Family value

Developer debutantes donate like daddy

SN&R Graphic By David Jayne

As with buying a new car or purchasing a home, most of us have to work and save well into adulthood before we manage to buy our first politician.

But the daughters of Sacramento uber-developer Angelo Tsakopoulos have been peddling political influence since senior prom.

It’s well known that the Tsakopoulos family—which has made a fortune off their AKT Development Corporation—are major donors to Democratic candidates, locally and nationally.

Patriarch Angelo was a big backer of President Bill Clinton, and even stayed in the Lincoln Bedroom on occasion during the Bubba years. Not surprisingly, the Tsakopouloses lead the state in contributions to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

But we were impressed by just how politically involved the younger Tsakopoulos girls are, and at such a tender age. Alexandra, who is 19 this year, and Chrysanthy, who will hit drinking age this summer, are on pace to give the maximum allowed under federal law to Clinton’s campaign, each giving $4,600 so far.

It’s not clear if all that campaign cash is coming out of their allowances—or their milk money—because both list their occupations on federal campaign-finance forms as “student.”

And last year, the Tsakopoulos girls gave more than $50,000 each to Democratic candidates in California and around the country. Much of that largesse went to family friend and former AKT president Phil Angelides for his unsuccessful gubernatorial run. In 2005, Alexandra gave over $56,000.

This kind of “bundling”—where wealthy people combine their donations with similar donations from children, spouses and other family members to exceed the maximums allowed for individual contributions—has been around for years. But there are a few rules.

“You can’t give contributions in the name of another person,” says Ned Wigglesworth, campaign watchdog for California Common Cause. “And you can’t use family members as conduits for contributions.”

OK, but it’s almost impossible to enforce the rule, Wigglesworth conceded. Wealthy kids, after all, tend to get their money from their parents. The younger Tsakopouloses did give to the same candidates. But just because it walks like a duck doesn’t mean it’s a cynical end-run around campaign-finance laws.

In fact, people of any age can give to political candidates. But until you are 18, there is what is called “a rebuttable presumption” in campaign-finance law that you are making the donation on behalf of your folks—and that tends to make elections officials suspicious. Accordingly, there aren’t many 14 year olds giving big bucks.

We called big sister and AKT Development Corporation president Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis to make sure everything was on the up-and-up, and that the Tsakopoulos daughters are just exercising their First Amendment rights like any red-blooded American college student. Eleni didn’t return the call.

Wigglesworth said there’s no evidence anything illegal is going on. “But the man on the street has to kind of scratch his head and say, ‘What the hell?’”

“I mean, 19-year-old kids giving $50,000 to political parties—using their parents’ money to buy political influence? It doesn’t pass the smell test. Why do 19-year-old kids get more political influence than the other 98 percent of the population?”