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Council Debates Proposed Changes to Santa Monica’s Anti-Corruption Law
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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

July 15, 2016 -- As debate continued Tuesday on the City Council dais about preparing a measure to modify Santa Monica’s anti-corruption law, some council members alleged that at least one proposed modification favors candidates who self-fund their campaigns.

The Oaks Initiative, approved by Santa Monica voters in 2000, prohibits a City official from receiving benefits, including campaign contributions, by making a decision that helps a group or person, such as approving a contract or development agreement.

Councilmember Sue Himmelrich wants the revised law to include a prohibition against receiving contributions from people who are applying for a contract or other benefit, while the current law only addresses what has been approved.

Councilmembers Terry O’Day and Gleam Davis said they could not support this without adding language that a person is only in trouble by “knowingly” violating the rule.

Himmelrich would not accept that, saying, “when you’re running for office, you should know who’s giving you money.”

O’Day and Davis’ argument was that while an application is in the pipeline, it is difficult to know without time-consuming research who the specific people are that make up the entity with the application. Inadvertent errors are possible.

“This sounds like an awful deterrent for anybody who might want to run for office and doesn’t have the money to run themselves,” O’Day said.

Davis added that even a candidate who turns out to be innocent would have to go through a lengthy and financially expensive civil litigation process to prove this after an allegation is made.

“That’s the real risk here is that people will use this as a bludgeon to keep people they don’t like from running or try to bludgeon people who they don't like the way they vote,” Davis said.

O’Day and Davis’ argument that Himmelrich’s favored language was a deterrent for those who need to raise money for their campaigns was particularly noteworthy because of whom they were making the argument against.

Himmelrich in 2014 contributed $160,000 to her council campaign, which counted for more than 90 percent of the campaign's entire funding. That is the highest self-funding total in Santa Monica council campaign history ("Himmelrich Spent $160,000 of Her Own Money to Win Santa Monica Council Seat," February 3, 2015).l

With the three debating council members and others unable to reach a compromise, the application feature was removed from the measure. Since the council did not finalize the measure on Tuesday, it could come back at the next meeting.

This was the fourth meeting in which council members debated how to modify the Oaks Initiative. The July 26 meeting is the last time this can happen if they are going to finalize the language in time for the November election.

All modifications must go before the voters for approval since the Oaks Initiative is a voter-approved law that can legally be changed only in the same way.

Council members had a much easier time on Tuesday preparing two other measures for the November ballot.

They finalized the language for related proposals of a half-cent sales tax and a non-binding recommendation that the revenue support affordable housing programs and the local public schools.

The tax proposal joins several others on the ballot, including two from the County, one from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and one from Santa Monica College.

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