A Los Angeles City Council committee has moved closer to restricting developers from contributing funds to candidates running for elected city offices and current elected officials.
The council’s Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Committee discussed three proposed laws, and it advanced the City Council’s version to add developers, who have contracts executed within a year with the city, to a list of restricted sources from making campaign contributions in Los Angeles city elections.
The committee voted to have reports prepared on the two other proposals. One proposal provided by the city’s Ethics Commission is similar to the council’s, but it’s a bit more complex in that it specifies regulations on payments made by developers engaged in certain land use.
The other proposal to be studied would prohibit behested payments from developers, which are contributions to organizations in which a candidate or elected official is involved.
“Since my first day on City Council, I have pushed this body to implement broad campaign-finance reforms and restore trust in City Hall,” said Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu, who introduced the council’s proposal. “I believe we have a fundamental turning point in our city’s history, where we have a chance to chart a new course and usher in a new era of public engagement and civic action. To gain the faith of Angelenos, we need to give them a government worth believing in.”
The window for the City Council to adopt the reforms before the 2022 election is closing, as the time frame to raise funds for that election starts in March. City officials said they would not be able to create a database to track developers prohibited from making contributions to city office candidates by March, saying it could take nine months to finish.
City Council President Herb Wesson, who chairs the rules committee, said the city has made major improvements to its elections laws in the last decade.
“We’ve done a lot, but yes, we still have a lot to do,” Wesson said.
City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, a committee member, said he wants more examination of the behested payment proposal as donors to nonprofits in his council district had stopped contributing.
“The last thing that I want to be a part of is anything that takes resources away from poor people, frankly no matter what the reason is,” Harris-Dawson said, adding it could be two years before these reforms are adopted.
If ultimately approved, Los Angeles would become the first jurisdiction in the country to ban developer political donations, according to City Ethics Commission staff.
Efforts to update the city’s campaign-finance laws began after a November 2018 FBI search of Councilman Jose Huizar’s home and offices. He was also named in a search warrant outlining the FBI’s probe of possible bribery, extortion, money laundering and other crimes as part of a corruption investigation at City Hall focusing on huge real estate investments from Chinese companies. No one has been arrested or charged as a result of the investigation.
Huizar voted in favor of the creation of all three ordinances in May.
City law limits contributions from non-individuals, with the charter setting limits on such donations, adjusted annually to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index. The current maximum is $226,500 for City Council candidates.
The Ethics Commission’s proposed restrictions would also apply to contributions to any committee controlled by an elected city official or a candidate for elected city office, and would also prohibit developers and non-individuals from fundraising and bundling, meaning they could not collect large amounts of other people’s money and deliver it to an elected official or candidate.
Under the recommended Ethics Commission guidelines, behested payments would be banned for “restricted” sources, includes developers, lobbyists, lobbying firms, bidders, contractors or people who attempted to influence the elected official in the previous 12 months.
According to the Ethics Commission, eight of the 10 donors with the most behested payments over the past five years had done business with the city within that period.
The behested payment ban would include several exceptions, including payments that are solicited because of a state of emergency.
A ban on non-individual contributions would require voter approval, according to Ethics Commission staff.
The Supreme Court of the United States decided in the Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission case in 2010 that unions and corporations could spend unlimited funds in campaigns through methods such as political action committees, but the city doesn’t have the jurisdiction to ban contributions to political action committees.