CITY HALL — The City Council on Tuesday is set to consider tightening Santa Monica’s campaign finance disclosure rules, a step prompted by the election season activities of the group Santa Monicans for Quality Government (SMQG), which used money from development interests to back a slate of council candidates and resisted filing disclosure statements with City Hall.

The group, which received $41,000 in donations from developers Hines, Village Trailer Park, NMS Properties and a handful of other firms involved in the real estate business, sent out a series of “slate mailers” backing City Council candidates but argued it wasn’t required to reveal its contributors to City Hall.

The identities of SMQG’s donors were revealed the day before the election only after a complaint was lodged with California’s Fair Political Practices Commission and City Clerk Maria Stewart actively solicited the group’s disclosure documents. The group, which is registered with the California Secretary of State’s Office, maintained it was not required to file statements with City Hall. It could have more donors who have not yet been disclosed.

At the request of Councilman Kevin McKeown, the council will consider whether to require all groups that make political expenditures that affect Santa Monica elections to disclose their funding sources and expenditures to City Hall, regardless of whether they are local or statewide organizations.

“Right now, loopholes allow some special interest groups to file through Sacramento,” McKeown said. “That thwarts the ability of local voters to know who really paid for messages deliberately designed to look like they came from trusted organizations, whose credibility is thereby hijacked.”

On Tuesday, the council could, with a majority vote, direct staff to begin preparing a new financial disclosure ordinance. City Hall’s legal staff would have to return to the council with a proposal before changes could be formally adopted.

The man behind SMQG, political consultant Fred Huebscher, said it was difficult to comment on McKeown’s move because no details of a potential new ordinance are known.

But he said a rule requiring all organizations that pay for political materials that include Santa Monica candidates to file disclosure documents locally could have unintended consequences because numerous statewide groups that support local candidates could find it cumbersome to follow Santa Monica’s financial disclosure rules.

“[Slate mailer organizations] are getting money all over the state. Are they going to have to [file disclosures in Santa Monica] because the slate happens to carry candidates in Santa Monica?” he said, adding that if the council considers a change to disclosure laws, it should look into a more comprehensive revision of its campaign finance rules, including possibly increasing the $250 limit on donations to council candidates.

Huebscher also said City Hall should, in the interest of fairness, place a cap on the amount of money a candidate can lend to his or her own campaign. By self-financing a campaign with a loan and then getting reimbursed after the election via donations, he said, under the current system a candidate can in effect disguise the source of a campaign’s funding until after voters make their choice.

By deadline Thursday it was unclear whether those suggestions would be up for discussion at the next council meeting.

nickt@www.smdp.com

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *