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LOS ANGELES � A group of taxicab companies has filed an administrative complaint against the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) for engaging in lobbying activities, which are prohibited under provisions tied to its federal funds. The cab companies assert that LAFLA and Betty Hung, directing attorney of the employment law unit, have been lobbying since 2004 on behalf of cab workers before various city agencies. LAFLA also co-founded the Los Angeles Taxi Workers Alliance, an organization purporting to represent the interests of cab workers. The companies recently filed the complaint with the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), which provides funds to 138 legal aid programs nationwide, including LAFLA. LSC programs have been under increased scrutiny since 1996, when Congress imposed additional restrictions on their activities. U.S. Representative Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who serves on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the House Judiciary Committee, is reviewing the recent complaint, which indicates “there’s significant illegal activity occurring with respect to the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles’s actions in support of union organizing activities,” said Dale Neugebauer, chief of staff for Issa. Toby Rothschild, interim executive director of LAFLA, said: “We’re reviewing this complaint and we’re looking at each allegation carefully. So far, everything we have done has been in accordance with the laws and rules.” ‘Political and partisan tool’ According to the complaint, LAFLA has organized “town hall” meetings on behalf of cab workers and distributed fliers about issues including workers’ compensation and police harassment on the job. Hung has appeared several times before the Los Angeles City Council and the city’s taxi and airport commissions as both an attorney at LAFLA and a member of the Los Angeles Taxi Workers Alliance, the complaint says. “The danger is it makes the use of tax dollars a political and partisan tool, rather than the use of tax dollars to represent individual clients in litigation,” said Paul Marron, principal and founder of Marron & Associates in Long Beach, Calif., who represents six cab companies that filed the complaint. He also noted that LAFLA’s former executive director, Bruce Iwasaki, serves on the board of the city’s Taxicab Commission, which puts him “in a position to influence policy when the people who used to work under his supervision are now lobbying the commission.” Rothschild said Iwasaki, now a partner at Los Angeles-based Lim, Ruger & Kim, joined the commission after leaving LAFLA. “We had nothing to do with getting him in that position,” he said. Iwasaki denied any conflict, stating: “I’m not connected in any way with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.” Rothschild did not dispute the activities alleged in the complaint, noting that lobbying activities are legal if members of a city government request LAFLA lawyers to appear at their meetings. Further, the activities were not financed from LSC, which provides 54% of LAFLA’s funding, he said. The rest of LAFLA’s funding comes from a State Bar of California fund that has fewer restrictions, he said. Hung said cab workers face “sweatshop conditions” of long hours and minimal pay. As shareholders of the cooperatives, they have been denied access to books and records. “The drivers, or the shareholders, have no voice in the management of the companies they supposedly own,” she said. In 1996, Congress scrapped proposals to eliminate LSC entirely, but “wanted to limit certain activities that Congress had felt were inappropriate,” said Barbara Moldauer, a spokeswoman for LSC. Those activities include government lobbying, abortion litigation and the representation of non-U.S. citizens. Last year, LSC’s inspector general issued a report stating that one of its programs, California Rural Legal Assistance, had solicited clients and participated in political activities. Representative Devin Nunes, R-Calif., had requested the report.

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