Government influence measure still could be challenged

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Inland Valley Times

Voters were in the mood Tuesday to put more limits on their elected officials, overwhelmingly passing a new law to restrict the influence of money in local government despite arguments that the proposed limits are unconstitutional.

Measure A, the taxpayer protection amendment, passed in Claremont with 55% of the vote. In Pasadena, 60% of the voters were in favor of it. In November, San Francisco, Santa Monica and Vista voters passed the measure that would put broad restrictions on city officials.

“I think it makes it pretty clear that people want reform,” said Carmen Balber, who helped organize the campaign for the measure in Claremont. “People are sick and tired of the influence money has on politics.”

To stem that influence, the new law tries to prevent officials from getting a job or a campaign contribution or even a gift from a company or organization that has benefited by a vote from the official. The restrictions last for a year after an official leaves office or five years after the action that gave the benefit.

Claremont’s city attorney has argued the law is too broad, possibly infringing on free speech. Sonia Carvalho said she thinks there are parts of the law that aren’t enforceable.

Opponents argued that the measure presents a particular problem in Claremont with the close interaction between the city and the colleges. On the one hand the city frequently relies on people who work for one or more of the colleges. On the other, the city and colleges are frequently linked in business dealings: approving a new dorm or ordering a survey from a college institute. The law would keep people connected with the colleges from applying for planning commissions or running for public office.

“I think it was a mistake. One example is if I were on any city commission … I could not then be hired by Claremont McKenna,” said Ralph Rossum, director of the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at the college.

Yet its passage, Rossum said, shows that voters in Claremont are attracted to a measure that promises more limits on money’s influence on government.

“To vote against it would be to vote against apple pie, motherhood and the American way,” he said.

The law is the subject of a legal challenge in San Diego County. A lower court ruled the measure unconstitutional and pulled it off the Vista ballot, but a state appellate court agreed to hear the challenge and put it back on.

It is unclear whether the state 4th District Court of Appeal will rule on the constitutional issue, because the challenge was technically about whether the measure could appear on the ballot — a fact that might make the matter moot.

Claremont could join Santa Monica and Pasadena in a joint challenge. Officials in those cities also have fought the law.

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