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Valley Perspective

Speak Up for Disclosure

October 29, 2000

The Los Angeles Ethics Committee is right to urge the Local Agency Formation Commission to adopt tough financial disclosure requirements for those involved in the San Fernando Valley and Harbor area secession drives.

LAFCO up to now has demurred, saying it was not sure that it had the authority. But a bill sponsored by Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) and recently signed by Gov. Gray Davis settles that question. It authorizes LAFCO to require disclosure of contributions and expenditures made in support of or opposition to a proposal.

What the bill doesn't settle is whether LAFCO should require disclosure.

That is because clarifying the commission's authority on this question was only a small part of a massive overhaul of the Cortese-Knox Local Governmental Reorganization Act, which set up California's 57 LAFCOs. (There is one for every county except San Francisco, where the city and county are the same.)

The commissions usually oversee small-time boundary changes, including those proposed by school districts, and crafters of the overhaul were wary of passing a one-size-fits-all disclosure policy with complicated reporting procedures even for minor changes.

Breaking up the nation's second-largest city would not exactly be a minor change. A better way to address this exceptional case, one that is clearly a political campaign with potentially enormous consequences, would have been a carefully crafted bill that specifically addressed large secession efforts. But that will have to be left to a future Legislature.

The law as it stands now only requires LAFCO to hold a public hearing on disclosure, which LAFCO Executive Director Larry Calemine says will likely take place early next year.

Now that LAFCO knows it can mandate disclosure, however, some members are starting to voice hesitation about doing so. One trotted out the fear-of-retaliation excuse long used by the secessionist group Valley VOTE for keeping the names of its financial backers secret. Those backers needn't fear death squads; a disclosure law adopted now would not be retroactive.

Valley VOTE has only a loophole in California campaign disclosure laws to thank for what is obviously a political campaign not being covered by campaign disclosure laws. That loophole was only partly closed by the recently passed legislation. This is why the Ethics Commission and other believers in the public's right to this critical information must make their voices heard.

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