Sheriff Lee Baca to stop taking political donations from deputies

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Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca told his deputies Thursday he would no longer accept campaign contributions from department employees, according to an internal memo obtained by The Times.

Baca also said other sheriff’s managers who hold outside elected office would be barred from making employment decisions affecting employees who have donated to their campaigns.

“Nothing less than the public’s trust is at stake,” the sheriff wrote in the memo.

Baca’s announcement comes amid concerns that campaign contributions to sheriff’s brass by department employees created potential conflicts of interest in promotions and other personnel decisions.


Baca and his second-in-command, Paul Tanaka, who is also mayor of Gardena, have over the years accepted thousands of dollars in contributions from department employees.

For years, allegations of favoritism based on political contributions have dogged the Sheriff’s Department. A 2006 Times analysis found that of the sheriff’s managers who gave to Baca, 73% received promotions, while of those who did not contribute, 26% received promotions.

The sheriff received at least $97,850 in contributions to his campaign committee from department contributors from 1999 to 2011, according to a report last year by a county commission created to examine jail violence.

The commission also found Tanaka received more than $108,311 to his city of Gardena political campaigns from 1998 to 2011. Tanaka’s acceptance of donations was the subject of reports by WitnessLa, a website dedicated to social justice news.

Several sheriff’s officials told the jail commission there was a perception within the department that contributions to Tanaka, in particular, were key to promotions. Creating a formal policy to address campaign contributions was among the recommendations the jail commission put forth last year.

“Honesty, integrity and fairness are enduring principles and serve as the foundation for our department’s core values,” Baca wrote in the memo. “These principles ... can be tested when exposed to the dangers posed by a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest -- either real or perceived -- can have a lasting impact and lead to a disruption in the workplace.”

Baca’s spokesman, Steve Whitmore, said campaign contributions have never affected personnel decisions, but the new policy would prevent the perception they do.

Whitmore said he doesn’t think Baca will be returning the campaign contributions he has received from his employees over the years.


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