The West Hollywood City Council, which appointed an Ethics Task Force a year ago, last night approved two of its recommended political campaign reform measures but couldn’t reach a consensus on three others.
Henceforth, any independent campaign expenditure committee will have to identify its top three donors on campaign materials such as mailings and signs. Such committees are formed to back particular candidates but by law are not permitted to coordinate with the candidate they back. The Council also banned appointed and elected officials from receiving gifts from anyone with business before the city. Such gifts must be handed over to the city manager, who may raffle them off and put the proceeds in the city’s General Fund.
But the Council couldn’t reach a decision a proposed increase in the limit on the amount an individual can contribution to a candidate’s political campaign. That limit has long been $500. The task force recommended increasing it to $550 with another $50 increase very 10 years. Council members spent a long time batting around options including a $1,000 limit before deciding to leave the limit as it is.
The Council also decided to postpone consideration of a proposal that would require lobbyists who spend more than $5,000 a quarter lobbying city officials to file a quarterly report.
And the Council couldn’t agree to move forward on a more important proposal that would require its members to publicly report gifts made to a charity at the council member’s request. State law currently requires filing with the state such “behest” statements if a politician solicits a gift of $5,000 or more. The task force recommended that the threshold be lowered to $1,000 and that the behest statement be filed with the city clerk. The
City records show that former Councilmember Abbe Land, former co-CEO of the Saban Free Clinic and now CEO of the Trevor Project, is the only council member who has filed such statements in recent years. Over the years lobbyists and developers and city vendors have made substantial donations to non-profit organizations supported by council members.
For example, Athens Services, the city’s trash pickup vendor, spent over $10,000 to sponsor an event by the Gay Men’s Chorus, an organization for which Councilmember John Duran serves as chairman. Athens and members of the Arakelian family, which owns the company, contributed $44,000 to Duran’s last election campaign. In 2014 the Council voted unanimously to extend Athens’ contract to pick up trash from city homes and businesses for 15 years, without soliciting competing bids. City staffers estimated the extension was worth $150 million to Athens.
Another major recipient of money from developers and lobbyists is the West Hollywood Library Foundation, now closed, which had raised $7.3 million in donations by the time the new library building opened in 2011. The new library was a favorite project of former Councilmember Paul Koretz and current member John Heilman. It has on its facade plaques acknowledging donations of thousands of dollars to the library fund from groups such as Latham & Watkins, the law firm that represents several major developers before the City Council, and Arman Gabay, the real estate developer, who contributed $500,000 to the foundation. A majority of the foundation’s board consisted of lawyers and lobbyists for developers who did not live in West Hollywood.
Duran objected to the behest proposal, arguing that it would be difficult for a council member to comply with. ” I think this applies mostly to me because I sit on three different boards ..,” he said. “I guess I could figure out how to do it, but often I don’t know when charities receive contributions … I am not sure what … is achieved by knowing that six or seven people donated $1,000.”
Councilmember John D’Amico supported the behest proposal. In fact, he said, “”We should be prohibited from asking for donations from city contractors or property owners with matters pending before the city… ” Such a prohibition, however, would not be possible because of court interpretations of campaign finance laws.
Councilmember Heilman said he also supported the behest proposal but o questioned its usefulness given that there already is a state behest requirement, albeit at a higher donation level. Heilman said he is president of a charity that doesn’t do business with WeHo and for which he makes a pitch for contributions at an annual dinner. But, he said, he doesn’t know who there actually contributes.
Councilmember Lauren Meister noted that the city used to bar council members from serving on boards of charity or non-profit organizations and suggested that might be considered.
Mayor Lindsey Horvath asked that the Council get more information about the behest requirements so that it can make a future decision on the matter.
Members of the Ethics Task Force were Bob Stern, past president of the Center for Governmental Studies and co-author of the state’s Political Reform Act of 1974; Elizabeth Ralston, past president of the Los Angeles League of Women Voters, and Joe Guardarrama, a lawyer whose practice is focused on government