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Pasadena Star News
Nov 22, 2000

by Elizabeth Lee

Council opposes initiative

PASADENA -- Ralph Nader may get a taste of his own medicine in the March 6 Pasadena election, if the City Council writes a counter-measure to compete with his initiative on campaign finance reform.

Nader's nonpartisan political group, The Oaks Project, is sponsoring the "Taxpayer Protection Amendment of 2000" on the March ballot in Pasadena.

The initiative would bar city officials from accepting gifts, jobs or campaign donations from people to whom they have awarded city contracts and other benefits.

Council members have not warmed to the proposal.

"This is illegal, and it's going to be invalidated by the courts, I'm sure," Councilman Steve Madison said at Monday's meeting, after hearing a consultant say it could be unconstitutional. "I'd just rather not see our community go through all that."

The council is mulling writing its own campaign finance initiative to run side-by-side with the proposal by the Oaks Project. Even if both measures passed, the council's would override its competitor, if it got more votes.

Oaks Project Director Paul Herzog said a countermeasure would simply be an attempt to trick the voters.

"They know that when voters don't know enough, they'll vote against both" measures, Herzog said. "It's a waste of taxpayer money and it shows why we need the initiative."

Currently, there are virtually no contribution limits for City Council or mayoral elections in Pasadena. While state voters passed Proposition 208 in 1996, imposing a $250 individual contribution limit for local races, the initiative got held up in court.

On Nov. 7, California voters repealed much of 208 when they approved a new campaign finance measure, Proposition 34.

The state regulates the acceptance of gifts for city officials, but it does not restrict the ability of former city officials to accept jobs, according to the city of Vista, which waged a similar battle against the Oaks Project initiative.

If the council decides to go head-to-head with the Oaks Project on the March ballot, it may bring forth a campaign finance ordinance it considered in 1998. The council put that proposal aside pending the outcome of 208 litigation.

An ad-hoc council committee including Madison, Chris Holden and Paul Little will meet next week to discuss putting that or a similar measure on the ballot.

The "Taxpayer Protection Amendment" feeds on cynicism toward public officials, according to Little, who said he heard signature-gatherers lambasting "dishonest politicians" to customers at the local supermarket this summer -- while he was helping his daughter's Girl Scout troop sell cookies.

"There's a whole lot of things that bother me about your initiative," Little told supporters Monday night.

He challenged them to name examples of Pasadena city officials selling out the taxpayers for personal gain. "Give me an example where someone actually did something that this initiative would stop," he said.

An Oaks Project volunteer said he couldn't name any, but that wasn't the point.

"When I was talking to Pasadena voters, a good portion of them said, 'Those politicians, they should all be shot,"' said Jim Frinier, a Glendale resident. "They said that because they have a perception, whether you consider it valid or invalid . . . (and) that does have an impact on things like voter turnout and citizen participation."

Similar initiatives sponsored by the Santa Monica-based Oaks Project passed in Santa Monica and San Francisco in the Nov. 7 election.

The measure also passed in the city of Vista -- but was superseded by a competing measure written by the Vista City Council, which passed with more votes.

The city of Vista is continuing to pursue a lawsuit against the Oaks Project initiative, according to Little. The city of Pasadena has filed a brief in the case asking for a ruling on the measure's constitutionality, Herzog said.

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