The Dalian Wanda Group is accused in a new complaint of using foreign money to influence the outcome of a ballot measure in Beverly Hills.
UNITE HERE Local 11, which represents hotel workers, filed the complaint on Thursday with the California Fair Political Practices Commission and the Federal Election Commission. It accuses the Wanda Group of funneling overseas money into a committee to oppose a ballot measure sponsored by the Beverly Hilton.
Wanda and the Beverly Hilton are locked in a bitter fight over the fate of two adjacent parcels on the west end of Beverly Hills.
The Wanda Group wants to build a $1.2 billion project that would include 193 condominiums and 134 hotel rooms. The project would sit on the former Robinson’s-May department store site, which is just west across Merv Griffin Way from the Beverly Hilton. The Hilton has attacked the project at the Beverly Hills Planning Commission, raising particular concerns about a loading dock that would sit across from the Hilton’s entrance.
The Hilton, owned by Beny Alagem, has its own plans to build a 375-foot condominium tower at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Merv Griffin Way. The Hilton opted to bypass the typical city approval process and take the plan directly to voters in November.
Wanda has now launched a campaign to defeat the initiative, sending mailers arguing that the tower would be twice as tall as the next highest building in Beverly Hills. One mailer depicts the tower as taller than Big Ben, taller than the Columbia Records tower, and taller than three Statues of Liberty stacked on top of each other.
The mailers state that they were paid for by American affiliates of the Wanda Group, including Wanda Beverly Hills Properties LLC and Lakeshore East Parcel P, LLC. The latter is related to a Wanda joint venture development in Chicago.
UNITE HERE’s attorney, Gary Winuk, alleges in the complaint that the contributions were made with the participation of Chinese nationals, including Wanda Chairman Wang Jianlin. It alleges that this would violate state and federal law against the use of foreign money in elections.
“There appears to be little chance that funding a very public, high profile opposition campaign against a neighboring project would have been done without some participation or direction from the parent corporation,” Winuk wrote.
In a statement, a Wanda spokesman maintained that the opposition campaign was funded by U.S. entities.
“Although we have not been sent a copy of the complaints or been contacted by any agencies, we are confident that all allegations are baseless, as our campaign reports clearly show that this is a campaign fully funded and controlled by American interests with no foreign control or money in any way, shape or form,” said spokesman Adam Englander. “This lawsuit is just another unethical campaign tactic by the Beverly Hilton and their surrogates to bully those who oppose the Hilton Skyscraper Initiative and their circumvention of the public review process.”
UNITE HERE represents workers at the Beverly Hilton. According to Wanda, the union has not had conversations with Wanda about potentially representing the workers at the new Wanda hotel. The union has spoken against the Wanda project at the Beverly Hills Planning Commission, and raised traffic concerns in a letter to the city.
Marie Garvey, a spokeswoman for the Hilton, emphasized that UNITE HERE was acting on its own.
“We are not part of this complaint and have nothing to do with this,” she said.