FPPC Opposes Bill to Relax Conflict-of-Interest Rules

Times Staff Writer

The state Fair Political Practices Commission on Tuesday voted to oppose a bill that would weaken a law aimed at curbing conflicts of interest by elected officials who accept $250 or more in campaign contributions from land developers .

The bill by Assemblyman John Lewis (R-Orange) is supported by Los Angeles County, which argues that the law has deprived the county's Local Agency Formation Commission of full representation.

Under the law, elected officials, such as county supervisors, who sit on local agency commissions must disqualify themselves from participating in issues that could benefit anyone from whom they received a campaign contribution of $250 or more during the past year.

The 57 commissions statewide were formed in the 1960s to decide cityhood issues, annexations and boundary disputes. The Los Angeles commission consists of seven members, including two supervisors, Mike Antonovich and Pete Schabarum. Both raise substantial campaign contributions from land developers.

To avoid a conflict of interest, Antonovich and Schabarum often have either abstained from voting or not attended commission meetings since the law took effect in 1984.

The Fair Political Practices Commission voted 3 to 1 to oppose the bill, with Commissioner Stanley Roden declaring that he opposed the legislation, because he did not approve of officials sitting on local agency commissions "who have received large donations from people with an interest" in a decision.

Roden was joined in opposing the bill by Commissioner H. Douglas Lemons and Chairman John Larson, who attended his first meeting since his appointment to head the commission.

Commissioner Michael Montgomery, the lone dissenter, said he supports the bill, because the current law has proven unworkable and posed an unfair burden for elected officials. He said it was the only state law that limits campaign contributions. Montgomery also discounted the importance of a $250 contribution, saying, "You can't even go to a dinner (fund-raiser) for that."

Los Angeles County officials have been attempting to change the law since last summer, prompted in part by a dispute between Agoura Hills and the Los Angeles commission. Ruth Benell, commission executive director, acknowledged that the state Fair Political Practices Commission's action could pose a setback for the county. So far, the measure has not been considered by any legislative committee.

"I understand a lot of legislators are afraid to buck the FPPC," Benell said in a telephone interview.

She said it would be hard to overcome the opposition of Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), author of the current law.

Waters, whose legislation also provided the state commission with $670,000 for local enforcement, testified that the law deters local agency commission members from accepting large campaign contributions from developers who might appear before them.

Waters also indicated to the state commissioners that if they supported the Lewis bill, she would take legislative steps to cut back on the extra funds the commission received for local enforcement.

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