Once targeted for extinction by city leaders, Measure B re-emerges as a popular move to halt the corrupting influence of money in Pasadena politics
It’s an old story: Business seeks contract; councilman approves spending taxpayer funds; contractor contributes hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars to that councilman’s campaign come election season.
But if voters approve Measure B this week for the second time in six years, it should never happen again in Pasadena, say good government activists.
At its most basic, Measure B is an anti-corruption rule that makes it illegal for public officials to take gifts from those developers, contractors and others whom their decisions in office have benefited.
It sounds simple enough, but when the measure first came before voters in 2001 and found more than 60 percent support, Pasadena City Council members said this was a very, very bad idea.
Refusing to certify the results of that election, council members instead took Measure B proponents the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights to court, arguing the popular law violated the free speech rights of potential donors. Appeals would take the case all the way to the state Supreme Court, which in February 2005 refused to hear the city’s arguments and in doing so upheld the law.
In the meantime, six of eight council members (all of them insisting that Measure B was a solution in search of a problem) took thousands of dollars in contributions prohibited under Measure B — much of it from developers whose controversial projects they had voted to approve.
But this wasn’t just a case of getting what you can when the getting is good.
While uncovering these contributions in a series of investigative reports last year, the Weekly also learned of a 2002 Los Angeles Superior Court ruling that Measure B, while likely unconstitutional, was technically in full effect.
In a rush to bring themselves into compliance with the law, council members quickly voted to indemnify themselves against prosecution under Measure B and convened the Task Force on Good Government to examine the law and send a version of it they could live with back to the voters.
That body, headed by Pasadena resident and former state Attorney General John Van de Kamp (see “As good as it gets,” page 7), surprised many by coming back with a version of the law that many proponents felt will strengthen it.
Although council members refused to adopt task force recommendations for campaign contribution limits, a majority fell in line with the several proposed changes.
Most notably, the new Measure B will now prohibit those seeking city contracts from donating to elected decision-makers before they make up their minds as well as after. It will also require the city to post information on the Internet about activities that should restrict donations.
The task force’s adjustments to Measure B also modified the way nonprofits are dealt with, reasoning that it wasn’t fair to automatically restrict a charity’s volunteer board members unless they financially benefit, too.
This time around, Councilmen Chris Holden and Paul Little have drafted ballot arguments against Measure B, arguing the campaign finance restrictions are still unfair to incumbents and susceptible to loopholes and could lead only to more creative corruption.
Measure B’s second coming is backed by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights and the League of Women Voters ‘ Pasadena Area.