Citizens Agenda: June WeHo Council Candidates on Campaign Contributions

June-Election-Candidates

In early December, WEHOville asked West Hollywood residents what issues they wanted candidates in the upcoming City Council election to address. We received hundreds of responses and boiled them down to 13 key issues. We have asked each of the four candidates in the June 2 special City Council election to offer his or her positions on these issues. On each Monday through May 4 we will publish one or two of the questions and the candidates’ responses. On March 23, candidates addressed traffic issues. On March 30 candidates answered questions about parking. On April 6 they talked about pedestrian safety issues and the City Council deputy system. Today candidates discuss historic preservation and development issues, the fate of Plummer Park and the disparity between housing costs and income on the city’s Eastside. And on April 13 the candidates answered questions about historic preservation and development.

The majority of the money that funds City Council campaigns traditionally comes from out-of-town developers, billboard companies and city vendors. As a candidate, and later as a Council member, will you:

1.) Publicly set a limit on the amount of money you will take from any specific developer or billboard company, including in that limit money from members of that donor’s immediate family, co-workers, lawyers and lobbyists?

LARRY BLOCK

I would like to reform the whole system of financing our local elections. Stop the revolving door. Eliminate the influence of lobbyists by not allowing candidates to accept donations from lobbyists and city contractors. And set verified limit donations for any corporation, lawyers office or family to, say, $1,000 per entity. That means going back and raising the amount any single individual can give to the previous amount of $1,000. The City Council previously voted to limit individual donations to $500 while they did nothing to change the flow of dollars from contractors and lobbyists. This gives incumbents a large money advantage. It’s time to level the playing field.

COLE ETTMAN

Yes. Until the residents of this City can regain control of the development process from developers, the City Council must enact a five-year ban on contributions from developers who are seeking approvals from the City.

JOHN HEILMAN

There is already a limit on how much money individuals or entities can donate to City Council races: $500.

HEIDI SHINK

The current limit for individual campaign donations is $500, which is actually half of what the limit used to be. I am supportive of these smaller campaign contribution limits, as they help ensure that no one individual can have such influence over the financial health of a campaign that it would “buy” someone’s vote. I have not taken any money from developers, and I will continue to raise my campaign funds from private individuals whose interest in this election is not another new apartment or condo structure, but rather, that West Hollywood finally gets a citizen-run Council instead of a developer-run one.

2.) Refuse to accept donations from a developer or billboard company that works around the campaign donation limit by donating to a so-called “independent campaign fund” that supports your candidacy?

LARRY BLOCK

If we raise the amount any individual can donate we can eliminate these independent campaign funds that favor a special interest.

COLE ETTMAN

Yes, I will.

JOHN HEILMAN

The easy answer to this question is “yes.” The problem with the question is that often times a candidate does not know who is donating to an independent expenditure campaign until after the election. How can a candidate refuse to accept donations from a person who contributes to an independent expenditure campaign when the candidate doesn’t know who those individuals are until very late or after the election. In addition, the question assumes that only developers and billboard companies run independent expenditure campaigns. There are individual residents who have created independent expenditure campaigns. There are environmental groups who have independent expenditure campaigns as well as business organizations.

HEIDI SHINK

The question references independent expenditure committees (“I.E.s”), which by law cannot coordinate in any way with a campaign, and that includes not donating to a campaign. An I.E. can only work independently on behalf of (or against) a candidate, proposition, ballot measure, etc. That being said, I have not taken any developer money, whether they have given to any I.E.s or not. If elected, I will include campaign finance reform as part of a larger reform package to address this issue and other ethical problems we are currently facing in City Hall.

3.) Recuse yourself, if elected, from debating or voting on issues before the Council involving city vendors who have donated to your election campaign, as is the rule in Santa Monica?

COLE ETTMAN

Yes, I will. I will not solicit any contributions for companies that have business with, or that require approvals from the city.

JOHN HEILMAN

We should explore adopting a policy like the one in Santa Monica.

HEIDI SHINK

Absolutely. I would also propose that if vendors or lobbyists are speaking before Council, Council members should be required to disclose the amount which was donated to their campaign before recusing themselves from the vote. The more transparency there is, the more trust we will build between residents and the Council.

4.) Press city government to require digital filing of campaign donations (now documented on written forms) so that they can more easily be viewed online and can be aggregated into one online database so residents can more easily see who the big donors are?

LARRY BLOCK

Yes, guaranteed item to place on agenda.

COLE ETTMAN

Absolutely. True transparency begins with easy access to campaign information. Residents should be able to see who all campaign contributors are before and during the election, not in paper statement filed months after the voting has occurred. I urge voters to look at what San Francisco has done to provide transparency and accountability. It can be done!

I believe we must go a step further and create laws that limit contributions directly from corporations to council campaign committees as they have done in San Francisco and other cities. While we have to deal with the awful Citizens United Supreme Court decision, if West Hollywood is truly going to be a progressive city, we must establish all lawful regulations to prevent corporate interests from manipulating our city and its elected officials.

JOHN HEILMAN

Digital filing sounds like a good idea except it really works to the disadvantage of candidates who are not well funded who cannot afford to hire a professional treasurer. Campaign disclosure statements are put on line by the City Clerk’s office usually the same day they are filed so all information is readily available to the public.

HEIDI SHINK

Again, I would fully support any and all measures which would increase the amount of information available to the public regarding their elected officials. Digital filing of campaign donations is a common sense campaign finance reform that will build trust between residents and the Council by allowing real-time access to information about who and what interests are funding each candidate.

0 0 vote
Article Rating

22 Comments
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Chris Sanger
Chris Sanger
5 years ago

This is how convuluted things have gotten because of the Supreme Court – Jeb Bush apparently is going to have a bare bones campaign staff relying on contributions maxed out under Federal law, but is having his long time campaign manager run a separate campaign which can get unlimited contributions oversee and run some of the aspects a centralized campaign normally does, including much of the media buying, get out the vote efforts and so on, all under the guise of no direct contact b/w the 2 entities. The Kochs plan to spend $1 billion on various campaigns (they can… Read more »

Randy
Randy
5 years ago

Thank you Hank, I stand corrected. I am a little confused by the question, as you posed it though: “3) Refuse to accept donations from a developer or billboard company that works around the campaign donation limit by donating to a so-called “independent campaign fund” that supports your candidacy?” — Does this mean you are asking the candidate if he or she will refuse to accept a direct donation from the developer if the candidate knows that the developer is also working with an “independent campaign fund?” Assuming the answer is “yes,” the candidate has little to lose when doing… Read more »

Henry (Hank) Scott
Admin
5 years ago
Reply to  Randy

That is what the question means.

Lynn
Lynn
5 years ago

Hank could you please illuminate the Santa Monica Policy? I don’t have it at hand and believe I sent some details to you in the past.

Henry (Hank) Scott
Admin
5 years ago
Reply to  Lynn

It is called the Oaks Initiative

Chris Sanger
Chris Sanger
5 years ago

Thx Hank – that’s what I am referring to. Even if they refuse or (questionably legal) are forbidden to vote on issues from contributors (again legally dubious), by law non-coordinated groups can spend as much as they want. There is nothing the City, let alone posters at WeHoVille, can do about it. Rudolf – I’m not defending the status quo, I just live in a reality based world where facts, not some utopian (and unlikely unworkable) world.

Lynn
Lynn
5 years ago

oops…Rudolf.

Lynn
Lynn
5 years ago

@Rudolph: While you may constru John Heilman’s answers as cynical, they appear to be factual. Facts count, unfortunately, opinions often don’t.

Rudolf Martin
Rudolf Martin
5 years ago

Chris, obviously there are always bad ways to institute good ideas but the principles you call unconstitutional, dubious or naive are actually policy in more progressive cities than ours (like San Francisco) that have found ways to make them work. Why is it naive to suggest implementing ethics policies that actually work in other cities?

I know you are a fervent defender of the status quo on just about any subject and therefore not exactly on the progressive team so let’s just agree to disagree, be friends and give it a rest.

Randy
Randy
5 years ago

Forget about the LEGALITY of it! This was the question: “3) Refuse to accept donations from a developer or billboard company that works around the campaign donation limit by donating to a so-called “independent campaign fund” that supports your candidacy?” In other words, will the candidate REFUSE to accept donations from an “independent campaign fund” (especially when the candidate knows where its coming from)? Its a personal choice, not a change in law, asking that the candidate to refuse the donation. Heilman’s response was that “we often don’t know where the money comes from until after the election.” That is… Read more »

Henry (Hank) Scott
Admin
5 years ago
Reply to  Randy

A candidate cannot refuse to accept a contribution from an independent expenditure committee. By law such committees cannot coordinate their campaign work with a candidate and must remain at arms length.

Chris Sanger
Chris Sanger
5 years ago

Rudolf — your saying it is “highly unlikely” is incredibly naive on your part. If for a minimum amount of contibution a develpor could for a member to not vote on something (and againt a project) of course they’d take advantage of the opportunity. All this is moot of course since yours and other suggestions in the insane current legal world of campaign financing are unconstitutional. And the idea that legislators recuse themselves from voting on issues where they;ve received donations is also incredibly dubious and naive. If a gay activist group contributes to a candidate, should he/she then if… Read more »

Rudolf Martin
Rudolf Martin
5 years ago

Apologies to Larry Block and Cole Ettman. Both have a much better track record on this subject than my narrow and hasty reading of their answers detected. Cole actually started his answer with “Yes, I will”, which I overlooked.

I maintain that John Heilman’s answers are cynical, even more so on second look.

Chris, your scenario (of special interests buying an office so they have to abstain for ethical reasons) is possible in theory but highly unlikely and therefore much preferable to the status quo, where legalized corruption is the norm. Have fun with your drawing board.

Chris Sanger
Chris Sanger
5 years ago

So under Rudolf’s plan <>. – developers could contribute to Lauren Meister’s campaign, and even though she might be opposed to their projects, she’d have to recuse herself.

Oops, back to the drawing board.

Scott T Imler
Scott T Imler
5 years ago

Something in the question, answers, and wandering public consensus around the “independent expenditure” committees and “recusal” that still leaves me vaguely unsettled. Perhaps it’s the congenital fiction of the law itself, First Amendment notwithstanding. But it seems to me, in an electoral world now dominated Franken-citizens United, legally enabling secret / unlimited / uncoordinated / but really not so secret contributions (at least when Henry and bloggers do their jobs) to finance legally uncontrollable / unaccountable / unmentionable good friends, who are otherwise secretly engaged in some of the most deceptive and unhelpful campaigning imaginable on behalf of their donors’… Read more »