Government Watch / Politics

Los Angeles Mayor Race Upended by Democrat Corruption Scandal

AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott

Mark Ridley-Thomas and Karen Bass

After trailing Democrat U.S. Rep Karen Bass by as many as 12 points in August in the Los Angeles mayoral race, conservative Rick Caruso had significantly narrowed the gap to just three points earlier this month, well within the margin of error. While the factors leading to Democratic struggles nationally have undoubtedly played into Caruso’s resurgence, Bass has also become embroiled in a scandal involving the University of Southern California (USC) which is hampering her candidacy.

The saga began late last year when a federal grand jury indicted Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas on bribery and fraud charges. According to the indictment, Ridley-Thomas orchestrated contracts between USC and the city for services that would yield millions in taxpayer dollars for USC. In exchange, the school gave Ridley-Thomas’s son a “full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship” as well as “a mechanism to funnel Ridley-Thomas campaign funds through the university to a non-profit to be operated by the relative.”

While investigating Ridley-Thomas, the prosecutors found emails that suggested Bass was the beneficiary of a similar agreement. In emails between Marilyn Flynn, then-Dean of the USC social work program that Bass would ultimately earn a master’s degree from while in Congress, and another school official, Flynn said she would offer Ridley-Thomas’ son a “full scholarship between the two schools. I did the same for Karen Bass – full scholarship for our funds.”

The investigation subsequently revealed that Bass received a $95,000 full-ride scholarship from USC beginning in 2011. As the LA Times notes, the scholarship was “more generous than grants typically given to other students.” When asked to produce her application for USC’s social work program, the Bass campaign released an application to attend classes on a “limited status.” According to USC’s own rules, students who attend classes on a limited status are not formally admitted and are barred from receiving financial aid.

Other details of the case also raise red flags. For instance, Bass failed to report the scholarship in her financial disclosures until 2019 – a mistake that her office blamed on a former staffer. The scholarship was also not advertised online, has not been offered since, and appears to have been a gift offered fully at the discretion of Dean Flynn. And shortly after enrolling in the program, Bass sponsored a bill in Congress which would have expanded access for USC and other institutions to federal funding for social work.

At this point, prosecutors maintain that Bass is not “a target or a subject of our office’s investigation.” Yet they have stated that her dealings with the university are “critical” to their broader investigation into corruption at the university. As both Flynn and Ridley-Thomas are set to stand trial in November, Bass’s involvement in the quid-pro-quo could come under increased scrutiny.

These allegations suggest deeply unethical behavior that is unfortunately not unprecedented. A recent LA Times report found that California legislators routinely leave office for lucrative fellowships and teaching positions at USC, which has an endowment of more than $8 billion and is considered one of the best schools in the country. The piece notes that former Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks said he “wasn’t surprised to hear that Bass received the scholarship” because “that’s their history… They use their leverage on people they believe will help them now and in the future.”

For decades, universities have played an overtly activist and aggressive role in public policy. Although universities are legally prohibited from forming PACs or directly supporting candidates, individuals associated with various education institutions spent more than $64.5 million supporting Democratic candidates in 2018 alone, according to an Open Secrets report. Only $12 million was directed to Republican candidates. This is in addition to the $77.4 million that “Big Ed” spent on lobbyists.

While concerning, these donation and lobbying efforts are far from the most ethically questionable ties between Big Ed and elected officials. Democrat leaders and legislators will routinely use universities as a revolving door. Senator Elizabeth Warren, for instance, faced severe criticism when it was revealed that she received more than $400,000 from Harvard University for only teaching one class each semester. In 2019, Tucker Carlson dedicated an entire show to how unusual it is that Chelsea Clinton, Chris Cuomo, the Obama daughters, the son of Bill DeBlasio, all four Gore children, and the children of multiple Democrat senators all attend or attended elite ivy league universities.

It’s not just politicians who are gaming the system, either. In 2019, dozens of wealthy business and Hollywood elites were caught up in “Operation Varsity Blues,” a massive corruption scandal involving pay-for-play schemes at a number of prestigious U.S. institutions.

Karen Bass’s campaign for LA Mayor may not ultimately be undone by these latest revelations – after all, in deep blue California, voters have shown time and again they are willing to ignore any number of unsavory actions by a candidate with a “D” next to their name. But the implications of this scandal raise fresh concerns about corruption among the ranks of elected officials and officers at elite academic institutions that Americans should not ignore.

Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.  

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5 months ago

Sad to say but if the voter are allowing criminals to govern perhaps they are not competent to vote!there has to be laws in place that prohibit a by criminal from running for offices

5 months ago

It appears that you must be a liar and a crook to be a DemonRat.

Joseph Carlson
5 months ago

Doesn’t surprise me. The Democratic leadership in any form feels they are not accountable for their actions, until they are caught, and then they deny, deny and deny. Unfortunately this trend will not stop. Why anyone would vote democrat is beyond me. The Democratic Party does not care for the American people, or America. We see that since Biden’s regime started. Better vote Republican to keep some semblance of the America we knew.

5 months ago

If we hold ourselves and our children accountable why aren’t the Democrats as well?!

Marie Langley
5 months ago

Typical Democrat corruption. Show me a democrat that is honest and I will eat my paycheck.

5 months ago
Reply to  Marie Langley

If the DemonRats remain in control we may have to, literally, eat our paycheck .

Phil Brown
5 months ago

Corrupt politicians with a D after their names not only get a full pass from legacy media, but are routinely defended, at no direct cost to them, given opposition candidate backing masquerading as journalism while they’re provided outright political protection from the praetorian guard who call themselves a free press. No wonder a majority think American democracy is in trouble: that a strong majority feel the MSM isn’t to be trusted, with 59% of voters thinking they’re a “major threat” to LA Times is replete with these lobbying efforts for leftist candidates. This one is no different. They have heartily endorsed yet another political grifter for hapless Californians who still bother paying them

Jeffrey Wilson
5 months ago

Tired of demorat idiots vote them out!

5 months ago

So basically, as usual, nothing will be done about it.

5 months ago
Reply to  Caren

So true, only a conservative would be investigated !

5 months ago

This is just the surface of Democrat corruption. They have been funneling money to themselves or their cronies from the many special interest programs they have funded. For Democrats a culture of corruption is the rule not the exception. BLM was another example of how Leftists behave. Democrats stole the 2020 election because it was worth it. But now they have become greedy and are getting caught.

Jenny Ford
5 months ago

Nobody does CORRUPTION as well as the democrats!!! Thanks for the article AMAC!!!!!!

Daniel N Birch
5 months ago

Who would have guessed it? Politicians and universities are crooked? Well, I’ll be!

5 months ago

I remember my childhood in California in the 50’s. Clean, beautiful, safe, open hills, kids dream, horse back riders coming down the street we lived on…then the demorats, like a plague of blow flies, (and lets not forget the rinos…worse in their treason) began swarming in, “questionable elections”… California today: dirty, forests ignored for years, rampant fires, vagrants using city sidewalks as outhouses, criminal “justice” MIA, like virtually every other demorat controlled state, rules for thee but not for “me”. Repeat violent criminals turned loose to prey on citizens…who’re not allowed to protect themselves. California the once Golden State, destroyed by greed, those bloodthirsty for control…now little more than a dumping ground for everything ugly.

Harry Guzaliak
5 months ago
Reply to  Denise

Absolutely correct

5 months ago
Reply to  Denise

I can identify with your comments. Like you, I live in a blue (midwest) state pretty much controlled by the largest city in the state. Dems control the city and everything statewide..and it’s a cesspool. Businesses are leaving, residents are leaving. Debt keeps piling up and the politicians have no interest in addressing it. Increasing taxes are used to continue funding pet projects that keep voters voting for them. Like yourself, I have memories of much better times but no longer.

Meg mano
5 months ago

Just typical of the shenanigans Democrats engage in. They are so lame and should not hold any office in America. I used to listen to them and sometimes agree but the New Left Democrat-forget it! Good riddance to bad rubbish!

James carlyle
5 months ago

Los Ángeles, California: A location and a way of life to be avoided by all those seeking good health, freedom, security and general well being in life experiences.

5 months ago

Nothing new politicians stuffing their pockets. Hmmm

William C Smith
5 months ago

Keep digging!

Barrett Smith
5 months ago

Finding an honest Democrat is like finding a five-leaf clover.

Ed J
5 months ago
Reply to  Barrett Smith

Each Democrat will, with a straight face, declare that he/she IS a five-leaf clover. The sad truth is that so many of the electorate will actually BELIEVE such statements.

Lawrence Greenberg
5 months ago

A corrupt Democrat? I’m shocked, just shocked I tell you…

5 months ago

The last paragraph tells the tale. Basses voters consider it a plus that she was able to scam successfully. For people whove played by the rules all their lives this reality is disturbing but its the way it is in blue cities.

Philip Hammersley
5 months ago

Poor people keep voting for the people who keep them poor! You’d think at some point they’d WISE UP!

5 months ago

Nope, they give them a lollipop and pat on the head and tell what a good girl or boy they are.

5 months ago

I honestly believe that it is something in California air (likely more concentrated in L.A.) that disallows cognitive thought.

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