CITY HALL — Members of the City Council could soon have to comply with an additional financial disclosure requirement, if the panel accepts a proposal being put forward by Councilman Kevin McKeown.
The plan, set to be discussed at the council’s Jan. 11 meeting, would require council members who have received a campaign contribution from a person or company with business before the council to verbally disclose the gift prior to any discussion that would impact the donor.
McKeown said his plan is mainly aimed at making sure the public is informed about which council members were backed by developers as the council makes land use decisions, such as whether to approve development agreements or grant zoning variances.
He said it was also driven by concern that existing campaign finance disclosure requirements aren’t sufficient.
“While we cannot seem to restrict the court-defined ‘rights’ of outside interests to spend unlimited money, prevaricate in campaign literature, and obfuscate the funding sources until after the election, we can easily do something ourselves: just disclose,” he wrote in an e-mail.
The proposal comes after an election in which financial disclosure became an issue because of the activities of the group Santa Monicans for Quality Government, which argued it wasn’t required to follow Santa Monica’s disclosure laws, though Santa Monica’s election was the focus of its efforts.
McKeown said his proposed rule would be parallel to an existing requirement for Planning Commissioners to verbally disclose meetings with parties that have business before the commission prior to votes. Planning Commissioners are appointed by the council.
Critics of the idea, including Councilman Bob Holbrook, argue the rule would be redundant, considering Santa Monica already has strict financial disclosure laws and posts each elected official’s campaign donation statements on the City Clerk’s website.
“I think it borders on being absurd,” Holbrook said of McKeown’s proposal. “I don’t think it has any merit because all our donations have been reported already online and they’re right there for anyone to look at.”
Councilman Bobby Shriver, though, said he was on board with McKeown’s idea.
“Full transparency and full disclosure is in everybody’s interest,” he said. “I definitely think it’s worth exploring.”
Shriver said posting financial disclosure forms online is no substitute for a simple verbal disclosure immediately before a discussion that involves a campaign donor begins.
For some people, the forms are “too hard to find” online and are “too out of context,” he said.
“The moment that [campaign gifts are] really most relevant is the moment when a question could be raised, and at that exact moment it’s important to just put the question to bed,” he said.
The other four members of the council were asked to comment on the idea but did not respond to the Daily Press’ inquiry.
On Tuesday, a majority vote would be needed to authorize City Hall staff to research McKeown’s proposal and return to council with a possible recommendation to adopt a new verbal disclosure requirement. A second vote at a later date would have to be taken on a specific ordinance.
While there’s no guarantee the proposal will ultimately pass even if it moves forward on Tuesday, shooting it down next week would be an unusually harsh rebuke, since members generally allow their colleagues’ proposals to receive staff attention before taking a firm position.