West Hollywood elected officials will have to file notice with the City Clerk if they successfully solicit donations of $1,000 or more from charities with which they are connected.
The City Council last night agreed to lower the limit on reporting so-called “behest” payments (it is $5,000 under state law) over the objections of council members John Duran and John Heilman.
Last night’s decision brought the Council close to finishing its implementation of recommendations brought forth last April by an ethics reform task force headed by Joe Guardarrama, a lawyer whose practice focuses on campaign finance and ethics and election law. The task force was recommended by Councilmembers John D’Amico and Lindsey Horvath in 2015 to address public perceptions that the council is influenced by major election campaign contributors.
The council earlier had tabled indefinitely a proposal to require those who spend more than $5,000 a quarter lobbying city officials to file a quarterly report.
Last night the council agreed to take up at its next meeting a proposal by Mayor Lauren Meister that council members be barred from accepting gifts by city contractors. That proposal was opposed by the West Hollywood Municipal Employees union. City Attorney Mike Jenkins said that the union’s employees would be considered contractors under state law. There have been no contributions from the union itself to council candidates in recent elections, although some staffers, such as John Erickson, the union president, have made individual donations to council candidates.
D’Amico asked that the Council consider at its next meeting a way to ban donations from contractors without including the city employee union.
In their opposition to reducing the behest filing limit, both Duran and Heilman argued that the state behest requirement was imposed because of a scandal in the state legislature. “I think this is unnecessary. I don’t think this has been an issue,” said Heilman, who is involved with several non-profits. “I think we should adhere to the state limit.”
“I really think this is contrary to good public policy,” said Duran, who noted that he is involved in various LGBT non-profits.
In recent years neither Duran nor Heilman have filed state behest statements. However Athens Services, the La Puente-based trash collector whose contract with the city was extended by the City Council for 15 years without putting it out to bid, spent more than $10,000 last year to sponsor a single event by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. Duran is GMCLA’s chairman. And the facade of the West Hollywood Library, a project Heilman is known to have been passionate, contains the names of various lobbyists and law firms who donated to it. They work for real estate developers whose only obvious connection with West Hollywood is the clients they represent before the City Council.
The council last night gave its final approval to a requirement that campaign contribution reports be filed electronically, which will make them easily and quickly available for public inspection. Currently they are filed on paper and the City Clerk’s office puts PDF versions of them online.