Campaign Plan Found to Violate 1st Amendment;

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Ruling: Judge voids voter-OKd Pasadena initiative barring certain donations to city officials. Backers of the measure voice dismay.

The Los Angeles Times

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge declared a controversial campaign finance reform initiative in Pasadena unconstitutional only weeks after ordering the city to put the law on its books.

Judge J. Michael Byrne issued his ruling from the bench Thursday, stating that the Taxpayer Protection Amendment overly restricts freedom of speech.

The initiative’s goal is to prevent quid pro quo votes and donations by preventing city officials from accepting gifts, jobs or campaign contributions from anyone to whom they awarded a “public benefit” within the last five years or for a year after leaving office. Approved by 60% of Pasadena voters in 2001, the measure defines public benefits in various ways, such as a contract worth more than $25,000. The Santa Monica-based Oaks Project, the voter-organizing arm of the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights, wrote the initiative and sponsored the drive to get comparable measures on the ballot in Santa Monica, San Francisco and Claremont.

So far, only San Francisco has developed regulations based on the measure. Officials in the other cities believe that the initiative is overly restrictive and would require tremendous resources to enforce. Oaks Project officials deny those claims.

Santa Monica tried to get a ruling on the measure’s validity by suing its own city clerk for not enforcing it. Anticipating a prompt decision in that case, Pasadena City Atty. Michele Beal Bagneris directed Pasadena’s city clerk in June 2001 not to file the amendment to the city’s charter with the secretary of state to make Measure B law.

A Superior Court judge dismissed the Santa Monica case this April on procedural grounds, however. After more than a year passed without Pasadena processing the necessary paperwork, city resident Rene Amy sued to get a judge to compel the city to put its measure on the books.

Attorneys for Pasadena filed a motion June 18, requesting that Byrne rule on Measure B’s merits and strike down what the city states is an unconstitutional law.

Byrne agreed with the city Thursday. Oaks Projects lawyers had filed a motion just two days earlier arguing that Byrne did not have jurisdiction to make such a ruling, and his decision Thursday took them by surprise. They had yet to offer any arguments on the constitutionality of the measure because they were focused on another lawsuit related to the case.

“There has never been a single sentence on the merits filed by the Oaks,” said Fredric Woocher, the Oaks Project’s primary attorney on the case. “The judge made his decision based on one side alone.”

Carmen Balber, Oaks Project director, said, “We were astonished. We don’t expect this to be a lasting decision.”

The Oaks Project plans to appeal the ruling.

Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, Pasadena said he is pleased.

“In my view [Measure B] simply goes too far in the balance between seeking integrity among elected office and the ability to serve in public office,” he said. “It places a significant block on people’s willingness to serve in public office.”

Balber disagrees.

“For each of these cities it’s a smack in the face for the voters, to challenge what the voters have spoken and clearly said they want.”

Consumer Watchdog
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