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Limits on Gifts From Bidders Are OKd

L.A. ethics panel calls for restrictions on when city contractors can donate to candidates.

September 23, 2004|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Alarmed by two grand jury investigations into contracting at City Hall, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission agreed Wednesday to restrict the role of city contractors in donating and raising political contributions for city candidates.

The measure, which now goes to the City Council for consideration, was proposed by Mayor James K. Hahn after the Los Angeles County district attorney launched a criminal investigation to determine whether city contracts have been illegally awarded based on political contributions from bidders. A federal grant jury is also looking at city contracting.

"What we are trying to do is send a message to the community to have faith in the process in which elected officials operate -- that people who contribute to officials aren't going to be doing business with the city," said commission President Gil Garcetti.

Although critics have alleged that Hahn proposed the new rules to take some of the heat off his administration, the mayor said Wednesday that the ban and other reforms approved by the Ethics Commission are common-sense measures.

"It's the clearest, simplest, most effective way of showing the city is doing everything it can to end any possible perception that there is a connection between people making political contributions and how contracts are being awarded," Hahn said.

The Ethics Commission also decided Wednesday to impose $6,400 in fines against City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo for failing to properly disclose expensive meals and trips charged to his political officeholder account.

The panel rejected staff proposals to impose $5,300 in fines against Delgadillo's 2001 election committee, and $1,650 in fines against former city attorney candidate Mike Feuer, for receiving contributions in excess of city limits, saying they appeared to be unintentional violations.

The mayor was disappointed that the Ethics Commission did not accept his proposal to have the new rules apply to the May 2005 runoff election. The panel agreed that the new law should take effect in September 2005, well after the next citywide election.

Hahn said applying the rules to the runoff election, after the municipal election in March, would have created a level playing field for all candidates. But challengers in the race said it was unfair to restrict contractor contributions after Hahn has already raised $1.9 million, some of it from city contractors. The Times recently reported that Hahn and challenger Bob Hertzberg together have raised $50,000 from city contractors and their employees.

The Ethics Commission delayed the effective date at the urging of its executive director, LeeAnn Pelham. "I would be concerned about setting a precedent about changing the rules in midstream," she said.

The mayor said he would ask the City Council to apply the new rules to the runoff election.

Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, who is running for mayor, dismissed Hahn's proposal as a campaign ploy. "If the mayor was serious about that proposal," Villaraigosa said, "he would return all of the contributions he received before the rules were changed."

The proposed law would ban political contributions and fundraising for city candidates from companies and their executives from the time they first submit bids until 180 days after the contract is awarded. The rules would apply to contracts worth $100,000 or more.

The law would also apply to subcontractors on city jobs.

Garcetti said he would be surprised if the City Council rejected the proposed ban, given that federal and county grand juries are subpoenaing city records as part of their probes into city contracting.

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