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home / citizen / in the media

Los Angeles Times
Oct 31, 2000

by Gina Piccalo

Plan Seeks To Prevent Conflicts of Interest

Measure LL in Santa Monica Would Prohibit Officials from Accepting Gifts, Money or Jobs from Those Who Benefit From Their Votes.
Voters in Santa Monica and two other California cities will consider a citizen-led ballot measure next week that supporters say would level the playing field of local politics by barring elected officials from accepting gifts, money or jobs from developers, contractors or others who have benefited from their votes.

But many city officials have lambasted the initiative, listed on Santa Monica's Nov. 7 ballot as Measure LL, as unconstitutional and too broad, and they have threatened to block its enactment with lawsuits.

The "Taxpayer Protection Amendment of 2000" is championed by the Ralph Nader-led Oaks Project. It also faces voters next week in San Francisco and Vista in San Diego County. Pasadena and Claremont vote on it in March.

City officials, including one Santa Monica council member who belongs to Nader's own Green Party, say the measure is an ineffective way to stop conflicts of interest and restricts the constitutional rights of the public to participate in the electoral process.

Supporters bristle at those claims, saying their aim is to make government more accessible by removing the influence of money from local politics.

"The reason why our democracy is in the difficult shape it's in now is because the public can't be heard," said Harvey Rosenfield, president of the Nader umbrella organization that sponsors the Oaks Project. "It's giving people the tools they need to participate."

The initiative plan, which differs slightly from city to city, would work like this: If an elected official grants a contract, zoning change or special benefit worth more than $ 50,000 in Santa Monica or San Francisco or more than $ 25,000 in any of the three smaller cities, that official would be barred from accepting gifts, jobs or
contributions from the beneficiary.

In San Francisco and Santa Monica, the prohibition on gifts and contributions would last six years after the elected official leaves office; it would last five years in other cities.

The prohibition on jobs would last two years after they leave office in Santa Monica and San Francisco and one year in other cities.

Penalties would include paying as much as five times the value of the contribution to the city's general fund and possible disqualification from holding future public office.

Santa Monica officials say Measure LL creates suspicion where none is warranted. Members of the Oaks staff acknowledge that they have found no current abuses in Santa Monica politics that prove the need for such a measure.

"I assume the Oaks want to develop a reputation as champions of campaign finance reform," Santa Monica Councilman Richard Bloom said. "Unfortunately, this measure does not effectuate reforms that would measurably improve anything in Santa Monica."

Oaks staff members say the idea is to stop the abuses before they happen.

"This is not intended to be a finger-pointing initiative but a preventive petition," Oaks Project director Paul Herzog said.

Of the cities the Oaks Project targeted for the initiative, four have opposed it.

Vista city attorneys filed a preelection suit against the Oaks Project and won. In his September ruling, San Diego Superior Court Judge David B. Moon called the measure "illegal, invalid and void, and not a proper legal subject matter for the initiative process."

An appeals court judge stayed Moon's ruling until after the election, meaning the measure stays on the November ballot.

After that Vista court battle, Claremont officials held off from filing a preelection suit.

Irvine's City Council threatened to sue the Oaks Project weeks before the signatures were gathered to qualify the measure. Ultimately, volunteers fell 81 signatures short of qualifying the measure.

In Pasadena, the City Council postponed a vote on the measure until March by demanding a 30-day legal and economic study of it.

In contrast, in San Francisco, the measure has received broad bipartisan support and no argument opposing the measure will appear on the ballot.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Tom Ammiano said San Francisco residents are still wounded that a federal court struck down as unconstitutional Proposition 208, which passed in 1996 and would have set statewide limits on individual contributions to legislative races an statewide candidates.

"The idea that local politics needs to be cleaned up has taken hold," he said.


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