Opinion Split on Whether EIDC Head Abused Office
By DARRELL SATZMAN
Explaining why his organization wouldn’t be attending a movie location trade show a couple of years back, Cody Cluff sneered at the event as little more than “a glorified junket for film commissioners” designed to take production dollars away from Los Angeles.
Now Cluff, 43, is being accused of more than junkets. As president of the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., Cluff is the target of a probe by the L.A. District Attorney’s Office, which has been examining his use of EIDC money for political contributions along with expensive meals, Lakers tickets and even membership in a Beverly Hills cigar club.
No charges have been filed, but an affidavit prepared for the purpose of obtaining search warrants served on Sept. 5 details a litany of alleged misdeeds and questionable expenditures.
The news was stunning for many in government and entertainment circles because Cluff, who some have referred to as “L.A.’s film czar,” became a well-known face around town widely quoted in the media and well connected with some of Hollywood’s most powerful players. Even now, opinion is split on Cluff some say he was a man out of control while others say he was merely doing his job.
“EIDC was designed to be an independent agency but it became too independent,” said a former colleague of Cluff’s. Another colleague said Cluff became corrupted by absolute power in running the agency in the manner he saw fit. Much of the criticism has been leveled at the lack of oversight the EIDC’s board had over the organization.
But Morrie Goldman, the EIDC’s vice president of governmental affairs, said the expenses charged by Cluff were part of the cost of doing business in Hollywood.
“We are competing against places that are spending millions of dollars to come here and take tax dollars out of L.A.,” Goldman said. “They come here and they wine and dine people. When you compare what others are doing our expenses are moderate.”
Cluff, a native of Idaho, graduated from Cal State Los Angeles in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. His first job was with Price Waterhouse’s L.A. office. In the early 1990s, he was director of business retention for the Economic Development Corp. of Los Angeles County, where he served as a liaison with the entertainment industry. His orders were to help make the environment friendlier for studios and lobby the South Coast Air Quality Management District to ease environmental regulations for businesses, a drive that was successful.
He was appointed to the AQMD board by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1996 but had to step down the following year when the state Senate refused to confirm his appointment. At the time, Senate Rules Committee Chairman Bill Lockyer, D-Hayward, called Cluff “disruptive.” He had led a controversial campaign to oust AQMD executive officer James Lents, who had taken a hard line against smog.
Before taking the EIDC post, Cluff was former Mayor Richard Riordan’s assistant deputy mayor of entertainment industry affairs.
Defenders say that Cluff is being unfairly maligned because of a misunderstanding about the EIDC’s structure and its role in promoting filming in Los Angeles.
“The EIDC does a lot of work behind the scenes and Cody has astutely made friends with all the politicians,” said Ilt Jones, a location scout for Revolution Studios who sits on the EIDC board.
Cluff, who is separated and has three children, was unavailable for comment, but his attorney, Thomas Brown of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLC, said the crux of the dispute involves a misunderstanding about the EIDC’s underlying structure.
“This is a private corporation with bylaws and a board of directors. This isn’t public money,” Brown said. “Under their contract, they can use (their funds) at their discretion.”
Not everyone agrees.
“It may be a private corporation but it has a public responsibility,” said Robin Kramer, a senior fellow with the California Community Foundation, who worked with Cluff when she was chief of staff for Riordan.
For now, Cluff is keeping a low profile, although he remains on the job. “Cody is a very resilient and positive individual. He feels that once the educational process is over about what the EIDC does and why it was formed that he will be vindicated,” Brown said.