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Chick Pays for Excess Donations

September 04, 2004|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

City Controller Laura Chick said Friday she will pay $4,500 to the Los Angeles Ethics Commission for accepting political contributions to her 2001 election campaign that exceeded city limits.

Chick decided to write a check even though the commission's enforcement staff has not yet completed its review or recommended a fine.

"Though inadvertent, the excess contributions are inexcusable, and I accept full responsibility," Chick wrote in a letter to the commission. "Going forward, you can rest assured that I will adopt more effective safeguards and procedures to assure that this never happens again."

The payment covers $1,750 for four contributions that exceeded the city's $1,000-per-donor limit, and $2,750 for donations that the campaign could not prove complied with the limits.

The Ethics Commission, which discovered the violations in a routine audit, routinely fines candidates in amounts equal to the dollars involved in the violation.

LeeAnn Pelham, executive director of the Ethics Commission, praised Chick's decision to pay the money. "It's encouraging when people take positive steps to take responsibility for their actions, but it is our enforcement process that resolves all audits," she said.

If the enforcement staff determines that the excess contributions warrant a fine, the $4,500 payment received Friday could be designated a fine that has already been paid, Pelham said.

Most cases are settled with fines and a signed stipulation in which the candidate acknowledges the violations, Pelham said.

Chick did just that in her letter. Unlike Mayor James K. Hahn and others who have paid their fines with political contributions, Chick wrote a personal check for the full amount.

"I would not have felt comfortable raising the money from contributors," said Chick, whose annual salary is $153,000.

Her action could give momentum to a long-discussed proposal to ban elected officials from using political accounts to pay fines, though the controller said she was not pushing for others to be required to use their own money.

The idea, first floated five years ago by ethics panel members, was given new life in November after The Times reported that Hahn paid all $53,000 of an ethics fine by tapping lobbyists, city contractors and 15 city commissioners to give to a legal defense fund.

Ethics Commissioner Bill Boyarsky, a former city editor of The Times who was appointed by Chick, said Friday it was "worth looking at" requiring some fines to be paid from personal funds. But he added that there was a drawback.

"A lot of these offenses are caused by errors in the staff or among volunteers, and a lot of these candidates really don't have the money to pay these fines," Boyarsky said.

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