COMMENTARY: 7 Steps WeHo Can Take to Clean Up its Politics

Pocket Money

West Hollywood, which prides itself on being progressive, all-inclusive and engaged with its residents, calls itself the Creative City. When it comes to politics, it’s clearer and clearer that the city’s claim to creativity rests less on fashion and the arts than on an approach to campaign financing that makes our burg look a lot like Chicago.

An analysis by WEHOville of donations to city political campaigns in 2011 and thus far this year shows a preponderance of money coming from outside the city, and most of that from real estate interests whose goal is making a buck off the 1.9 square miles in which 35,000 of us reside. There are many ways of obviating the $500 limit on individual contributions that the City Council enacted in 2009, including establishing special committees to which donations are unlimited, “bundling” contributions through spouses and children and actually breaking the law by making donations in the names of other people, at least one instance of which WEHOville seems to have uncovered.

We’d like to believe our elected and appointed officials are oblivious to the sources and interests of their donors.  But, frankly, money, in one form or another, has talked since the days when the first of our ancestors figured he could secure a warm spot in a cave by handing over an extra piece of meat to another grunting Neanderthal. When a candidate denies, as Abbe Land, John Heilman and former incumbent Lindsey Horvath did to Patch in 2011, any knowledge of how much of campaign funding comes from developers, we’re left with only two possible conclusions: They are ignorant, or they are lying. Neither is a quality we like to see in a city council member.

So what can the citizens of West Hollywood do to keep us from becoming the Chicago of Southern California? First, we need to engage one another to participate. That will accomplish far more than term limits ever will.  Local residents, whose participation in city elections declined two-thirds in 2011 from the 1984 incorporation election, need to vote. And local businesses, some of whose owners don’t live in West Hollywood but who are, nonetheless, vital members of the community, need to join an organization like the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which includes many businesses from outside West Hollywood, to ensure that local and not just outside business needs and concerns are presented to City Hall.

Second, we need to change the municipal election cycle to make it coincide with national elections, thus increasing the local turnout. Parties on both sides of the campaign for council member term limits have argued against this. Councilmember John Duran recently said voters weren’t likely to make their way to the bottom of a long ballot headed by candidates for the presidency and U.S. Senate. Supporters of term limits for the council have argued that those who turn out for national elections aren’t likely to be educated about local issues. But while 18,862 West Hollywood residents voted in the 2012 election for one of the presidential candidates at the top of the ballot, 16,883 residents actually made their way to the bottom of the ballot to vote on the 19th item, a measure involving the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. That’s a 174 percent increase over the turnout for the 2011 City Council campaign and about the number that turned out to support incorporation of the city in 1984. As to the argument that those voters won’t know anything about city issues, well that’s what campaigning is all about.

Third, we need to change the way campaign contribution data is gathered and maintained at City Hall. Now candidates and multiple committees file many documents over the course of a campaign, all of which are recorded and then posted as PDF files on the City of West Hollywood’s website. But that makes it impossible for citizens to really see what’s going on. WEHOville sent two campaign cycles worth of documents to a firm in India to have the data transcribed into an Excel spreadsheet so that we could do quick comparisons of candidates and donors. That, plus research that identified who the large donors identified as a “homemaker” in Palo Los Verdes and a lawyer in Manhattan Beach were really connected to, helped us figure out where the money was really coming from. The city should install a digital data entry system and require those filing donation reports to use it. Then citizens can easily download data and sort donors over multiple election cycles to determine who is supporting whom. That data entry system also should not accept entries that don’t include all the mandated information. The city also needs to improve its monitoring of the data it receives. WEHOville has raised several questions with the City Clerk’s office about matters such as reports for the 2013 campaign filed in 2009 and the absence of any evidence that Abbe Land has filed the required officeholder account. We’ve also noted obvious errors in filings, where those making them entered donations twice in a row from the same person. The City Clerk’s office has been helpful in answering our questions, but West Hollywood shouldn’t have to rely on local media to do work that the city is paid to do.

Fourth, the city should take a look at the Los Angeles City Council’s efforts to encourage contributions from entities within the city. Beginning in 2015, Los Angeles will give public matching funds to council candidates only for donations raised within the City of Los Angeles. The LA Council also voted to increase matching funds to $4, up from one, for every dollar a candidate raises.

Fifth, the West Hollywood City Council should back away from its plan, scheduled for discussion in March, to increase to nine months from the six months the time after an election in which council candidates can continue to receive donations. It’s clear from WEHOville’s analysis of campaign donations that some out-of-city interests hedge their bets, dumping money on a candidate only after he or she has won the election. In fact, the City Council should consider shrinking the donation period to one month after the polls close. That way the money candidates receive is more likely to come before the election from committed supporters than afterwards from outside interests hoping to gain influence.

Sixth, donation records should indicate the names of all donors to special committees giving to a candidate’s campaign. For example, at present, it takes some digging to find out that donors to the West LA Health Political Action Committee, which one would think supports health-related causes and which has donated $1,750 to D’Amico, Duran, Horvath, Land and Prang, is actually funded largely by out-of-town real estate interests. When a PAC or special committee gives money to a candidate, the city should require that the PAC or committee list its donors in a searchable file on the city’s website.

Seventh, council candidates should be required to post the names of their campaign managers, publicists and fundraisers on the city’s website, along with a list of the other clients of those parties. They then need to add to their campaign planks a declaration that they will abstain from voting on issues brought before the council by those campaign managers, publicists and fundraisers. Certainly a council member should vote on an issue involving a donor (after all, the hope is that we’ll all be sufficiently engaged in West Hollywood to be donors one day). But a line should be drawn between an entity paid to get a candidate elected and other clients represented by that entity.

Will these measures make West Hollywood pure as the driven snow (something that, thankfully, we don’t see here)? Certainly not. But they will help a city that takes justifiable pride in its advocacy for fairness and progressiveness stop its slow slide into the mud of special interests and behind-closed-doors favors that might one day earn it a reputation as the Chicago of Southern California.

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Profes Shivers
8 years ago

Your suggestions are WONDERFUL! They can accept money for 4 months AFTER a campaign??? THIS SHOULD STOP THE DAY OF THE VOTING!!! Unbelievable.

Me
Me
8 years ago

SHOCKING STEPHANIE!!!….when you see it all on one page like this…..yes, WHO owns weho is a good question!!!….can you say {{{{{{{ D-E-V-E-L-O-P-E-R-S }}}}}}} boys and girls???….the city is clearly for sale and our city council members are selling it all off one block at a time…..who wants to live in a concrete jungle of buildings 6 or more stories up creating a dark tunnel along santa monica blvd, sunset blvd and la brea ave????…..not to mention the insane gridlock of cars on all streets in every direction….do the RESIDENTS really want a Mini- Manhattan???…ohhhh yes, that’s right, the city doesn’t… Read more »

Stephanie
Stephanie
8 years ago

Here’s a new facebook page where you can access news stories from various sources about what’s going on behind the scenes and right under our noses in West Hollywood. Check it out. Become informed and cast your ballot for change on March 5, 2013.

http://www.facebook.com/WhoOwnsWeho?ref=ts&fref=ts

Articles from Wehoville, the LA Times, LA Weekly, and the West Hollywood Patch.

Me
Me
8 years ago

JOIN COUNCILMAN JOHN D’AMICO IN VOTING YES FOR TERM LIMITS!!!
http://www.wehoconfidential.com/2013/02/vote-yes-on-c-march-5th-2013.html#.USEZ-x2yBCA

Lynn Russell
Lynn Russell
8 years ago

Many thanks Hank for this excellent article. In the short time you have been a resident of West Hollywood you have observed the current climate and presented cogent observations that nary a current candidate has expressed. Perhaps because you have not been immersed in or numbed by the self serving and often juvenile antics of many, some of whom appear to express extreme personality disorders, you have presented an objective viewpoint. Your thoughtful issues could well frame a path for this city to move beyond petty “feather your nest” behavior to verifiable ethical behavior that exemplifies authentic public service.

Lyndia
Lyndia
8 years ago

Thank you for an excellent and thoughtful story. Our part-time Council Members make certain their full-time deputues earn every nickel of their huge salaries, and there will be no term limits on them if Measure C passed! Think about Bell – term limits wouldn’t have prevented the corruption that happened there.

Rudolf Martin
Rudolf Martin
8 years ago

very reasonable suggestions by Hank Scott. even if implemented, loopholes will be found and used but this would be a good start.

Me
Me
8 years ago

if you are as sick as we are about this crap, and other hideous stuff going down in weho, please join our group….we are working on plans to inform the public (through demonstrations, video, gorilla street marketing etc) as to what is going on in the remaining days before the election

please email us at: takebackweho@aol.com ….our belief is that most residents have NO IDEA whats happening at city hall and we want to get the message out there QUICKLY…..

it’s easy to complain on these websites, but this is a call for ACTION!!!!

Riley
Riley
8 years ago

Thank you, Hank Scott. Please get even tougher on them. Some of the rest of us are afraid to do so for fear of retribution. One candidate has been making personal calls to individuals and business owners shouting in anger at people who dared to say no to him.

Woody McBreairty
8 years ago

Great article. Finally some firm language is being used to describe the deceit perpetrated on the city by disingenuous politicians, even though it must be even stronger to adequately describe how fed up people are with the contamination of West Hollywood politics by self serving greedy egomaniacs. Those of us who have been around from the beginning are saddened by the mess WeHo politics has become & we know it was never meant to be this way. Duran’s new mailer says “You may not always like what he says, but he always tells THE TRUTH!” I can only assume this… Read more »

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