Overview:

Santa Monica’s neighborhood groups will have to be more clear about how they fun their political activity.

Following a contentious election season, City Council sought to clarify rules surrounding local neighborhood associations’ ability to endorse candidates at this week’s Nov. 29 meeting, by requiring these organizations provide a disclaimer that their views do not necessarily reflect those of the City of Santa Monica and assert that no City funds were used for their political actions.

Council Member Gleam Davis initially proposed a motion that included removing links to neighborhood organizations’ websites from the City website if they chose to make endorsements. However, following pushback from community members and discussion with other council members, this was amended to just requiring a disclaimer and including explicit language in City grant awards– which many of these groups receive–  that the funds not be used for electioneering.

“In all honesty the links, to me, are the least important if in fact then when you click on the link there’s a disclaimer there,” Davis said. “That’s really what I think is important because there was, in all honesty, a lot of confusion in this last election about who was endorsing who.”

Santa Monica has seven non-profit neighborhood organizations: Friends of Sunset Park, North of Montana Association, Ocean Park Association, Pico Neighborhood Association, Santa Monica Mid City Neighbors, Santa Monica Northeast Neighbors, Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition. While the Ocean Park Association and Pico Neighborhood Association are registered as 501(c)(3)s, a classification which means they cannot legally support or oppose candidates, the other five groups are 501)(c)(4)s meaning they can participate in political activity.

“These organizations are legally allowed to lobby as long as the lobbying is related to the organization’s purpose,” former Friends of Sunset Park President Kathy Knight said at the meeting. However, as Davis noted, these groups are not allowed to use City funding for this type of activity.

Council Member Oscar de la Torre pointed out that there are already written conditions attached to City grants stating the money cannot be used for political purposes but agreed with the idea of requiring they provide a disclaimer when engaging in political advocacy. 

“It’s already there, but what isn’t there probably is that they have to put a disclaimer…” he said.  “To put that in the agreement with the group that’s receiving the funding that they should put a disclaimer on their web page is probably also something that’s smart to do as well.”

He added that he thinks the City should also add a similar disclaimer to the page of its own website which includes links to the various neighborhood associations. He also suggested that the City Attorney look into regulations for other organizations that receive City funding and are politically active to ensure consistency across policies.

The council voted 6-0 to approve the motion in its amended form. Council Member Chrisitine Parra was not present at the meeting. 

grace@smdp.com

Grace Adams

Grace Adams is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University where she studied Spanish and journalism. She holds a Master’s degree in investigative journalism from City, University of London. She has experience...