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Gift to Son Ensnares Garcetti

July 20, 2006|Jeffrey L. Rabin | Times Staff Writer

As president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, Gil Garcetti sits in judgment of those accused of violating the city's campaign finance laws.

As the father of an aspiring young politician, it was perhaps only natural that Garcetti, a former Los Angeles County district attorney, would contribute to the reelection campaign of his son, Councilman Eric Garcetti.

Except for one little detail: The City Charter prohibits ethics commissioners from donating to candidates in municipal elections.

But there the contribution was, dutifully listed on his son's campaign finance report.

So what happens now?

Garcetti asked for a legal opinion, and the city attorney's office concluded that, to avoid a conflict of interest, the matter must be taken from the Ethics Commission and handed to the little-known Board of Referred Powers.

Guess who sits on that board? That's right, five members of the City Council, including two appointed by Eric Garcetti, now council president.

"It's an embarrassment of embarrassments," Gil Garcetti said Wednesday about the contribution. He said he had been well aware of the city's rules when he co-signed the check that his wife had prepared.

"My wife asked me to sign the check," Garcetti said.

His mistake, he said, was neglecting to look at whom the check was made out to. The form accompanying the $500 contribution, made Nov. 29, 2003, even listed his occupation as "President, Los Angeles City Ethics Commission."

That "embarrassment of embarrassments" also could be expensive.

Because of Garcetti's experience as a former district attorney and president of the commission that meets monthly to decide cases involving violations of the city's campaign finance law, the staff recommended that he be fined $1,500, three times the amount of the contribution. Garcetti said he agreed to the fine.

But then he asked for a legal opinion from the city attorney's office because "I don't think the commission could or should resolve it."

In the opinion issued Friday, Assistant City Atty. David Michaelson said the Ethics Commission was disqualified from hearing the case.

And "the Board of Referred Powers is the only legally available alternate decision-maker empowered to consider this matter," he said.

Spokesmen for the Ethics Commission and Councilman Garcetti had no comment. However, Gil Garcetti said his son's campaign staffers acted after they learned about the improper contribution last August.

"Eric returned the money," he said. "He didn't keep it."

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