HELP WANTED: The city of Pasadena has an opening for a smart, dynamic and capable management analyst to enforce a conflict-of-interest law the city believes to be unconstitutional. Salary package, including benefits, is $107,400. Job may suddenly terminate if court determines law to be invalid.
If that [fictitious] posting sounds a little passive-aggressive, it’s not inconsistent with the city’s general attitude toward Measure B the voter-approved anti-corruption measure passed in 2001 and implemented, extremely belatedly and under court order, this week.
The city will be hiring an internal watchdog it doesn’t want, to police a law it doesn’t like.
To be sure, the law is… novel. Traditionally, government has used two constitutional muster-passing methods to try to root out corruption from the campaign financing system: capping and disclosure.
But to the backers of Measure B, that’s like saying it’s OK to rob a bank if you admit it and you only take $2,000. Their idea is: just don’t do it.
Measure B forbids recipients of “public benefits” from contributing to the campaigns of officials who conferred those benefits. Sounds reasonable, but its implications are rather revolutionary.
Take Planning Commission Chair Diana Peterson-More.
She is running for the 44th Assembly seat, and will have to make sure she takes no campaign money from developers whose projects she has already voted to approve. Her campaign will be the first test of Measure B, since the June primary will come before the next City Council election.
“I will be the person who, in the near term, is most affected by it,’ she said.
La Canada Flintridge Mayor Anthony Portantino, who is also running for the 44th, will face no such restrictions because the city doesn’t have Measure B.
Measure B goes a step beyond capping contributions across the board to creating a class of individuals and companies who are forbidden from contributing anything to particular campaigns.
Backers say that’s necessary to eliminate the appearance [and the reality] of corruption.
“This is very narrowly tailored to precisely the problem the voters wanted to get at,” said Fred Woocher, an attorney for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.
Opponents argue that the law unfairly restricts free speech.
“I do believe it violates the First Amendment,” said Pasadena City Attorney Michele Bagneris.
Respectfully, this is what opponents of campaign finance regulation always say. See, for example, Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in McConnell v. FEC, the case that upheld the McCain-Feingold reforms. “This is a sad day for the freedom of speech,” Scalia wrote.
Bagneris may well be right, and the City Council may be right to see it as “silly” legislation. But the courts have said that’s not their call to make. The voters approved it; it means what it says; the courts have said, “Follow it until a judge tells you not to.”
Peterson-More does not plan to sue the city, so the constitutionality test will have to come from someone else. It may take a while. Meantime, the city needs a new watchdog.
Gene Maddaus can be reached at  578-6300, Ext. 4444, or by e-mail at [email protected]