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Hahn to LAX Concessionaires: It’s Money That I Love

Ever wonder why the concession choices at LAX suck compared to other major airports? Why the fifth-largest airport in the world has worse traveller services than mid-market airports like Pittsburgh? The LA Times offers some clues in a report detailing how airport concessions were just extended without competitive bidding. It may have something to do with logrolling among mayor, the airport commission, the concessionaires, and lobbyists. The article actually names names:

“Travelers consistently give the shops and food choices poor marks.

Yet the concessions are so lucrative that the airport earned as much as $45 million a year from the arrangements. The contracts are essentially monopolies and are so highly prized that the major concessionaires hire lobbyists and make campaign contributions to city officials, including Hahn. The mayor appoints the seven-member Airport Commission.

John Ek, a prominent airport lobbyist whose clients include McDonald’s, said after the vote that he had co-hosted a $1,000-per-person fundraiser for Hahn last Wednesday in San Pedro and that he helped raise money for the mayor last year. Ek confirmed that he had appeared a year ago before a grand jury investigating pay-to-play allegations that campaign contributions may have influenced decisions on city contracts.

Julio Ramirez, another lobbyist and Hahn contributor, represents the Hudson Group, which operates bookstores and newsstands at LAX. Ramirez is the husband of Annette Castro, one of Hahn’s chief fundraisers. The Hahn campaign paid Castro more than $200,000 for her fundraising and campaign consulting activities in recent years, according to Hahn’s campaign finance statements.

The New Jersey-based Hudson Group acquired the North American airport retail business of W.H. Smith in December 2003. Atlanta-area executives of W.H. Smith contributed $22,000 to Hahn’s mayoral campaign in 2000. The company’s LAX concession contract was extended without competitive bidding after Hahn was elected. W.H. Smith also gave $50,000 to Hahn’s L.A. United campaign to defeat the secession of the San Fernando Valley. The Hudson Group contract was extended to May 31, 2006, with the option for another one-year extension.

The contract with DFS Group to operate the airport’s Duty Free Shops was extended until Nov. 30, 2007. DFS executive Joseph Lyons and two lobbyists, Richard Lichtenstein and attorney Ellen Berkowitz, were at the commission meeting.

On the same 6-0 vote, the commission extended the concession contract of attorney Andy M. Camacho, who operates two Mexican restaurants at the airport. Camacho has contributed to both of Hahn’s mayoral campaigns. He also gave $1,000 to the mayor’s legal defense fund last month.”

Clearly all involved knows who they need to make happy … well, except for the poor traveller stuck in an enormous line at Terminal 3’s sole fast food restaurant. Apparently the actual users of the airport need to pay cash to mayoral candidates if they want changes made. Perhaps the candidates could set up fundraising booths at the airport — “I’ll take a mocha latte and $5 for Jim Hahn, please.”

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