The city Ethics Commission staff on Thursday issued a complaint against Los Angeles Councilman Nate Holden, alleging that he committed 31 campaign violations during his 1999 reelection bid.
Holden, fined $27,500 two years ago for similar infractions, could face up to $155,000 in penalties if the commission determines that he failed to follow the city's campaign guidelines.
According to an audit by the commission's staff, Holden allegedly accepted 11 contributions totaling $5,150 in excess of the city's contribution limit. And he requested and received $2,720 in excess public matching funds by submitting 20 ineligible claims, according to ethics staff.
Although each violation can carry a penalty of up to $5,000, Holden said the ethics staff tried to settle the case with him earlier this week if he agreed to pay a $15,000 fine.
The councilman said he turned down that offer because he believes he has been treated "very harshly."
"The bottom line is I did nothing wrong," Holden said. He said that he conducted his own review of his campaign finances in 1999 and found that he erroneously had accepted four donations above the contribution limits. He said he returned the money and informed the ethics department of the problem. However, Holden complained that the staff still is seeking to penalize him for those contributions as part of its latest enforcement effort.
"I don't think it's fair," Holden said.
He said he will ask the Ethics Commission to dismiss the charges at a hearing next month.
LeeAnn M. Pelham, the commission's executive director, declined to comment Thursday on the Holden matter.
City law limits contributions to a council candidate to $500 per person, per election. Public matching funds are limited to $250 per individual donor.
Under the city's charter, the Ethics Commission routinely audits all city candidates to make sure they follow the law. After the ethics staff issues a complaint, the commission is required to hold a public evidentiary hearing to determine if a violation has occurred.
Pelham is expected to ask the commission at its Jan. 10 meeting to convene a hearing on the matter.
In 1999, Holden agreed to pay a $27,500 fine, the largest ever levied by the Ethics Commission, for violating campaign finance laws during his 1995 reelection race.
Although the councilman acknowledged 48 violations of election laws at that time, Holden complained that the commission held him to a higher standard than other council members.
He said he decided to settle the case instead of taking it to a public hearing.
"The last time I settled, I didn't want to but they twisted my arm at the last minute," Holden said Thursday. "I don't like that kind of pressure."
At the time, two commissioners said they regretted that they were unable to fine Holden a larger amount or force him to pay the sum personally. He settled the complaint with money donated by allies.