BY MATTHEW HALL
Daily Press Editor
As has become an election tradition in Santa Monica, complaints are flying regarding possible breaches of local election law.
Two separate complaints have been filed so far. Terry O’Day is accused of taking campaign contributions from individuals who did business with the city and the Yes on LV campaign has been asked to return donations due to its collaboration with council candidate Armen Melkonians.
The Santa Monica Transparency Project has filed a complaint with the City Attorney’s office on Wednesday alleging Councilman Terry O’Day violated the city’s rules by accepting donations from individuals who have received contracts from the council.
The complaint alleges two donations to O’Day’s campaign violate the law stating that donations from Marc Luzatto and Douglas Emmett should have been returned within 10 days as O’Day voted to award contracts to Emmet and Luzatto (as part of the Village Trailer Park company) in 2013.
In their complaint, the Project said the violations should be taken seriously given the recent actions to strengthen the city’s anti-corruption laws.
“These violations come shortly after the Council hired a special counsel to, in part, review Oaks and after the Council engaged in long discussions of Oaks in recent Council meetings culminating with putting Measure SM on the ballot. While lack of knowledge of the law is no defense, it cannot be doubted that through this process Councilmember O’Day became acutely aware of his obligations under Oaks,” it said.
“Given all of this, for Councilmember O’Day to merely pay these contributions over to the General Fund is not enough. Violations of Santa Monica’s important anti-corruption law must be enforced even against its most senior government officials.”
Marlow said fines would be an appropriate sanction.
O’Day said the donations were overlooked by mistake and were returned as soon as the campaign realized their error.
“The campaign had an oversight in our OAKS compliance review this filing period, and when it came to our attention, we immediately returned the funds,” he said. “We appreciate our community watchdogs for helping the entire Council to comply with a very complicated law.”
The Oak’s complaint follows a dispute between the City Clerk’s office and supporters of Measure LV over their association with Council candidate Armen Melkonians.
Melkonians co-authored Measure LV and has remained actively involved in the organization he founded, Residocracy, as it has campaigned on behalf of the measure. The Yes on LV campaign has sent out joint communications with Melkonians and he has maintained a position on Residocracy’s steering committee.
The City Clerk sent a letter to the Yes on LV campaign on Oct. 12 stating an initial opinion that Yes on LV and Melkonians were acting together with little independence which would make the Yes campaign a candidate controlled committee.
Beverly Palmer, an attorney representing the Yes on LV campaign, responded on Oc. 20 stating the two campaigns were independent, had complied with relevant laws and had done so after verifying their actions with state regulators. That letter did voluntarily accept classifying the Yes on LV campaign as a candidate controlled committee.
In a follow-up letter from Oct. 24, City Clerk Denise Anderson-Warren said the city’s municipal code limits donations to a candidate or the controlled committee of a candidate to $340 and therefore, any individual donations made to Yes on LV in excess of $340 must be returned.
Palmer replied on Oct. 28 stating the campaign would not return any donations. She said the City’s rules do not apply to committees for ballot measures, that the Supreme Court has struck down campaign limits on committees for ballot measures and that State courts have previously rejected attempts by the Fair Political Practices Commission to regulate contributions to state and local ballot measures by candidate controlled committees.
Palmer’s letter said if the City continued to demand the money be returned, her client would evaluate whether to pursue further legal action.
A second complaint was filed with the City’s Attorney’s office and the FPPC over alleged collusion between Yes on LV and Melkonians by attorney George M. Yin on behalf of Santa Monica resident Babak Mozaffari on Oct. 27.
The complaint alleges coordinated activity by the two campaigns violates the campaign fundraising rules cited by the City Clerk and alleges campaigns might have rules regarding identification of political activity.
Because Mozaffari complaint was addressed to the FPPC, that agency now assumes jurisdiction over the process. Had the City Clerk pursued the complaint, the process would have likely moved to the FPPC for enforcement anyway and the federal agency will now conduct its own investigation and make its own conclusions.
The FPPC sent a letter to the City Clerk on Nov. 3 stating its enforcement division has initiated an investigation into advertising disclosure and proper committee names related to the Yes on LV campaign.