Citizens Agenda: Should the City Council Limit Donations from Developers?

During every West Hollywood City Council election campaign, WEHOville invites the residents of West Hollywood to write us and note the issues that matter to them, the issues they want their candidates for City Council to focus on.

Today we are publishing the sixth in  a series of questions from the Citizens Agenda and answers to them from incumbent candidates and challengers.  New questions and responses will be published each Monday. Noted below are those candidates who have not responded questions from the citizens of West Hollywood.

6) The vast 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:

a) 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?

b) Recuse yourself, if elected, from debating or voting on issues before the council involving city vendors who have donated to your election campaign or to charitable organizations and institutions where you work or on whose board of directors you sit ?

Previously published questions, and answers, can be found here,  here,  here and here

John D’Amico

a) I am willing to work within the constraints that are set for all council candidates. Lowering limits, restricting donor opportunities, whatever the constraint(s) might be. Raising money for campaigns is not easy, and it takes valuable time away from meeting and talking to voters, talking to voters is the most important work of any campaign. Certainly the most important work of my campaigns. Restricting campaign contributions and contributors can possibly level the playing field for candidates, but campaigns use that money to get out the candidate’s message(s). So without campaign funds candidate messaging is limited.

John D’Amico

And it does NOTHING to stop other interested parties from paying to send out mailers and make phone calls to help the candidates of their choice. These Independent Expenditures are quite legal and continue to be the second set of information provided to voters. And those Independent Expenditure funds are not limited to developers, they can include residents, resident groups, unions, trade associations etc. And they are not limited in any way, no financial limit. So we risk driving the candidate’s ability to get out messages down while driving up the Independent Expenditure campaign efforts. I know I would rather control the messaging about my campaign.

And, I think the bigger question is … Do you trust the candidate to act independently? It may be the donors that fund the mail and the phone calls, but it is the voters who vote candidates in and out of office. Voters who do not trust candidates to act independently do not have a difficult choice to make.

As a Council member, I have for over five years disclosed who my donations have come from prior to voting on every agenda item. That includes donations from developers, trade associations and even other residents as a method of providing extra transparency and comparison for how money in politics does not influence my decision making. I am the only Council member that has done that consistently, especially for development entitlement votes, many of which I voted “NO” on. Campaign donations have never influenced a decision of mine since joining the City Council, and they never will.

b) Yes. I am happy to join my colleagues, if re-elected, in recusing myself in such situations. And with respect to non-profits and boards of directors, I do think that there is good reason to have Council members recuse themselves if funds are involved, even though there might not be a direct financial gain. Basically, in both cases I think there should be as high a standard as possible so that the focus is on the city’s business.

Jack Cline

No response.

Tom Demille

Just that loaded question speaks for itself.

Tom DeMille
Tom Demille

Why on God’s earth would you raise upwards of $500,000 for a job that really does not pay too much.T hats why they call it public service, not self service like it’s been for years. Even when we limit it to $500. They gather everyone who they know and bundle hundreds of thousands.

How does that affect our city? Well they sell the voters out?

If elected I intend to put a stop to “pay to play” and start listening to the people who elect me, not the people who want to line my pockets.

Brendan Hood

a) Yes

b) Yes

Lindsey Horvath

Lindsey Horvath
Lindsey Horvath

a) The short answer is yes. West Hollywood currently maintains a $500 limit for personal and corporate contributions — records of those contributions are publicly available but there are opportunities to improve upon our campaign financing and transparency. In my time on the Council, I am proud to have reformed and strengthened our campaign finance laws and established an ethics task force to oversee the actions of elected and appointed officials. We also took action to require more stringent reporting laws than the state with regard to behested payments. Recently, I reached out to our City Attorney to inquire about additional reforms to campaign finance, including methods to eliminate developer donations from the political process. Los Angeles has been considering such a practice, and I want to explore any and all opportunities to improve our campaign financing system here in West Hollywood. While this option might have challenges in the courts, I am dedicated to exploring all options to make our campaigns and government as transparent and equitable as possible.

Another reality we are all dealing with is the influx of dark money and independent expenditures. These expenditures and PACs have the opportunity to collect unlimited donations and spread messages that many voters mistakenly believe are coming directly from a candidate. We should work to overturn Citizens United and help restore transparency, fairness, and integrity to our elections.

b) A complicated reality of running for public office is that a broad coalition of donor support is necessary to ensure your message is heard by the voters. West Hollywood’s City Attorney has advised that precluding contributions from select groups or categories of donors could violate the Constitution. I have made it a habit of publicly disclosing all contributions to my campaign as well as to any non-profit organizations and projects with which I have volunteered, as required by the city’s newly revised ethics laws. I’d like to see this practiced regularly, by all members of the Council.

Directly to the question, in the past, I abstained from voting on a contract for an individual seeking employment with the city who also worked on a non-profit project with which I had direct involvement and for which had raised money. While the City Attorney advised I did not need to, I chose to abstain out of an abundance of caution and to avoid perceptions of impropriety. I will continue to work closely with our City Attorney to ensure I am adhering to all ethics and FPPC laws, and to operate with the city’s best interests as my priority. These types of practices are essential to building and maintaining public trust.

James Duke Mason

James Duke Mason

a) Ideally a campaign would be fully funded by the community exclusively through small grassroots donors. I am proud to have a strong base of grassroots enthusiasm for my campaign. However, West Hollywood is an international destination with lots of different kinds of stakeholders, including developers. These businesses, large and small, play a vital role in shaping our community. Accountability and transparency in donations, which is already established through publicly available campaign finance reports, help us maintain a balance between business interests and our community. Greater engagement by voters and members of our community is the strongest check to ensure ethical conduct in our government.

b) Transparency, accountability and integrity are incredibly important to me as a candidate, and they will be if I’m elected to the Council. I resigned from the board of the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation, as much as I would’ve loved to stay, as soon as I announced that I was running for City Council. I would’ve loved to remain officially involved with such a fantastic organization, but given that it receives funding and often has projects that come up for approval by the Council, I felt it was the right thing to do.

Lauren Meister

a) I am not accepting (and yes, I’ve been offered) money from big developers who have business before our city.

Lauren Meister

I was a member of the Campaign Finance Task Force that recommended lowering the campaign contribution maximum to $500 from $1,000 per person/entity. The task force also discussed the reality of developer “bundling.” Unfortunately I was in the minority regarding limitations.

b) I am not a member of any board of directors and I have my own business.

However, if I were on a board of directors or worked for a charitable organization, I would recuse myself from voting on any issues pertaining to that organization.

Regarding city vendors, I am supportive of eliminating any campaign contributions from vendors with city contracts if it is legal to do so.

Shawn Davis Mooney

No response.

Eric Jon Schmidt

No response.

Sepi Shyne

a) From the beginning of my campaign, I have pledged to refuse all contributions from developers, fossil fuel companies, tobacco companies, and private prison companies. My pledge extends to contributions from affiliated PACs, executives, family members, lawyers, and lobbyists, etc. I believe that public servants are elected to serve the public, not whichever powerful special interest has the deepest pockets.

Sepi Shyne

b) Yes. Leadership means doing the right thing regardless of when, where, or who you are. As a queer immigrant woman, I know what it feels like to be ignored and discounted by my government. That’s why I’ve always believed very deeply that public servants must uphold the highest standards with an impervious ethical foundation. When you cast your vote for me, you can rest easy knowing you’re casting a vote for you. I’m not running to be your voice. I’m running to amplify your voice. This is our city, and our elected officials should work for us, not powerful donors.

Marquita Thomas

Marquita Thomas

a) Like all candidates, my campaign is subject to the city’s contribution limit of $500 per person or business entity. I will follow the City Attorney’s advice on when it is necessary to recuse myself from any votes.

b) The bigger issue in West Hollywood politics is not candidate contributions—which are disclosed and public—but Super PAC independent expenditure campaigns, where one individual or a group of developers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to support their chosen candidate without any limits or accountability. That does not feel democratic to me.

  1. IANAL, but certainly discriminating against one group’s donations (developers) certainly sounds unconstitutional.

    What are you gonna do?

  2. Here’s a wild and crazy idea . . . have the City of WeHo fund the campaign of each candidate for a set and equal amount, and eliminate all other contributions and expenditures, whether by individuals, businesses, or Super PACs. The amount should be adequate to allow for the types of grassroots campaign efforts . . . some door hangers or brochures, some lawn signs, some phone banking . . . that should be all that is necessary in our urban village. Goodness knows we have the money laying around just waiting for a rainy day.

    1. I am 100% against Campaign donations. But if they are to be, then they should be limited to individual residents with an amount limit. Council Members who receive donations should recuse themselves if a Resident has business before the Council

  3. Lindsay Horvath took thousands of dollars from the New York backed Townscape developers.

    These are the guys who proposed a separate entrance for subsidized housing tenants in connection with their former ICM building on Beverly Boulevard. They also forced gay & minority businesses into bankruptcy located at their controversial 8150 Sunset Blvd project.

    John Duran and John Heilman introduced Horvath to these developers so the two “Johns” would have the three “pay for play” votes needed for Townscape.

    Then Duran and Heilman did for the same thing for John D’Amico. He took political contributions from a development company where one of the principal people are facing 10 years in prison for corruption charges by the Department of Justice for bribing politicians.

    Duke Mason is probably the only candidate who could finance his campaign with little problem and not have to beg handouts from developers. He is charming, works well with people, bright, educated, served as a page in Congress and would give a young sophisticated face to a city council with an average age of 50 plus.

    Mason does comes from wealth, his grandfather was James Mason, a major film star who was born into a family that owed the largest textile company in the world. His mother and father have been very successful in the entertainment industry but their combined worth is less than Democrat Senators Diane Feinstein ($58 million) or Mark Warner ($91 million). So for West Hollywood Democrats to throw accusations at Mason for being a spoiled rich kid is absurd. Joseph P. Kennedy III, another Democrat with inherited wealth close to $60 million could have gone into business but instead went into public service. Mason, too, Could easily have gone into the entertainment business but appears to be headed for public service.

    Lauren Meister is the only member of the City Council who is not owned by developers. She has my vote and so does Mason. Along with one of the other candidates who is not going to be beholden to developers.

    Also, it is time for more candidates to ask John Duran, the developer’s Mayor, to resign!

  4. As for developers, looking at Mayor John Duran and his relationship with the Gay Men’s Choir of Los Angeles regarding getting “pay for play” contributions, why did only one developer give money to the GMCLA?

    Ironically, we can label every other developer who did not contribute to the choir anti-Gay, since I’m sure Duran made an attempt to get them to contribute.

    I propose that a campaign be initiated by GMCLA and WEHO friends – I’m one – to label these non donating developers anti-gay and the council candidates who admit in the above article to taking contributions #antimeeroo!!!

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