Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Orange County voters in June will be asked to establish a campaign finance and ethics commission, under action taken Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

The board voted 4-1 to put the question on the June 7 presidential primary ballot. Supervisor Michelle Steel, who cast the dissenting vote, complained about the cost of running the commission.

Voters also will be asked to approve an amendment to the county’s charter that would give the executive director of the commission, if approved, the power to subpoena bank records of county candidates.

Shirley Grindle, a volunteer who shouldered much of the responsibility of monitoring campaign finance records under the TINCUP, or Time is Now Clean Up Politics, ordinance, praised the board and said she would campaign for establishment of the commission.

“I can’t thank this board enough for its cooperation and extreme help you have all given, except for Michelle Steel,” Grindle said.

Referring to a statement Steel issued to explain her opposition, Grindle said, “There are so many errors in it (that) it doesn’t deserve comment.”

Grindle added that the changes officials made to the ballot initiative improved the proposal.

“I am just eternally grateful,” Grindle said. “My group will be campaigning to get this passed in the June election.”

Board Chairman Todd Spitzer praised fellow Supervisor Shawn Nelson for shepherding the initiative through volunteers such as Grindle and getting it before the board.

“I’m proud to do this,” Nelson said. “Hopefully it will be supported by the county voters.”

Steel characterized the new commission as a “million-dollar golden hammer in search of a two-penny nail” and a “new government bureaucracy.”

She said Los Angeles’ ethics commission has a $2.7 million annual budget, while San Francisco and San Diego spend $3.9 million and more than $1 million, respectively, for their commissions.

According to Steel, the “best estimates” for Orange County would be $500,000 to $1 million annually.

“As the county recovers from two decades of bankruptcy, this is the last thing we need,” Steel said. “I hope residents of the county make wise decisions in this matter.”

Spitzer responded that he was working as a prosecutor in the county in 1994 when the bankruptcy happened, and “there has never been a darker time in this county.” He noted indictments came down for supervisors and some even resigned rather than face criminal charges.

“This initiative today is making it unequivocally clear to our entire county that this board of supervisors won’t tolerate people who don’t play by the rules,” Spitzer said. “We’ll never use this board to slap the backs of our friends, which has been the unfortunate history of this county.”

Spitzer Tuesday added language to the ballot measure that would forbid supervisors from lobbying anyone on the watchdog group.

“Not one of us up here could pick up the phone and call the commissioner we appointed to try to influence him,” Spitzer said. “That’s a very important and very good rule.”

Grindle and her followers, frustrated they had no ability to enforce the TINCUP ordinance aside from shaming candidates who violated it, had threatened to put their own initiative in front of the voters.

The supervisors last year moved to hire the Fair Political Practices Commission to oversee the enforcement of campaign finance rules. Voters approved Measure E in November by a 56.6-to-43.4 margin, but state lawmakers killed necessary legislation that would allow the state agency to contract with Orange County as it does with San Bernardino County.

— Wire reports 

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