There is no question that West Hollywood’s campaign finance and ethics laws need a major overhaul. That’s why I ran on a platform of ethics reform during the March election. Immediately after the election, the City Council, led by Mayor Horvath, created an Ethics Reform Task Force. As an attorney who dedicates his practice entirely to the subjects of campaign finance and governmental ethics, and the only member of the task force who is a WeHo resident, this subject is extremely important to me. The Task Force also includes Bob Stern, the principal co-author of the California Political Reform Act of 1974 – the law that governs campaign finance and ethics in the state – and Elizabeth Ralston, past president of the League of Women Voters.
We immediately went to work, holding open hearings throughout the city, in an effort to collect information from the residents as to what they saw as the city’s most important ethical challenges. From those hearings, the Task Force formed a broad set of recommendations – scheduled to be formally presented to the Council at its Nov. 16 meeting.
Here are some of the highlights of the Task Force’s recommendations:
Campaign Finance Reform: Despite U.S. Supreme Court decisions that limit regulation of independent spending by outside groups, we are proposing three reforms that will decrease the impact of those groups. The reforms provide open and transparent information to the voters about independent expenditures.
First, the Task Force is recommending that the city implement an electronic filing database for campaign finance reports. The database will be searchable, and the public will easily and quickly be able to figure out who is behind city campaigns.
Second, the Task Force recommends that campaign communications (e.g., campaign mailers) contain clear and conspicuous disclaimers regarding the donors who fund them.
Third, copies of all campaign communications would have to be filed with the city. This will dissuade folks from hiding behind anonymous attack ads.
Governmental Ethics: The Task Force recommends requiring that council members file reports whenever anyone makes charitable donations of $1,000 or more at their request. This means that if you are a council member and someone gives a donation of $1,000 or more to a charity because you asked them to, you will have to tell the public about it and provide information about the donor and the donation.
We also recommended strengthening the city’s ban on accepting direct gifts (e.g., meals, tickets to events, etc.) from those who have business before the city.
Lobbyist Regulation: West Hollywood currently requires lobbyists to register with the city, but does not mandate any public disclosures on how much money is spent to influence the city’s actions. The Task Force recommends that anyone who spends $5,000 in a quarter to influence the official actions of the city be required to file reports showing how much they spent.
The above items are a snapshot of the Task Force’s recommendations. They are a solid first step to ensuring that our city’s campaign finance system and governmental decision-making processes operate in an open, ethical and fair way. But because no set of ethics laws can fully anticipate the future, the Task Force’s final recommendation is that the Council reconvene a Task Force following each election to reevaluate the city’s rules and make suggestions on how they can be improved.
We need your voice to help get these reforms passed. Please attend the City Council meeting on Monday and demand that the city move forward and pass the Ethics Reform Task Force’s vision for a more ethical West Hollywood. The Council meets at 6:30 p.m. at the City Council Chambers, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., south of Santa Monica.