What a disappointment. One Los Angeles, a new group formed to fight San Fernando Valley secession, is following the example of its nemesis in keeping its donor list secret. The secession group Valley VOTE for years has refused to disclose who funds its Valley cityhood campaign. Both groups cite fear of retribution to excuse keeping the public in the dark about who is bankrolling the battle of Los Angeles.
Never mind the question of what happened to the courage of one's convictions. The public has a right to know who is behind these campaigns and who stands to gain, a tenet of political reform laws for years.
Disclosure also reveals potential conflicts of interest. Take Larry J. Calemine, the executive officer of the government agency that will decide whether the secession application qualifies for the ballot. Calemine is also a board member of a Valley political action committee that gave $6,000 to Valley VOTE.
Calemine says he had nothing to do with the donation and insists he is neutral on secession, no small matter given his key role in drafting terms for a possible city breakup. L.A. residents will want to weigh this information against Calemine's history as a co-founder of an earlier secession movement. Yet the 1999 contribution came to light only now, after Times reporter Michael Finnegan used the state Public Records Act to request files from the Local Agency Formation Commission. Despite this obvious appearance of conflict, Henri Pellissier, the retired Whittier school board member who chairs the partly elected, partly appointed commission, says he sees no reason to remove Calemine. The commission has also deflected criticism of Calemine's after-hours lobbying for Valley developers.
State disclosure laws apply only once secession is on the ballot, despite the substantial funds raised and spent to get that far. The state Legislature last year gave the commission the authority to require disclosure earlier. That it has not done so is indefensible.
In the absence of a rule, One Los Angeles has a better example to follow. L.A. United, another anti-secession group, led by Mayor James K. Hahn, has promised to disclose all donations and expenditures. That's a far more satisfying way to do such public business.