Council Weakens Campaign Reform Measure for Ballot

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Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to weaken a local campaign finance reform package by striking a controversial conflict-of-interest provision that was scheduled to go before voters in the June election.

The council left intact the rest of the package, a set of proposed campaign spending limitations scheduled for the April ballot.

The conflict-of-interest provision would have required city officials to refrain from acting on matters affecting major contributors. Any official receiving $1,000 or more from a contributor over a four-year period would have been prohibited from acting on issues of financial interest to that contributor.


The 10-4 margin to drop the conflict-of-interest provision reversed a previous 8-7 vote to support it.

As the results of the vote were announced, Councilman Robert Farrell reflected the mood of several members as he smiled broadly and made a swooping thumbs-down motion.

Councilman John Ferraro, on the other hand, said he would have supported the proposal had he not been talking on the telephone when the matter came up for a vote. Because he was not officially absent from the chambers, his vote was automatically registered as an “aye,” in this case on the side of the motion to strike the proposal from the ballot.

In January, Ferraro voted in favor of putting the conflict-of-interest measure on the ballot.

Councilwoman Joy Picus, who changed her vote on the issue, said she thinks the measure amounted to “overkill” in light of the campaign spending limitation package on the April ballot.

Those limitations, sponsored by Councilman Ernani Bernardi, would place a $500-per-election ceiling on campaign contributions to council candidates and a $1,000 maximum on contributions to candidates running for citywide offices.


Wachs’ Position

Councilman Joel Wachs, who sponsored the conflict-of-interest measure, said it was necessary because the Bernardi limitations would not govern what he called general political contributions not designated for local campaigns.

“There is a substantial amount of money given around here that is used for travel and entertainment and other things that have nothing to do with city campaigns,” Wachs said. “Bernardi’s proposal would not limit those contributions.”

The council’s vote Wednesday sent Wachs’ proposal to the council’s Rules Committee, where it will stay until after the April election, when the council can decide whether to call it back for further consideration.

Resurrection of the issue is unlikely, however, in light of the council’s grudging acceptance of any campaign spending measures. Members have said repeatedly that they have acted in response to public pressure to adopt reforms that they believe will be ineffective.

Councilman Arthur K. Snyder led the attack on Wachs’ proposal Wednesday.

Snyder argued that the council has done enough to injure itself by agreeing to let voters in April decide whether to impose campaign spending limitations. “Honest to God, there are enough ways to get yourself in trouble,” Snyder said. “Do you have to create another?”

Plans to Retire

Snyder, who has announced that he will retire from his council seat in July before any of the proposed limitations could take effect, said he was speaking for the benefit of colleagues who could be saddled with unreasonable constraints.


Snyder, who was fined $14,000 in 1982 for violating the 1974 state Political Reform Act, said the violation--a failure to disclose a conflict of interest--was an inadvertent omission that became a crime under the type of law proposed by Wachs.

Voting with Snyder against Wachs’ proposal were Farrell, Ferraro, Picus, Hal Bernson, David Cunningham, Joan Flores, Gilbert Lindsay, Peggy Stevenson and Pat Russell.