A measure of protection

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Pasadena council members oppose Nader-backed campaign finance reform initiative

Pasadena Weekly

Comparing an upcoming Ralph Nader-backed local ballot initiative to a condom, one supporter this week called on Pasadena voters to take safety precautions against political corruption by voting for the measure in the March elections.

But city officials say they doubt that the “Taxpayer Protection Amendment of 2000” is really necessary — and has its own particular risks.

That measure, backed by Nader and the nonprofit Santa Monica-based group, The Oaks Project, has already appeared on a handful of ballots across the state and is now due to appear in Pasadena’s own elections in March.

It seeks to bar city officials from accepting jobs, gifts or campaign donations worth more than $50 from people they have dealt with while in office.

The measure was the subject of heated discussion at a City Council meeting on Nov. 20. Virtually identical measures have already been approved by voters elsewhere, including Santa Monica and San Francisco.

Pasadena City Council members support local campaign finance reforms — but not this particular one, they said. The initiative seeks to prevent possible conflicts of interest by city officials by ensuring that they cannot accept benefits such as land deals and tax abatements while in office.

Candidates in Pasadena races face no campaign contribution limits now, according to city legal advisors.

Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard and council members Paul Little, Steve Madison, Sid Tyler and others have all expressed reservations about the Oaks Project-sponsored ballot measure. Based on legal advice that they received, they have reason to doubt not only the measure’s practicality, but even its constitutionality, they have said.

Still, to at least one leading proponent, their stated concerns sound suspicious at best: “It’s sort of like a prophylactic,” Oaks Project director Paul Herzog noted in response.

“You kind of have to wonder why they don’t want to use one,” he said. “I mean, what do they have to hide?”

Council member Bill Crowfoot is also skeptical about the measure’s professed protective benefits in fighting political bribery and other misdeeds.

“There may be corruption in Pasadena,” Crowfoot noted, “but not the kind of thing that they’re talking about here.”

Herzog admits, as well, that Pasadena politicians have not been prone to bribery or other corruption. But he also said that while Pasadena officials may always have been above board, voters can now ensure that city record will not change.

Little, for one, is hardly convinced, however. He is spearheading an effort to put an alternative city-drafted campaign reform measure on the March ballot that would compete with the Nader-backed initiative.

He would like to see the city adopt more stringent local reporting requirements on political contributions, he noted, rather than employment and gift restrictions of the sort that the Oak Project supports. Candidates should be forced to disclose campaign donations as small as $10, Little added, “so that every dime spent is known.”

Pasadena resident Paul Monsour, a leading supporter of the Oaks Project-backed measure, praised Little’s efforts to tighten public disclosure rules, but also said that those efforts ought to complement — not compete with — the Oaks Project initiative.

Should both measures receive voter approval in March, the City Council-sponsored one would override the Oaks Project measure if it receives more votes, according to city legal advisors.

But even Little’s own proposed reforms are facing opposition. According to Crowfoot, more stringent disclosure requirements would create, not prevent, problems for the city.

“It would be difficult to interpret and would create cumbersome paperwork and endless possibilities for screw-ups,” Crowfoot said.

“To further lob on more rules is just an invitation for a Florida type of situation — a shootout over who tripped over the rules.”

Council members will continue to discuss local campaign finance reform issues at their next meeting Monday.

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