Alex Villanueva faces campaign violations and lags behind Robert Luna in sheriff’s race

L.A. County District Attorney launches investigations into incumbent Alex Villanueva’s potential campaign contribution violations.

A photo of Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva had a bad week. On Tuesday, Robert Luna appeared to beat him by more than 16 points in the ballots. Then a day later, news broke that he was under investigation from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for violating state law after a video surfaced last week of Villanueva asking for solicited campaign donations from deputies.

The video, released by the L.A. Times, shows Villanueva soliciting campaign donations directly from deputies in the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union representing L.A. deputies. The video was brought to the newspaper’s attention by a deputy who received the video through a text message that included a link to Villanueva’s fundraising website, according to the L.A. Times.

“It’s up to each and every one of you who you want to be as sheriff. We’re gonna win this thing,” Villanueva said in the video after openly directing his message to the sheriffs in the union. “And if you want to help, anything will help us get our message out there…I’ll leave it up to you. Any donation is great: 20 bucks, all the way up to 1,500 bucks, your choice.”

Villanueva says in the video that ALADS abandoned its duty by only contributing $1,500 to his reelection when they previously contributed $1 million to his campaign in 2018.

California State Law prohibits an employee of a local agency from “directly or indirectly” soliciting contributions from an officer of the same agency, especially if the employee is aware that the contributor is from the same agency. Violations of this law are counted as misdemeanors.

Since his election in 2018, Villanueva has been the subject of several controversies involving the sheriff’s department. He has been accused of misconduct on several instances and has clashed with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors on multiple occasions.

Villanueva pushed back against the Board of Supervisors’ claim of corruption in the L.A. County Sheriff’s Office.

“It appears you are making yourselves the judge, jury and executioner for the office of the sheriff, nullifying the will of the voters,” Villanueva said.

L.A. County Measure A, which grants the Board of Supervisors the authority to remove the sheriff during their time in office, was approved to be on the November 8 ballots because of Villanueva’s questionable leadership, according to the L.A. Times. The measure was met with overwhelming approval with over 70% of voters voting in support during the midterm elections.

During his reelection campaign, Villanueva raised over $2.9 million in funding, doubling the amount of his opponent, retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna, who raised $1.3 million. As of Thursday afternoon, with 1.2 million votes totaled, Luna is currently leading with 56.8% percent of the vote compared to Villanueva’s 43.2%.

“Our campaign team has worked diligently to run an effective campaign in compliance with all applicable laws,” said Villanueva in a statement to NBC Los Angeles News. “To date, we have no official communication from the D.A. We will work with the D.A.’s office to address any concerns they may have.”

District Attorney’s Office Director of Communications Tiffany Blackwell said in a statement that the video has come to their attention and “an investigation by the office’s Public Integrity Division has been initiated.”

Bob Shrum, the director of the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future, expanded on why Villanueva’s asking for funds is considered incriminating.

“If you’re the sheriff and people work for you…they’re obviously going to feel a lot of pressure to contribute, which is why we have rules against [soliciting donations for political campaigns],” said Shrum.

This is not the first time Villanueva has been accused of acting unethically to secure campaign funds. A L.A. Times investigation released in September found that permits to carry weapons were granted to at least 50 people who contributed funds to his campaigns for L.A. County Sheriff in both 2018 and in 2022. A criminal investigation was launched in early September by the city’s sheriff’s department into the concealed carry weapons application.

In another controversy, Villanueva was accused of mishandling an incident where one of his deputies knelt on the head of a handcuffed inmate for three minutes. Last week, the Board of Supervisors settled nearly $50 million in lawsuits alleging deputy misconduct under Villanueva’s oversight.

When asked in an interview with Spectrum News 1 in July about how he would work with the board in the future, Villanueva said that the board has launched “attack after attack” since he took office as county sheriff.

“In fact, they hired a law firm to sue me my first month in office. So there’s been no honeymoon,” he said. “When they do the right thing, I’m more than happy to work with them and I want to work with them.”

However, based on current polling, it seems Villanueva will not have to work with the board in the future.