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Group sues L.A.'s ethics panel

A nonprofit says a rule limits its ability to back a candidate.

November 19, 2009|Maeve Reston

A nonprofit group closely tied to the Department of Water and Power employees union has filed a federal lawsuit against the City's Ethics Commission, saying a city campaign fundraising law is unfairly limiting its ability to advocate on behalf of City Council candidate Christine Essel.

The case comes during a two-week period in which outside groups have poured more than $280,000 into independent expenditures to boost Essel's bid to replace former City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who is now city controller. Among those groups is the political arm of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, which spent more than $93,000 in support of Essel's campaign. The union is headed by Brian D'Arcy.

Working Californians, the group suing the city, is co-chaired by D'Arcy and Marvin Kropke, the business manager of the electrical workers Local 11. The group devised the solar energy proposal known as Measure B on the March ballot, which was supported by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa but defeated by voters.

The legal challenge is to a 1985 city law that bars political committees from accepting contributions of more than $500 if the group plans to use that money to make an independent expenditure for a city candidate.

In practice, the law prevents outside groups or individuals from contributing to each other to pay for independent expenditures that support city candidates. Contributions that are not earmarked for a specific city campaign are not subject to that $500 limit. (If violations are suspected, the City Ethics Commission's enforcement division determines whether a contribution was for an independent expenditure).

In a court hearing Thursday, Working Californians plans to ask a judge to immediately bar the Ethics Commission from enforcing what it characterizes as an unconstitutional violation of their free speech rights.

If they are successful, it could open the door for a flood of outside contributions in future city elections.

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

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