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Los Angeles

Ethics Panel Skeptical on Hahn Rules

Commissioners seek to determine whether the mayor's proposed ban on the soliciting of some kinds of campaign funding would be legal.

March 10, 2004|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Mayor James K. Hahn's plan for new campaign finance rules ran into skepticism Tuesday from members of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, who postponed consideration for at least two months.

The commissioners said they wanted to determine whether the proposed rules were legal, to hear Hahn address their concerns and to discuss what their own role should be as enforcers of ethical conduct.

During an hourlong hearing, commissioners questioned whether Hahn's proposals were enforceable and necessary to address a public perception that contractors and others have to make contributions to get favorable treatment from city decision-makers.

"What these proposals would do is add another layer of unenforceable and difficult-to-enforce laws to the books, and by doing that it completely muddies up the water," Commissioner Bill Boyarsky said.

Commission President Gil Garcetti questioned whether the city has the power, as Hahn has proposed, to prohibit elected city officials from asking commissioners to make contributions to county, state and federal candidates. He asked the city attorney to analyze Hahn's proposed package.

With Hahn in Washington this week, Deputy Mayor Carmel Sella was left to argue to the commission that the mayor's proposals were legal and complemented a new law, approved by the mayor and council last week, that prohibits city commissioners from fundraising for city candidates.

"While the fundraising ban adopted by the council takes a significant step in removing commissioners from the activity of fundraising, it's not the complete picture," Sella said. "Commissioners continue to make contributions at the request of elected officials for various purposes."

Hahn also proposes prohibiting city contractors, bidders and developers who seek city land-use permits from contributing to or fundraising for any elected city official or candidate. He also seeks to prohibit them from contributing to or fundraising for any charity, ballot measure or political party at the request of a city candidate.

The mayor's plan, released Feb. 20, also would prevent lobbyists from raising money for city candidates, and bar campaign consultants from lobbying city officials.

Boyarsky said the latter two ideas were interesting and he might be able to support them, but he objected to the rest of the proposals. He said he didn't see anything wrong with a council member's request that a commissioner contribute, for example, to a presidential candidate.

Others questioned the timing of the proposals. Hahn's administration faces investigations by local and federal grand juries, and Hahn has been criticized by City Council members for resisting a more modest proposal to prohibit city commissioners from political fundraising for city candidates.

"I think there is some skepticism from some people as to why now," Garcetti said.

Sella said the mayor had "been focusing on these issues for several months."

The plan was formed, she said, out of "the desire to address the pay-to-play situation where commissioners are turning to people ... who may or may not be directly appearing before them but those contractors feel pressure to make those contributions."

But Boyarsky wondered about Hahn's changing position on ethics reform, noting that when Hahn had been city attorney in the '90s he had supported a ban on fundraising by commissioners.

"Then he became a foe of it, and then became a supporter of it," Boyarsky said.

Ethics Commissioner Dale Bonner noted that, beginning in April, the panel would begin broad discussions of its role as enforcer of ethics laws. Those deliberations, which could take several months, should happen before the commission takes action on the mayor's reform package, he said.

Sella responded, "I frankly don't think we have the luxury of sitting back and waiting."

Commissioners also cited their broader review of their role when they decided Tuesday to delay a vote on proposed fines against former Los Angeles Councilman Mike Feuer and four of his contributors for campaign finance law violations in the 2001 election.

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