The City of Santa Monica will not pursue new legislation to enforce local election laws but will instead ask for more communication from state regulators when their investigations cross into the local jurisdiction.
A debate over local enforcement options was prompted by a recent California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) investigation into the Huntley hotel for violating campaign finance rules. That investigation resulted in one of the largest fines in state history but the city was unable to enforce its rules in the case because the resolution of the FPPC’s case came after the statute of limitations had expired on the City’s regulations.
Presented with several options, including requesting a new state law that would have allowed the FPPC to handle local election violations, the council opted to request the FPPC inform local agencies of investigations in enough time to pursue local action. Council also asked for more education efforts regarding the local rules.
In a third recommendation, Council directed staff to pursue a reciprocal arrangement with a nearby city for investigating election violations that would otherwise create a conflict of interest for the City Attorney’s office.
City Attorney Lane Dilg said it’s always valuable to communicate with the community regarding the City’s rules but that the FPPC should be credited for the quality of the work they do.
“I think that When the FPPC’s stipulated judgments came out the community was understandably both quite surprised and quite dismayed to learn of that conduct,” she said. “It is, in my view as former public corruption prosecutor, it was a very good investigation by a state agency and so I think it is important to understand that it is not that nothing happened with respect to that conduct. In fact, a state enforcement agency did very good work in finding, publicizing and penalizing that conduct so I do not think that should be lost here. The FPPC did their job and did it quite well in proactively initiating that investigation.”
The council said it wouldn’t be appropriate to start changing election rules in an election year but it would be possible to revise the system following this November’s vote.
“I think after this coming election is over it would behoove us to look at ways to take some of the special interest money out of local elections by having the residents of this city be the people that finance the elections,” said Councilman Kevin McKeown. “If politicians are going to be bought, let’s let them be bought by the people that live here.”
He said the accusation that come politicians can be bought is open for debate but in his view, the problem wouldn’t be solved with the current proposal for term limits.
“I don’t think some of the solutions that want to term people out of office or carve the city up solve the real problem,” he said. The problem is it’s hard to find committed local citizens that are willing to work almost as volunteers at a part-time job to spend a great deal of time to help to govern this wonderful city.”
Organizers are currently gathering signatures to place an initiative on the November ballot that would limit Councilmembers to three terms. The city already has term limits in place for appointed boards and commissions.
“If the concern is that money has too much influence the reality is, turn people over and big money can always find new sock puppets, that’s easy to do,” said McKeown. “Finding residents willing to commit themselves to this job is harder.”