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LOS ANGELES

Officials Can't Repay From Accounts

October 08, 2002|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Ethics Commission ruled Monday that elected city officials cannot use their political officeholder accounts to repay controversial campaign contributions received from the beleaguered Entertainment Industry Development Corp.

As a result of the ruling, City Controller Laura Chick said she would personally repay a $1,000 campaign contribution that she received from the quasi-public film permit agency while she was a member of the City Council.

"It's money that has come into question, and she felt this was the right thing to do," said Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for Chick.

Chick and several City Council members had sought advice from the Ethics Commission after questions were raised by county prosecutors about whether the film agency's funds are public money, which by law cannot be used for political contributions.

The district attorney's office recently raided the agency's offices as part of a probe into whether the agency had misspent money. The agency was formed by the city and county in the mid-1990s to expedite the film permit process.

Campaign committees that received agency contributions to benefit Chick and others have since been closed, so she and council members asked whether they could tap their political officeholder accounts, which cover costs associated with holding office.

"An expenditure from officeholder funds made to return a contribution does not serve, assist or communicate with constituents, nor would it be made in connection with your official duties as controller," concluded the commission's executive director, LeeAnn Pelham, in an advice letter.

Two City Council members, Dennis Zine and Hal Bernson, also received money from the agency. Bernson said that, as a result of the opinion, he probably would not return the $500 he received.

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