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Santa Monica Council Member Fined for Campaign Contribution Violations  

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

January 17, 2017 -- Santa Monica City Council Member Terry O’Day has been fined $500 for violating the City’s anti-corruption Oaks Initiative, a local watchdog group announced Monday.

The City Attorney’s Office determined O’Day violated the initiative twice by accepting contributions of $340 each from two different developers –- each involved with City projects he supported -- in the months before the November 8 election, said Terry White, chief deputy in criminal prosecution for the City Attorney’s Office.

In a January 13 letter to Mary Marlow of the Transparency Project, White said O’Day failed to return a September contribution from Marc Luzatto, a principal of Village Trailer Park, and an August contribution from Dan Emmett, a prominent developer, within the 10 days the law stipulates.

Both contributions were included in reports on campaign finances to the City Clerk, as required. But O’Day didn’t return the questionable contributions until a few days before Election Day, White said.

O’Day, who went on to easily win a second full term, “clearly did not exercise due diligence,” White said, adding that “there is no evidence to indicate this conduct was a ‘knowing and willful’ violation by Councilman O'Day which would justify proceeding with a misdemeanor criminal prosecution.”

O’Day -- who was the top vote-getter in the race for four council seats -- said Monday he is “pleased to conclude this minor matter and wrap up the administration of the 2016 campaign.”

“Thanks to the broad support of the voters, I look forward to continuing to serve our city,” he said.

Marlow, founder of the Transparency Project, heralded the fine as a sign that the law is finally being enforced after “a 16-year City campaign against Santa Monica’s anti-corruption law.”

Transparency Project filed the complaint against O’Day in the final days of the election season and publicized O’Day’s acceptance of the money from the two developers("Contentious End to Santa Monica Election Season," November 7, 2016).

O'Day quickly acknowledged his failure to return the funds within the legal time frame, saying it was an “oversight.”

After it came to his campaign’s attention, “we immediately returned the funds,” O’Day said at the time.

The Oaks Initiative prohibits the City’s public officials from, among other things, receiving campaign contributions or a job from contractors and developers after approving a public benefit for them.

Adopted in 2000 by voters in Santa Monica and other municipalities as the Taxpayer Protection Act, the Oaks Initiative (as Santa Monica calls it) caused complications.

At one point, the City Attorney’s office said that enforcing the law against council members was conflict of interest because they serve as the department’s bosses ("Conflict of Interest Probe of Former City Manager Unlikely," July 8, 2015).

After a review of the City’s handling of cases involving wrongdoing by officials, voters in the November 8 election overwhelmingly approved Measure SM, which toughened the law ("Amendments to Santa Monica’s Anti-Corruption Law Headed for Ballot," July 5, 2016).

The letter from White said he and O'Day had agreed the council member would pay the fine to the City's general fund.

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