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Council may strengthen campaign finance laws

July 28, 2011|By Mark Kellam, mark.kellam@latimes.com

The City Council this week moved to strengthen campaign finance and ethics regulations in an effort to eliminate even the appearance of inappropriate campaign activities.

The move comes after more than $100,000 was funneled to past City Council campaigns through subcontractors — and their family members — who worked for Advanced Development & Investment Inc.

City Atty. Scott Howard told the City Council on Tuesday that the draft ordinance establishes so-called “bookends” that span two years.

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The proposal would prohibit City Council members from voting on contracts worth $25,000 or more for one year after receiving a contribution from the applicant, contractors or their subcontractors. Additionally, a council member could not accept a contribution from the same set of people for one year after their work, also valued at $25,000 or more, is approved.

The measure covers more than businesses in the construction industry. It includes anyone who provides professional services to the city, such as work on computers, advertising or engineering. Competitively-bid contracts are exempt, Howard said.

As part of the measure, city officials would create a database listing all applicants, contractors and subcontractors who have done work in the city. Council members could then check the information to see if they’ve received contributions from anyone in the database.

Mayor Laura Friedman requested that the proposed ordinance state that the database be identified as the overriding source for that information.

A list of contributions is already available in the city clerk’s office.

Gathering information for contractors and subcontractors is ground-breaking, Howard said.

“You’re drilling down two levels deeper than you find in other communities,” he said.

Howard pointed out that the measure contains a clause that stresses the voting prohibition applies only when the council member knows, or has reason to know, of the contribution, and the information is readily available.

And there are exceptions. Developers may not have selected contractors or subcontractors when they file to begin a project. Contractors or their subs could then make a campaign contribution shortly after the filing date, only to be hired later by the applicant.

In that scenario, the council member would not be in violation, Howard said, because the contribution was made prior to the contractor being hired.

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