LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The Mayor’s Fund For Los Angeles has taken in tens of millions of dollars since the outbreak of COVID-19. But where is the money going?

Investigative reporter David Goldstein found the fund has taken in ten times more in the past year than previous years as individuals and big business pony up to help. But critics wonder if this also could be a way to curry favor with the mayor.

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Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the record-breaking haul. The fund – a 501(c)(3) charitable organization – took in $66 million last year and counting.

Yousef Robb of the Mayor’s Fund says it has helped 200,000 people through the pandemic by providing food for seniors, emergency childcare and $36 million distributed through the Angeleno Card directly to those in need.

“It was not designed with the pandemic like this in mind, but we’re certainly glad that it was around when the pandemic hit because it was nimble enough to respond to the challenge of COVID-19,” said Robb.

But are donors contributing out of the goodness of their hearts? Or could there be another reason?

Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson served as president of the LA Ethics Commission.

“These funds like the Mayor’s Fund provide a place for big donors to give money,” Levinson said. “That’s entirely legal but a lot of people can view this as a loophole around contribution limits.”

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That’s because where as donors to the mayor’s fund can give whatever they want, actual campaign contributions to the mayor or any elected official have strict limits.

And we found some of the donors to the fund do business with the city.

That’s perfectly legal, but can donating to the fund put a donor in good graces?

“It allows for people to give big donations, essentially you’re saying, ‘I hope you remember me and hope you remember me fondly when there’s an issue that comes up’,” Levinson said.

But Robb says the fund operates independently of the city and whatever motivation donors have to give has nothing to do with the charity.

“We have no role in any business that they do,” he said. “Our only interactions are charitable. If they have business discussions those are with other people.”

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Those discussions are hard to track. But the fund is here to stay: modeled after New York City, it’s now being copied in other cities across the country.

David Goldstein