Pasadena Anti-Corruption Law Model For California Cities
Santa Monica, CA — A citizen task force chaired by former California attorney general John Van de Kamp recommended tightening ethics laws yesterday, in a move that strengthened a grassroots Pasadena initiative to ban kickbacks in city contracting. The conflict of interest law, which bars politicians from taking campaign cash, gifts or jobs from companies they award city business, is "a model for ethics reform in every California city" said the initiative's sponsor, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR). The law was also approved in Santa Monica, Claremont and San Francisco.
"Californians who want strong ethics rules to keep politicians' personal interests out of public decisions can look to Pasadena's law to do the job," said Carmen Balber of FTCR. "We applaud the task force's dedication to preserving the intent of the voters and strengthening the city's conflict of interest law."
The recommendations include an expansion of the initiative's ban on payoffs from public beneficiaries to create a blackout period for campaign contributions during the application process for city contracts. The recommendations must be placed on the ballot by the city council for final approval.
"Santa Monica and Claremont, where city officials have stonewalled implementation of the conflict of interest rules, now have Pasadena's proven model to fully enact reform," said Balber.
The Pasadena and Santa Monica City Councils launched a four-year legal battle to overturn the grassroots reform; the cities' suits were thrown out by the Court of Appeal in 2005. California's Supreme Court refused to take up their appeal, thereby upholding the law's conflict of interest protections.
The 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.
The city of Pasadena attempted to invalidate the law by refusing to report election results to the Secretary of State. A private Pasadena citizen and the initiative's proponent were forced to bring suit to compel the city to report the election results and place the initiative on the books. The city responded by suing FTCR to overturn the initiative. The Court of Appeal ruled that Pasadena had violated the proponents' first amendment rights by suing to overturn the initiative.
In Santa Monica, the city attorney advised the city clerk to refuse to implement the initiative. When the city clerk acted as directed, the city sued itself in a thinly-veiled attempt to overturn 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 to get rid of a voter-approved initiative.
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