Limits urged on campaign contributions

Published on

The Daily News

A community activist has called on the City Council to toughen its ethics rules by adopting an ordinance already in place in several other Southern California cities.

The rules would restrict elected officials from accepting campaign contributions, gifts or paid work from anyone involved in a major municipal contract or project that required City Council action.

“The perception is that the council members only listen to big business, and not to residents,” said Valencia resident Tom DiCioccio, a frequent critic of the City Council. “This will ensure a greater level of accountability and responsibility.”

Voters in San Francisco, Santa Monica, Pasadena and Claremont recently passed initiatives imposing the strict guidelines, which are sponsored by the Oaks Project, a Santa Monica-based volunteer watchdog group. The Irvine City Council is also considering adopting the measure.

The Oaks Project, founded in 1997, is part of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a Washington-based nonprofit organization allied with presidential candidate and activist Ralph Nader.

Last month, DiCioccio called on Santa Clarita’s council members and all city staff members to stop accepting gifts and contributions from individuals and companies with interests in city business.

“This will bring an awareness to the community that they have a voice and can be heard,” DiCioccio said.

The proposed rules would prohibit officials from accepting any money, gifts or jobs from companies with business before them for five years after a vote or for one year after leaving office, whichever comes first.

Critics of the proposal say the rules violate the 1st Amendment by banning political contributions. The Supreme Court has ruled that donations are a form of constitutionally protected speech.

Oaks Project spokeswoman Margaret Strubel said the organization was confident that the rules would withstand a constitutional challenge because of the narrow focus on conduct after the vote.

“This is a safeguard to protect against the revolving door of undue influence,” Strubel said.

City Attorney Carl Newton, who is studying DiCioccio’s proposal, said he shared critics’ concerns that the rules would be struck down by a judge. In fact, related litigation has sprouted in Santa Monica, Pasadena and Claremont.

Santa Clarita’s Democratic Alliance for Action is scheduled to decide whether to endorse the regulations at its next meeting. DiCioccio is the group’s treasurer.

“We are going to make this the issue in the next election,” DiCioccio said. “There won’t be any other issue.” The new regulations would significantly alter how political funds are raised in Santa Clarita. Current laws prohibit individuals from contributing more than $250 a year to each candidate.

Mayor Laurene Weste and Councilman Frank Ferry face re-election in April.

In the last six months of 2000, Weste and Ferry each collected about $10,000 at a joint fund-raiser, the vast majority of which came from localdevelopers and automobile dealers.

The City Council has approved several major projects for both groups in the last six months. Updated lists of campaign contributors will be released today.

Consumer Watchdog
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