Council splits over task force that could replace controversial anti-public corruption initiative
Once monolithic in their desire to thwart voter-mandated campaign finance law Measure B — an effort which will soon have cost the city more than $770,000 — Pasadena City Council members were split Monday over whether to direct a special task force to replace that controversial law with new campaign finance rules.
Deciding exactly what the new $98,000 Task Force on Good Government will do — rewrite all campaign rules or simply replace Measure B — will wait, though council members agreed former Attorney General and Pasadena resident John Van de Kamp should lead it.
Tensions regarding Measure B, which prohibits city officials from taking campaign contributions from those whom they have awarded public money and other benefits, reached a high point two weeks ago when the Weekly reported that a former Pasadena mayor was calling for Mayor Bill Bogaard to resign over the city’s attempts to thwart it.
Attorney Bill Paparian, who served on the council for 12 years, also called on Bogaard and Council members Steve Madison, Steve Haderlein and Paul Little to give back allegedly illegal campaign contributions the Weekly had discovered they received while the city fought Measure B in Court.
While city officials argue the law did not become valid until all legal appeals against it were exhausted, others believe the law was in play and has been violated by six council members since the city was forced to enact it by Superior Court Judge J. Michael Byrne in June 2002.
Since Measure B won voter approval in 2001, the city has spent more than $160,000 on outside attorneys to fight it and was forced to pay $416,000 in fees to their opponents. In August, the council hired a $107,000-per-year staff analyst to help them implement Measure B, while in turn indemnifying council members against lawsuits over the potential violations.
In a surprising move just before Monday’s vote, Haderlein withdrew his support not only for convening a task force but also for continuing the fight against Measure B. “I don’t think it has been as burdensome as we all thought,” he said, arguing also that a city task force addressing the issue smelled too much of the council making its own rules.
Little, who argued rewriting rules would likely lead to more troubling legislation and also decided “I don’t have a problem living under Measure B,” joined Haderlein in opposition to the task force.
On Tuesday, Little sent a letter to Paparian announcing that he had abided the request to return a $250 contribution from Maguire Partners, potentially illegal under Measure B because Little received it after voting to allow construction of their Plaza Las Fuentes.
“Rather than risk a personal legal attack or expenditure of personal funds to defend even the most frivolous Measure B challenge, I chose to return the contribution,” wrote Little after stating the city’s position that Measure B was not law at the time and he did no wrong.
In the letter, parts of which dripped with sarcastic praise for Paparian, Little complained that “Measure B gives any ‘ambulance chaser’ the opportunity to sue an elected official personally.”
Meanwhile, new questions regarding potential conflicts of interest, this time surrounding the task force, have emerged, said Paparian.
Bogaard and Van de Kamp serve together as members of the advisory board for the Pasadena Education Foundation’s Community Campaign for Schools Leadership Council. On that board also serves Guillermina Gutierrez Byrne, a retired LA County court commissioner and the wife of Judge Byrne who initially decided Measure B was unconstitutional and unenforceable, but nonetheless forced the city to implement it.
Bogaard, who along with Madison urged the council to broaden the mission of the task force to survey all campaign finance and ethics rules, said mutual service on the PEF would not influence the task force.
“John Van de Kamp’s accomplishments and record of service have to be looked at in regard to his ability to act independently as chair of the task force. In Pasadena, I would say almost everyone who is appointed to a task force has a relationship with one or more members of the City Council because we are a community of reasonable size and people are active,” said Bogaard, who credited Madison with enlisting Van de Kamp.
As for the relationship to Byrne, “I know the Byrnes. I would say the premise that service on a nonprofit board in and advisory capacity creates a mental framework that precludes independent action is not justified. Of course, it wasn’t she who ruled on the case. It was her husband. I didn’t focus on the fact our friend Mina Byrne was serving on the PEF,” he said, pointing out that no economic relationship exists to create a conflict of interest.
The advisory board, which counts Pasadena Star-News Editor Lawrence Wilson among its ranks, is an informal body that does not meet – basically a collection of people who lend their names to support public education, said PEF Director Joan Fauvre.
Byrne has since moved out of Pasadena and could not be reached. Van de Kamp was traveling in China.
Writing the rules
While Haderlein was initially suspect of Paparian’s involvement with the battle over Measure B, he said Monday that Paparian pointed up exactly why he thinks Measure B isn’t so bad after all.
“A former mayor has taken it upon himself, and under an aggressive interpretation of the law done what I think is actually a valuable service to this community,” Haderlein said, describing Paparian’s efforts as creating a “what-if scenario” that actually uncovered few actual violations over time, proving the law to be not as prohibitive to political participation rights as once believed.
As for assembling a task force, which could include past or present council members, “I think this process is overly controlled by the council itself. I was very uncomfortable with this council writing its own rules,” he added.
“We think Councilman Haderlein finally saw what we’ve been trying to get through to the council for years, which is that Measure B is pretty narrowly tailored. It’s not as burdensome as they’ve been counseled to believe and is geared toward the most egregious situations where the public thinks the possibility of conflict is too great,” said Carmen Balber, a consumer advocate with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which is an umbrella group over Measure B authors the Oaks Project.
Bogaard and Madison, the first to receive letters calling for a return of contributions in question, took positions Monday night that the task force should not simply serve to overturn Measure B, as Balber and others have alleged.
Madison said he interpreted the 2001 landslide approval for Measure B “as a signal that Pasadena is ready to have some form of local regulation of campaign finance and related issues – ethics in government.”
Opposing the views of Councilman Chris Holden, who has allegedly violated Measure B with $2,000 in contributions from developers, and Councilman Sid Tyler, who apparently has not violated the measure, Madison said the task force could consider new laws that include limiting donations and expenditures to political campaigns.
Ironically, it’s an idea that Paparian put forth but could not find support for while he served as a councilman.
Bogaard supported Madison’s position, though he does not specifically back any new rules at this time.
“It is important, if the voters are called upon to change things, for them to have access to information about the full range of regulations that already exist to assure proper conduct of candidates and public officials,” he said.
“In the end it will depend on how credible the individuals are who are called upon to serve, and how credible the recommendations are on their own merits, and then nothing will happen with any ballot proposition until there’s been a vote of the people after an open public political campaign,” Bogaard said.