The first attempt to recall Los Angeles district attorney George Gascón—a grassroots effort led by right- of-center law-enforcement boosters and MAGA activists—went down to resounding defeat last year, without fanfare.
But according to early returns from the fundraising effort obtained exclusively by Los Angeles, a new recall attempt against the controversial D.A.has been rapidly gaining steam—with help from some deep-pocketed Democratic donors and Hollywood grandees.
While reliably right-wing mega donors like Beverly Hills real-estate baron Geoffrey Palmer and Palos Verdes Estates investor Gerald Marcil accounted for the bulk of the $1.8 million raised for the recall over the final three months of 2021, big-name Democrats have entered the fray in the early days of 2022 — too soon to appear in the campaign’s financial disclosure which the County published this week.
Elected in the wake of the George Floyd murder and months of nationwide civil-rights marches, Gascón promised to reform a criminal justice system that he blasted as racist and out of step. On his first day in office he issued a controversial set of edicts that prohibit his prosecutors from seeking the death penalty, even in the most heinous murder cases, and from charging individuals younger than 18 as adults no matter what crimes they committed. He also banned cash bail, which he and many critics of the practice believe is unfairly onerous for lower-income suspects.
The list of early contributors to the campaign to oust Gascón, obtained exclusively by Los Angeles and not yet released to the public, includes Orion Pictures co-founder Mike Medavoy and his wife, socialite Irene Medavoy; supermarket magnate and President Clinton confidant Ron Burkle; President Biden’s pick for ambassador to Norway, Holmby Hills media-real-estate billionaire Marc Nathanson; Hillary Clinton bundler and Pacific Palisades real-estate baron Jordan Kaplan; and Malibu-based developer of malls and condos Richard Weintraub and his wife Liane.
Other prominent donors to the recall from the entertainment community include George Clooney’s long-time producing partner, Grant Heslov, and his wife Lysa; former 20th Century Fox exec and producer, Jonathan Sheinberg, son of film industry titan Sidney Sheinberg; Cynthia Sikes Yorkin, widow of All in the Family co-creator Bud Yorkin; and Lauren King, widow of the late Richard King of King World Productions, syndicator of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!.
Gascón, the former District Attorney of San Francisco, was elected to his office in L.A. in 2020 with help from wealthy, reform-minded supporters like George Soros and Silicon Valley philanthropists Patty Quillin and Kari Tuna, wives of founders of Netflix and Facebook. Eventually Gascón outraised his opponent, incumbent D.A. Jackie Lacey, by $5 million.
But in the wake of some well-publicized crimes since he took office—in particular the murder of Jaqueline Avant, 81-year-old wife of legendary Motown producer Clarence Avant, at the couple’s Beverly Hills home—Gascón’s support among the affluent Westside, never high to begin with, has plummeted.
More recently, the apparently random killing of UCLA student and Brentwood High graduate Brianna Kupfer last month capped a wave of brazen thefts of upscale retailers and home-invasion robberies that brought violent crime to zip codes of L.A. normally insulated from it. The two men charged in the murders of Avant and Kupfler have extensive criminal histories that raised doubts as to whether they should have been allowed to roam the streets freely.
Gascón donors and star supporters from Hollywood—such as actress Susan Sarandon, former Disney chief Michael Eisner, and Netflix founder Reed Hastings and his wife Patty Quinlan, and Queen of Calabasas-turned criminal-justice-reformer Kim Kardashian —have yet to publicly acknowledge their positions on the recall. “Nobody wants to be out front on this,” says a well-placed industry insider.
Celebrity supporters like boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard and entertainment news host Carly Steele have donated to the recall, and last Wednesday, actress Rosanna Arquette posted to her Twitter page an Instagram post by former Beverly Hills mayor Lili Bosse that stated: “I am ALL IN. Recall DA George Gascón.”
“The spin that Gascón has used effectively before, that it’s all Trump supporters, is not going to work this time,” says Irene Medavoy, who with her husband helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Obamas and other prominent Democrats. A major studio executive told Los Angeles, “People can be liberal in ideology but they don’t want crime in their city.”
In the wake of rising rates of violent crime, the latest recall effort seems to be reaching critical mass. Beverly Hills has become a ground zero for the anti-Gascón movement. The wealthy enclave has always been more conservative than other Los Angeles neighborhoods, though in 2020 it broke for Biden by 56 percent. Some of the recent donors, like the Medavoys, knew Jaqueline Avant personally. Earlier this month, the Beverly Hills city council endorsed the D.A’s recall by unanimous vote and residents have pumped millions into the recall effort. In the past year, producers, actors, and other prominent Beverly Hills residents have put together catered events at their homes, inviting leaders of the anti-Gascón movement to speak.
“It’s not the same group waving Trump flags on the green before the 2020 election,” says Jon Hatami. A deputy district attorney who prosecutes child-abuse cases in LA, Hatami was the featured speaker at two recent events. “The people I’ve met included Democrats and Republicans, some actors, some producers, and a lot of people who have money.”
Steve Cooley, a former LA district attorney involved in the recall, says that fundraising for the campaign turned a corner after a July 2021 survey found that more than 60 percent of likely L.A voters said they would recall the sitting district attorney if the vote were held today. “Groups that were cautious before have made up their minds,” Cooley says, “and committed more money.”
In that survey of Los Angeles County voters commissioned by the Recall George Gascón campaign, 61.4 percent said they preferred an unnamed alternative candidate, compared to 21.5 percent who said they would vote to retain Gascón. In the same poll, 40.8 percent of voters disapprove of Gascón’s job performance, compared to 25.1 percent that approve. The party breakdown of respondents was 53 percent Democrat, 17 percent Republican. The remaining were independent or affiliated with a third party.
Gascón supporters have countered with the website Stand With Gascón which features a list of prominent elected officials as endorsers, including Congresswoman and mayoral hopeful Karen Bass. As recently as mid December, endorsers on the site included Bass. But Bass has since asked the administrator of the site to take down her name. Anna Bahr, a Bass spokeswoman, says, “I have no idea how her name wound up on the website and neither does she.” (Bass did not endorse a candidate for the DA race in which Gascón bested Lacey, nor has the progressive lawmaker taken a position on the recall.)
Gascón supporters placed responsibility for the error with labor supporters who launched the Stand With Gascó website. Reps for the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters and SEIU Local 2015, labor groups named as main funders on standwithgascon.org, did not address the “Karen Bass” discrepancy. “The Southwest Carpenters oppose the recall,” a spokeswoman for the union said.
In a statement to Los Angeles, Gascón spokesman Elise Moore said: “All voters need to do is take one look at the key proponents of the recall effort and they will see it for what it truly is: a politically motivated attempt to undermine the will of the voters. District Attorney George Gascón was elected with broad Democratic support in all corners of the County and he continues to have that strong Democratic support today.”
South L.A.-based civil rights advocate and radio host Earl Ofari Hutchinson, who is working to defeat the recall, has previously accused Gascón’s opponents of running “a thinly veiled right-wing effort to sabotage Gascon’s much needed criminal justice reforms.” In a subsequent interview with Los Angeles, Hutchinson was incredulous that well-to-do liberals and moderates crucial to the D.A.’s victory last year and the defeat of the first recall attempt against him would switch sides.
“His base of support includes liberal and moderate Democrats who believe in and support criminal justice reform,” Hutchinson said. “If that is not the case, and money from liberal Democrats on the Westside is flowing into the recall, that could spell serious trouble for Gascon.”
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