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Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
May 24, 2005
by Jason Newell, Staff Writer
Law not issue in Claremont;
City's campaign finance measure has been enforcedCLAREMONT, CA -- When Claremont voters approved one of the nation's strictest campaign finance laws in 2001, city leaders argued its anti-corruption measures went too far and questioned whether it should be enforced at all.
Four years later, the California Supreme Court has refused to hear concerns about similar laws approved by voters in two other cities, forcing Pasadena and Santa Monica to begin cracking down on those who violate their tough restrictions.
But the rulings will have little impact on Claremont, which has already implemented the law -- even if the city's questions about its constitutionality remain, said City Attorney Sonia Carvalho.
''We have included it in our municipal code. It is law in the city of Claremont, and we are enforcing it on a case-by-case basis,'' Carvalho said.
Passed by 55 percent of Claremont voters in 2001, Measure A essentially attempts to keep city officials from using their offices for personal gain, proponents say.
Under the law -- also called the Taxpayer Protection Act -- council and commission members can't take jobs, campaign money or gifts valued at more than $50 from anyone they've voted to give certain city business or benefits to while in office. The ban on gift-taking lasts for either five years if an official remains in office or until one year after the official leaves office -- whichever comes first.
Opponents of the law counter that it's illegal and invalid because it violates the First Amendment rights of donors and city officials.
Officials in Santa Monica and Pasadena have been battling their versions of the law in court since voters approved them in 2000 and 2001, respectively. San Francisco, the only other city where voters approved putting the law on the books, implemented the policy after its passage in 2000.
A state appeals court struck down the challenges from Santa Monica and Pasadena in January for procedural reasons but stopped short of weighing in on whether the laws pass constitutional muster.
After the state Supreme Court refused to hear the cities' appeals in April, the appeals court decision became final May 12.
While Claremont isn't directly impacted by the ruling, some argue the city has remained too hesitant in its enforcement of the law.
''(Claremont) has kind of taken the position that we'll tell everybody that this is the law, but we don't like it so we're not going to enforce it,'' said Carmen Balber, consumer advocate for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which sponsored the measures.
Others have complained about a city policy that states it will defend any city officials accused of breaking the anti-corruption law -- which essentially takes the sting out of breaking the law.
''What they were basically doing was saying you can violate this as much as you want and the city will pay for your defense and your fines,'' said Dean McHenry, a proponent of Measure A.
Politicians who break the Claremont law can be fined up to five times the value of the gift or donation.
The city wanted to be sure that the constitutionality of the law is decided by a court, which is why it is willing to pay the cost of litigation, Carvalho said.
Carvalho said Claremont has taken a number of steps to comply with the law. The city notifies contractors who do work in the city of the rules. It also makes the restrictions clear to candidates for city office, she said.
And while city officials don't actively search for violations, the city will enforce the law if community members point out an instance where someone has broken the rules.
''It's like code enforcement,'' she said. ''Much of it is complaint-based. When we receive complaints, we look into it.''
Thus far, no complaints have been received, she said.
Jason Newell can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (909) 483-9338.
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