CITY HALL — Half of the candidates for City Council have agreed not to participate in forums or respond to questionnaires by “unfamiliar groups” or political action committees that will not reveal their membership, leadership and other information.
Terry O’Day, Gleam Davis, Shari Davis, Frank Gruber, John Cyrus Smith, Jerry Rubin and Tony Vazquez signed the “transparency agreement,” which they released Tuesday afternoon.
The agreement calls on groups to reveal who controls them, how many members they have, information about their mission and history, state identification numbers and proposed role in the election.
“We want to emphasize that anyone has the right to engage in politics, which includes independent campaigns,” the letter states. “As candidates, we have a responsibility to encourage transparency by those organizations that want information and participation from us.”
The request comes less than a week after a new organization, Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth, sent out a lengthy questionnaire to council candidates.
When candidates responded asking for additional information about the group, which as of last week was not registered as a political action committee with either the Secretary of State or the Santa Monica City Clerk, they were met with silence.
Ivan Perkins, an attorney who is part of the new group, says that he is working to release all of the information requested by the candidates by the end of next week.
“I just hope people understand this is not by design,” Perkins said. “There are errors and mistakes because of our newness … we didn’t know this kind of response would come out.”
In years past, shadowy groups claiming to be community organizations have involved themselves in Santa Monica elections.
Santa Monicans for Change, Santa Monicans for Sensible Priorities and Santa Monicans for Quality Government were all organizations backed by members of the hospitality industry or developers looking to defeat candidates that backed slow-growth policies.
Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth was founded by between 15 and 20 residents looking to curb what its members feel is bad development in order to preserve Santa Monica’s livable, walkable nature, Perkins said.
Perkins himself became involved through his own opposition to the proposed expansion of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel. That project has been fought by the Huntley Hotel, a luxury hotel immediately adjacent to the Fairmont Miramar.
Although the Huntley had given the group organizational help, Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth is not an arm of the Huntley Hotel, Perkins said.
Either way, candidates who signed the letter are looking to instill a sense of confidence on the part of the public that they are doing everything they can to keep the race above board.
“We want to do as much as we can to protect against the formation of groups that claim to be community-based groups but don’t have community credentials,” said Terry O’Day, an incumbent running to keep his seat on the Santa Monica City Council.
Candidate and former journalist John Cyrus Smith signed the letter Tuesday in the “spirit of transparency.”
“Who is doing the talking is just as important as what they’re saying, and a red flag always goes up when I get an anonymous e-mail that calls me ‘My dear candidate,’” Smith said.
The letter was sent out to all but one candidate for City Council, and several have not yet responded.
Those who have not yet signed the letter are still welcome to do so, and only two — current Planning commissioners Ted Winterer and Richard McKinnon — have said that they will not, O’Day said.
In an e-mail Tuesday, Winterer said that his campaign had reached out to Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth and received no response.
“I did not ‘decline’ to sign the statement — I just don’t see any need to duplicate the effort we have already made so opted not to join in with the other candidates,” Winterer wrote.
McKinnon did not respond to a phone call by presstime.
Political action committees have had a growing role in American politics since 2010.
The Supreme Court decision Citizens United allowed an unlimited amount of money to be spent in elections at all levels of government either opposing or supporting candidates or measures, within certain conditions.
Candidate committees, or groups with which candidates are directly involved, can only accept $325 donations, however.
That number is expanded from $250, the limit which had been in place since 1992 before the City Council voted to increase it in November 2011.
At the time, some council members expressed concern that the lower limit would put the public at a disadvantage because corporate and special interest groups could outspend them in a big way post-Citizens United.