Politicians, Not Taxpayers, Should Pay For Breaking Conflict Of Interest Law
Santa Monica, CA — Pasadena’s City Council must not betray the public trust by voting to cover legal costs and pay fines for public officials who violate the city’s conflict of interest laws, said the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) in a letter sent to the council, mayor and city attorney today. The Council will decide at tonight’s meeting whether to indemnify city officials found guilty of violating conflict of interest prohibitions in the Taxpayer Protection Amendment, or Measure B, approved at the ballot in 2001.
60% of Pasadena voters passed the Taxpayer Protection Amendment, enacting the nation’s toughest conflict of interest rules that bar public officials from accepting campaign contributions, gifts or a job from any entity they award a public benefit ‘ such as a city contract, a lucrative franchise or the purchase of property. In April, 2005 the California Supreme Court refused to reopen Pasadena’s court challenge against the ballot initiative, leaving the measure in effect. Pasadena spent three years and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars fighting the political reform initiative, placed on the ballot by the Oaks Project, volunteers with FTCR.
“City officials accused of violating the law by obtaining personal benefit through public business do not warrant the added benefit of public funds to pay their defense and their fines if they are found guilty. The public approved the Taxpayer Protection Amendment to preserve the use of city assets and the public trust, not throw them away defending politicians that abuse both,” writes FTCR.
“We urge you to move expeditiously to aid public officials in compliance with the Taxpayer Protection Amendment. But taxpayer dollars must not be spent to defend public officials who defy the public trust. If the council votes to do so, its dismissal of the will of Pasadena voters will be complete,” FTCR concludes.
Voters Triumph Over Politicians’ Opposition to Conflict of Interest Protections
The Oaks Project’s conflict of interest initiative was placed on the November 2000 ballot in San Francisco and Santa Monica, and the March 2001 ballot in Pasadena and Claremont, through an all-volunteer effort that gathered nearly 70,000 signatures statewide. Voters approved the initiative in each city with between 58 and 82% of the vote. Elected officials hostile to the political reform measures attempted to overturn them with legal challenges.
The city of Pasadena attempted to invalidate the law by refusing to report the election results to the Secretary of State. A Pasadena citizen and the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights were forced to bring suit to compel the city to put the election results, and the initiative, on the books. The city responded by suing FTCR to try and overturn the initiative. The Court of Appeal ruled that Pasadena had violated FTCR’s first amendment rights by suing to overturn the initiative, and a superior court judge’s ruling against the initiative should be thrown out.
In Santa Monica, the city attorney advised the city clerk that she should refuse to implement the initiative. When the city clerk acted as directed, the city sued itself in a thinly-veiled attempt to invalidate the ballot measure. The trial court and the Court of Appeal agreed with FTCR that there was no actual disagreement between the city of Santa Monica and the city clerk, and ruled that the city could not sue itself in order to get rid of a voter-approved initiative.
August 1, 2005
Mayor Bill Bogaard
City of Pasadena
100 N. Garfield Ave., Room 237
Pasadena, California 91109
City Council Members
City of Pasadena
117 E. Colorado Blvd., 6th Floor
Pasadena, California 91105
City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris
City of Pasadena
215 N. Marengo Ave., Suite 100
Pasadena, California 91101
Re: Implementation of the Taxpayer Protection Amendment
Dear Mayor Bogaard, City Council Members and City Attorney Bagneris:
We are glad to see that the city is, at long last, taking steps to implement the conflict of interest prohibitions approved by 60% of the voters with the passage of the “Taxpayer Protection Amendment” on March 6, 2001. However, we were shocked to discover that, after losing a three-year attempt to invalidate the measure in court, the city attorney could suggest that the council indemnify public officials who violate the law.
The Taxpayer Protection Amendment expressed voters’ concern that, “the use or disposition of public assets are often tainted by conflicts of interest among local public officials entrusted with their management and control,” and that the use of city assets, “should be arranged strictly on the merits for the benefit of the public, and irrespective of the separate personal or financial interests of involved public officials.”
Allocating tax dollars to indemnify politicians who violate this law is in the “personal and financial interests of involved public officials,” not the taxpayers who voted to end the misuse of public funds.
City officials accused of violating the law by obtaining personal benefit through public business do not warrant the added benefit of public funds to pay their defense and their fines if they are found guilty. The public approved the Taxpayer Protection Amendment to preserve the use of city assets and the public trust, not throw them away defending politicians that abuse both.
We urge you to move expeditiously to aid public officials in compliance with the Taxpayer Protection Amendment. But taxpayer dollars must not be spent to defend public officials who defy the public trust. If the council votes to do so, its dismissal of the will of Pasadena voters will be complete.