David Bohnett — a longtime donor to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — has a foundation that provides the mayor’s office with de facto staffers, subsidized by a fellowship program it funds through the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
“What it all boils down to is that we’re trying to achieve the mayor’s agenda for Los Angeles,” explained Jayanthi Daniel, who worked closely with Garcetti’s chief of staff during her fellowship from the David Bohnett Foundation.
— JC De Vera (@jcdevera89) January 18, 2017
According to Inside Philanthropy, “The foundation covers the fellows’ tuition over a two-year period and provides stipends for two years of summer work with the city.”
“These aren’t interns who make copies,” said Michael Fleming, the foundation’s executive director who is also a Garcetti donor. “Most are assigned to a deputy mayor.”
They carry official City Hall badges while working to advance Garcetti’s progressive platform, which includes reducing dependence on cars, expanding services for immigrants, and criminal justice reform. Earlier this month, Isaac Bryan, a current Bohnett Fellow who works in the Mayor’s Office of Reentry, presented a report to a United Nations Special Rapporteur which detailed inequities in L.A.’s existing money bail system.
— Isaac Bryan (@ib2_real) December 7, 2017
Since launching the program in 2007, the David Bohnett Foundation has provided fellowships to 38 UCLA graduate students with proficiencies in public policy, social welfare, and urban planning. When Garcetti was first elected mayor, he immediately integrated the Bohnett fellows he inherited into the personnel process during the changeover, which included evaluating the top managers of 35 city agencies and departments.
When Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti came into office, in the summer of 2013, he required all department heads to re-apply for their positions – something a mayor of Los Angeles had never done before. Initially, Fleming said he and his counterparts at UCLA fretted about the students being lost in a chaotic transition period without mentors or meaningful work. Instead, Garcetti made his Bohnett fellows part of the team that vetted the department heads. They helped design the process for evaluating department heads and briefed the mayor on applicants.
“They were thrust right into an extremely important, high-profile situation,” said Rick Cole, deputy mayor for budget and innovation in Los Angeles. “That trial by fire meant that they were seasoned full-fledged members of the team of a brand new administration.”
Bohnett, a philanthropist and technology entrepreneur, created his foundation nearly 20 years ago with an initial $30 million endowment and a “mission of improving society through social activism.” Since then, it has disbursed more than $1 million for fellowships that mutually benefit UCLA students and the L.A. Mayor’s Office. The foundation has expanded its mayoral leadership program to New York University and the University of Michigan, providing support for the municipalities of New York City and Detroit, respectively. Fleming says any city could replicate the model, but “many foundations have been scared of interacting with government because they think it looks like they’re favoring a mayor.”
The foundation has donated more than $24 million to the LA Philharmonic Association, millions more to AIDS-related causes and LGBT organizations, and nearly $800,000 to Media Matters for America. It has also contributed to the Mayor’s Fund of Los Angeles, which accomplishes similar effects as the Clinton Foundation on a regional level. Garcetti is considered a potential contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Both Bohnett and Fleming have been individual contributors to Garcetti campaigns since his first city council race in 2001 — the beginning of his elected political career. The mayor appointed Fleming to the panel that oversees L.A.’s public electrical utility upon taking office. In what has become a mundane occurrence, the oversight board approves the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars to the city’s general fund each year to help balance the budget.
The David Bohnett Foundation also partners with the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute to award fellowships to senior-level LGBT public officials. In 2015, Glen Dake — a Garcetti stalwart — was a recipient. Mayor Garcetti had re-appointed Dake to the Board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California the year before. Dake served on Garcetti’s city council staff from 2001to 2005.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter@Near_Chaos.