No other company has as large a physical footprint in Los Angeles as AEG. If you've been to see the Lakers, Clippers, Kings or the L.A. Galaxy, you've given money to AEG. If you've been to L.A. Live, or bought to tickets from Goldenvoice, or made the trek out to the Coachella Festival, you've given money to AEG.
So has local government, and, by extension, local taxpayers. Whether it was the 25-year, $270 million city tax break it got to build the J.W. Marriot hotel next to L.A. Live, or the $12.6 million in CRA money it got to build the Staples Center, AEG is living proof that in Los Angeles, if you give a little, you get a little. Other developers, such as Jim Thomas (Thomas Properties) and Ed Roski (Majestic), have clout, but AEG is in a class of its own.
"What's interesting is how easy the path is for AEG compared to those who in recent years have tried to develop downtown," says Cal State Fullerton political science professor Raphael Sonenshein. "But they're the new generation of business power."
One thing that really bothers so many people about AEG's influence is that owner Philip Anschutz doesn't live in the city. (He lives in Denver.) In fact, he's hardly ever been there. Is it right that a company with so little stake in L.A. should have so much power?
The famously reclusive 71-year-old Anschutz is worth over $7 billion. He made his first fortune in oil, his second in railroads, his third in telecommunications. He's donated heavily to Christian conservative groups like Colorado for Family Values, which pushed an anti-gay-rights ballot measure in 1992 (it passed but was later overturned) and the Discovery Institute, a Seattle think tank that advocates for intelligent design. He also bought the conservative opinion journal the Weekly Standard and financed the movie version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Anschutz's man in Los Angeles is Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of AEG. Even though Los Angeles Downtown News called him the most powerful person in downtown, it's unclear who calls the shots — him or Anschutz. What is clear is that in the 15 years he's lived here, AEG has grown into a behemoth that has shifted the center of gravity away in downtown from mega-developer Eli Broad and the arts toward sports and entertainment.
Leiweke has lined up a large supporting cast of powerful allies, including Maria Elena Durazo (head of the 800,000-member county labor federation), the Central City Association and the mayor in his most audacious pursuit yet: Farmers Field, a proposed football stadium in downtown, nuzzled in between Staples Center and the Harbor Freeway. The outlines of the project were unanimously approved by the L.A. City Council on August 9.
"Let's admit it," Leiweke told the L.A. Times in 2006, "we are a different, unique town: a little dysfunctional, more spread out and a little more difficult to manage. ... You have to be prepared to work very hard, and be very patient, to get big projects, big visions completed here. But this is still the land of opportunity."
Estimated net worth of Philip Anschutz*:
Money spent on lobbying since 2003**:
"If anybody's really the successor of the Committee of 25, it's them [AEG]. They're only a single company. They don't need to build alliances with other businesses. L.A. could become like Anaheim with Disneyland: one company, huge revenue, huge implications for the city."
—Raphael Sonenshein, professor of political science at Cal State Fullerton
*Forbes; ** Los Angeles Ethics Commission
City of L.A. direct campaign contributions since 2009**:
"People say, 'What do you think about L.A. Live?' I say, "Pretty nice if you're in Indianapolis.' L.A. is a great city. We should have world historic architecture. We don't need an entertainment district that looks like the entertainment district of Dallas."
—Joel Kotkin, author and urban historian