File this story in the “only in L.A.” section. Every Angeleno knows that there are certain institutions you mess with at your peril: Disneyland. Griffith Park. Fry’s. The Rose Bowl Flea Market. The Lakers (yes, even still). And of course, In-N-Out Burger. A “slate” of candidates in the conflicted Mar Vista Neighborhood Council elections learned that lesson the hard way this weekend. They had tried to pull a fast one on the iconic L.A. chain by hiring its Cookout Truck to serve free burgers to people after they voted on Sunday. Problem was, they apparently lied to the company about the nature of the event, failing to disclose the fact that the truck would be showing up at a local election polling place.
The slate even printed up glossy full color flyers featuring the In-N-Out logo alongside members of the slate, which is what pushed the situation from dubious to unethical.
You see, there were 26 people running for seats in the election, but the flyers only featured seven of them. The flyers thus made it clear that those seven candidates were responsible for the free burgers, which fact comes uncomfortably close to a suggestion of purchasing votes. Or at the very least, winking and nodding about the situation.
It would have been one thing if the entire Neighborhood Council voted to spend council funds to hire the truck as an incentive for people to come out and vote, or if all 26 candidates had pitched in and gotten their pictures on the flyers. It’s quite something else when a unified slate of insurgent candidates spends their own money and selectively places their own images alongside a supremely valuable corporate logo.
Numerous members of the community as well as the media reached out to In-N-Out’s corporate counsel. While the company did not provide specifics, assistant general counsel Allen McNamee told The All Aspect Report that the individual who signed the contract had failed to disclose it was for a political event:
With respect to the Mar Vista election, In-N-Out did not approve the ad circulated for the June 2 event. At the time of booking, we were not aware that the event was related to a political campaign as it was booked by an individual. In addition, our Cookout Agreement requires that our corporate office approve all promotional materials displaying our logo prior to use. When the ad was brought to our attention, we contacted the person who leased our cookout truck and demanded that our name and logo be removed from all advertisements and social media. We have been informed that our name and logo have been removed.
In-N-Out appears to be both the victim and the good guy here. Ultimately the company pulled out of the event altogether, perhaps realizing they had a potential PR nightmare on their hands. At 6:33 on Friday night Mr. McNamee confirmed to The All Aspect Report that the truck would not appear at the polling place. Sure enough, the Cookout Truck wasn’t within a country mile of the polling place on Sunday.
It bears repeating: Do. Not. Mess. With In-N-Out.
The situation raises several troubling questions. Who paid the $500 deposit for the truck, as required by In-N-Out’s contract? Who was prepared to spend $1,700 to rent the truck for one and a half hours, as well as the cost of the food? What did the individual tell In-N-Out about the event? Did they represent it was a private function, rather than an election? If so, the individual is guilty of fraud.
[Update 6/4/19: According to multiple community members the individual who paid the deposit is a current member of the Mar Vista Neighborhood Council. If confirmed this situation would raise serious additional ethical questions. Stay tuned to The All Aspect Report for updates.]
By the way, the slate, who call themselves Mar Vista Makes Waves, reportedly have received active support from members of Councilman Mike Bonin’s staff. It is understood throughout CD11 that they are his preferred candidates to replace long-serving community leaders and turn the council into a rubber stamp chamber. This kind of meddling by council members in NC elections has become a recurring theme throughout L.A. It’s another chapter in the sad, spiraling tale of corruption that has become the defining theme of the Garcetti Era.
After In-N-Out withdrew due to the contractual violations and outright deceit, the Makes Waves folks scrambled to save face. When the polls opened Sunday morning at the Mar Vista Recreation Center two taco trucks appeared on the far side of the park. Makes Waves candidates and volunteers gamely pointed voters in the general direction of the decidedly sub-par substitutes.
But at least the tacos were free.
Also, the Makes Waves folks are true Bonin disciples, as they didn’t seem to mind the half-naked addict shooting up just a few feet away from where they were campaigning.
As CityWatch’s Ken Alpern reported Friday, when apprised of the situation the City Clerk’s office concluded everything was just fine. Nothing to see here, folks. Just a select slate of candidates paying for the Cookout Truck and a ton of free burgers. Not unethical, not at all.
In-N-Out is more ethical than the City of Los Angeles. Is anyone surprised at this point?
Go to In-N-Out this week and buy a meal to express your gratitude.
[Update 6/3/19: According to sources in the community the L.A. City Attorney’s office called In-N-Out to demand the company cancel the contract as a violation of city law as well as the Neighborhood Council charter. A lawyer in the City Attorney’s office declined to comment, citing attorney client privilege. Stay tuned to The All Aspect Report for further developments.]
This brazen attempt to influence voters in a local election backfired spectacularly. Turns out it’s bad politics to use a company’s valuable logo without permission and in violation of a contract you signed.
In-N-Out taught them a lesson, animal style.