Clerk indicate he is asking for donations to the chamber of commerce to finance the statewide initiative campaign. A chamber spokesperson was not immediately available to comment on its involvement in the state pension measure.

The documents show Reed asked Riordan to donate $50,000 to the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce for a charitable purpose.

They also show Reed asked the Action Now Initiative to give the chamber $200,000, also for charity.

Action Now Initiative is a Houston-based advocacy nonprofit group focused on pension reform, education and criminal justice, according to its nonprofit tax return form on file with the IRS. Directors of the group include billionaire John D. Arnold and his wife Laura E. Arnold. Action Now shares an address with Centaurus Advisors, the now-closed hedge fund run by John Arnold, a former Enron executive. The Arnolds now focus on philanthropy, they said in a video.

Alison Ferguson, president of Action Now Initiative, declined comment on its involvement in the pension overhaul campaign.

Two other donors gave a total of $50,000 to the Coalition for Fair and Sustainable Pensions, which the Sacramento Bee described as Reed's new committee for the statewide campaign.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents LAPD officers, lashed out at the initiative effort on Thursday, saying the proposed initiative "is the first shot against removing the ability of public employees to collectively bargain for benefits and employment conditions."

A spokesman for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said it's too early for the mayor to comment on a measure that has not yet qualified for the ballot.

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect date for the San Jose pension change measure. It was in June 2012.