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Probe of Santa Monica Campaign Tactics Sought

A commission put together by backers of the city's living wage measure wants the actions of its opponents investigated.

June 27, 2003|Julie Tamaki | Times Staff Writer

A commission examining the campaign tactics of opponents of Santa Monica's so-called living wage measure will ask county prosecutors and state elections officials today to investigate possible violations.

The Santa Monica Living Wage Commission of Inquiry -- a panel of lawyers, clergy and others assembled by supporters of the living wage measure -- will also release a report contending that opponents misled voters and calling for reforms.

The report stems in part from the narrow defeat last fall of Measure JJ, a business-sponsored ballot referendum on a living wage law approved by the Santa Monica City Council. The law would have required certain companies in the city's coastal tourism zone to pay employees a minimum of $10.50 an hour with health benefits or $12.25 without the benefits.

The evidence suggests, according to the report, that three organizations that sent slate mailers violated state disclosure requirements by indicating that backers of Measure EE, a separate school-funding proposal, had paid to appear on the mailers that urged a no vote on the living wage proposal.

"The content of the slate mailers was deceptive," said Stephen Rohde, a commission co-chairman and the past president of the Southern California American Civil Liberties Union board of directors.

But James Lacy, an attorney and treasurer for political slate mailers, contended that a third party had made a contribution to place Measure EE on the mailers. "In this particular case the letter of the law was complied with," Lacy said.

Tom Larmore, who heads the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce issues committee, described the report as a case of sour grapes.

"Nobody likes to lose an election, particularly one you think going in you're going to win," Larmore said. "They just can't stand the fact that they lost."

But Vivian Rothstein, director of the Santa Monicans Allied for Responsible Tourism, a pro-living wage group that helped assemble the commission, took issue with what she described as deceptive tactics. The slate mailers that urged a no vote on Measure JJ, she said, targeted Democrats, supporters of abortion rights and school supporters.

"The way they won it was by pretending to be us in the end," Rothstein said.

Paul Ryan, political reform project director at the Center for Governmental Studies, who testified on slate mailer disclosure laws at a February hearing convened by the commission, described Lacy's explanation as a "creative interpretation of the law."

In addition to sending letters to Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and the California Fair Political Practices Commission, the report outlines a number of recommendations, including asking the Santa Monica League of Women Voters to create an independent commission to investigate any questionable conduct in future Santa Monica elections.

Santa Monica Mayor Pro Tempore Kevin McKeown said he expects the City Council to discuss campaign reform in the future. "The living wage outcome was tainted by deception from the hotel industry, when workers and residents deserved a fair vote," he said.

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