WeHo Council Approves Electronic Campaign Filing but Lags on Other Ethics Measures

Candidates for local elections will have to file required documents, including campaign contribution reports, electronically from now on.

The West Hollywood City Council last night adopted a proposal by the city’s Ethics Task Force to require electronic filing so that residents have greater access to election campaign information. To date, candidates and campaign contribution committees have filed paper forms that are retrievable as PDF documents from the city’s website. The new system will allow the information to be downloaded from the city’s website as data files for greater analysis of donations. WEHOville in past elections has had to send the hundreds of pages of PDF documents overseas where then can be transcribed into a searchable database that allows for analysis of the donors and their interests.

Campaign ethics illustrationElectronic filing was one of a number of reforms recommended by the task force in a presentation to the City Council last November. The council then asked city staff members to put together specific proposals for implementing each of the four segments of the task force recommendations and to bring them back for debate over the next six months.

Campaign contributions to City Council incumbents have overwhelmingly come from developers based outside West Hollywood who need the council’s approval for projects and from contractors and vendors who do business with the city. The proposal by Councilmembers John D’Amico and Lindsey Horvath in 2015 to create the Ethics Task Force was seen as a major step in dealing with public perceptions that the council is influenced by major contributors. Despite that, the electronic filing proposal is one of only three that the council has approved since the presentation nine months ago.

The council also has agreed that 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.

The council hasn’t taken up proposals such as a proposed increase in the limit on the amount an individual can contribute to a candidate’s political campaign. That limit has long been $500. 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 at an April meeting couldn’t agree to move forward on a 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.

City records show that former Councilmember Abbe Land is the only person in recent years to file such behest statements. Land is the CEO of the Trevor Project and former co-CEO of the Saban Free Clinic, both non-profit organizations.  City contractors such as Athens Services have made major contributions to the Gay Men’s Chorus, on whose board Councilmember John Duran sits.

The council also hasn’t considered a proposal to ban city contractors from contributing to the campaigns of its members.

Joe Guardarrama, a member of the task force, spoke at last night’s council meeting, reminding its members that the March 2017 election is only seven months away.