The Los Angeles City Ethics Commission voted Tuesday to issue nearly $15,000 in fines against Councilman Jose Huizar, after investigators determined that he had improperly used a fundraising committee to conduct political research on former school board member David Tokofsky.
Huizar has created two legal defense funds, which allow him to collect private contributions to pay the fines.
Under a proposed settlement with the commission, Huizar will pay $9,318 stemming from his decision in 2006 and 2007 to use his so-called office-holder account to pay the firm Varoga and Rice to perform research on Tokofsky, who was weighing a fourth run for the board at the time.
Office-holder committees are designed to help city politicians communicate with or otherwise serve their constituents. Under the city's ethics law, such committees are prohibited from spending money on consulting, research and polling in the 12 months leading up to an office-holder's election.
Huizar was initially elected to the council in a special election in 2005 and was reelected in 2007. His attorney, Stephen Kaufman, said his client had accepted full responsibility for committing "administrative errors" and had collected the contributions needed to pay the fines.
Asked Monday about the research on Tokofsky, Kaufman called it a "confidential research project" that was designed to help Huizar, himself a former member of the Los Angeles Unified School District board, find ways to "improve the schools in his community."
"It certainly covered some issues in which [Tokofsky] was involved," he said. "I'm not really at liberty to discuss the confidential research project. But suffice it to say, it was not research done in connection with any election."
At Tuesday's meeting, Commissioner Sean Treglia was more blunt. "This is opposition research," he said, before voting for the fines. Tokofsky did not run for reelection in 2007. Huizar backed Yolie Flores Aguilar -- part of a slate drafted by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- and she was elected to fill Tokofsky's seat. Tokofsky said ethics investigators contacted him about the Huizar expenditures earlier this year, showing him documents that the councilman had obtained from a paid database search.
"There's a lot of creepiness to this," he said. "A lot of people think when they give money to the office-holder account it will help the local Boys and Girls Club, so I'm sort of shocked at what the office-holder account ended up doing."
Huizar, whose district includes Boyle Heights and El Sereno, also has agreed to pay $5,500 to address violations committed by his reelection committee, according to a commission report. Ethics investigators found that the committee had illegally accepted three contributions from registered lobbyists, in violation of Proposition R, and had failed to inform the commission that it had raised more than $330,000, as required by law.