WeHo City Council Decides to Ban Donations from Those Seeking City Business

The West Hollywood City Council last night asked the City Attorney to draft legislation barring campaign contributions from those bidding on city business.

The council’s vote came despite a claim by City Attorney Mike Jenkins that it was creating “a solution in search of a problem.” Jenkins was referring to comments made council members that there hasn’t really been any conflict of interest among those who receive donations from city vendors. Several council members also said it would be difficult to match campaign contributors with those who are making bids on the city’s many outside contracts.

The council supported a proposal by former Councilmember Steve Martin that prospective vendors be required to sign a statement saying they would not make a donation to a City Council candidate’s campaign. Martin also suggested that those who give to a charity at the request of a council member be required to file a “behest” statement with the City Clerk, documenting that donation.

City Attorney Mike Jenkins
City Attorney Mike Jenkins

The city’s Ethics Reform Task Force, which presented a number of proposals to the council last December, did not include a recommended ban on contributions from applicants for city business. In its report to the City Council it said such donations aren’t a major issue. Jenkins said such bans are legally complex and can’t be instituted unless there is clear evidence that they are intended to solve a problem, a problem that many council members say doesn’t exist. “I don’t think that anyone thinks a $500 contribution is tantamount to corruption,” Jenkins said, referring to the limit on an individual’s donation.

Councilmember John D’Amico, who co-sponsored the measure with Mayor Lauren Meister, said such a ban would refute an assumption by many city residents that a council member’s vote can be bought. D’Amico also noted that the council wouldn’t be denying a prospective contractor the right to donate to a candidate. Instead it would be denying the contractor the right to do business with the city. He noted that the city has passed other resolutions refusing to do business with anti-Israeli groups and other discriminatory organizations.

It’s not clear when Jenkins will come back with an ordinance for the council’s approval. Councilmember Lindsey Horvath suggested that, with the March council election looming, it might make sense to delay its implementation until after that. Another question up for discussion is the size of contracts that would be covered by such an ordinance. Councilmember John Heilman suggested contracts valued at $100,000 or more and D’Amico suggested the limit be $25,000. It also is unclear whether the proposed ban would apply to existing contractors whose

While the proposed ordinance would regulate donations from individuals, who can donate no more than $500, it isn’t possible legally to regulate much larger donations to so-called “independent expenditure committees.” Such committees may raised unlimited money to support a particular candidate but are not supposed to coordinate their activities with a candidate’s campaign. However across the country such committees have been proven to be closely integrated with candidate’s campaign committees, with a candidate’s chief advisors often running them.

The council also agreed last night to require its members to report donations of $1,000 or more made to a charitable organization at a particular council member’s behest. State law requires filing a “behest” statement for contributions of $5,000 or more. Council members Duran and Heilman, who are running for re-election in March, had previously opposed the new limit. However the new limit passed unanimously last night on the council’s consent agenda.

Finally, the council agreed to regulate or ban managers of and consultants to City Council election campaigns from lobbying the council. That proposal was initiated by Meister and Heilman and also had not been recommended by the Ethics Reform Task Force. West Hollywood currently bans former members of the City Council and their deputies, members of the Planning Commission, department heads and division managers from lobbying the council for a year after their departure.

The proposal approved by the council would have the city attorney return with an ordinance with one of three alternatives:

— Prohibit a campaign consultant from serving as a lobbyist during the time he or she is participating in campaign work and for at least four years after the election.

— Prohibit a campaign consultant from serving as a lobbyist during the time he or she is participating in campaign work and for at least two years after the election.

— Require a City Council member to recuse him or herself if the issue at hand involves a lobbyist who was the council member’s campaign consultant in the previous election or is a campaign consultant for an incumbent candidate in an upcoming election.

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carleton cronin
carleton cronin
6 years ago

“Gawd! They’ll starve to death” – somewhat alterered statement from Spielbetg’s wonderful film “Lincoln”..

Don Azars
Don Azars
6 years ago

NO BRAINER – NOW let’s outlaw property developers or others from “bribing” to avoid requirements of height, parking, condos/apartments for low income residents and other times. OK it’s not legally a “bribe” they pay a fee to avoid the requirements. But sorry, it’s a way to avoid the rights of voting citizens of West Hollywood!

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