Alatorre Sued Under State Disclosure Law
Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre, who earlier escaped criminal charges over his campaign contributions, was accused of violating the state Political Reform Act in an unusual civil lawsuit filed Tuesday by the city attorney’s office.
The suit in Los Angeles Superior Court contends that Alatorre and the treasurers of his two political finance committees misreported many campaign contributions and expenditures that helped Alatorre win election to the council last December.
Last month, the two treasurers, including Alatorre’s sister, were charged with misdemeanor violations of the city’s new contribution limit law for accepting nearly $85,000 in improper contributions during the race. But City Atty. James K. Hahn said he lacked independent evidence against Alatorre, who refused to cooperate with city auditors.
Instead, Hahn took the unusual step Tuesday of suing Alatorre under the state’s campaign disclosure law, which was passed by voters in 1974 to require reporting of all political campaign transactions. A spokesman for Hahn said this was the first time that a city attorney had sued a council member for alleged violations of the state campaign contribution law.
“We felt we wanted to send out a strong message,” Hahn said Tuesday. “We hope we can get a significant civil penalty out of this action.”
If the matter ever goes to trial, Alatorre and the treasurers, Cecelia Alatorre Kunkel and Ernest Camacho, could be assessed damages up to $2,000 per violation or, in some cases, up to the amount of each contribution that was improperly reported.
Deputy City Atty. Charles Goldenberg estimated that damages could run as high as $40,000.
Waiting Time for Trial
However, the current wait for a civil trial in Superior Court here is several years, and Hahn said he was open to discussions for an early settlement.
“We’re naturally interested in any settlement that will give us what we want out of this suit,” Hahn said. “We’re looking for Mr. Alatorre to acknowledge responsibility for violations of the Political Reform Act.”
The controversy dates back to Alatorre’s decision to leave his state Assembly seat representing the East Side of Los Angeles last year to seek the City Council seat left vacant by the resignation of longtime 14th District incumbent Arthur K. Snyder.
Alatorre, at the time a trusted member of Assembly Speaker Willie Brown’s inner circle, had amassed a large amount of campaign contributions to be used for state races. But the 1985 contribution limit law in Los Angeles barred Alatorre from diverting more than $500 from his state fund committee into the City Council campaign.
An audit by the city clerk’s office turned up numerous instances where money raised in the name of Alatorre’s state committee apparently was used to further the City Council campaign in violation of the law.
Auditors were forced to obtain search warrants because Alatorre refused to turn over records for his state committee.
Alatorre’s office referred calls Tuesday to his attorney, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., who has said before that there may have been some errors made by Alatorre’s treasurers. Cochran said Tuesday that he does not believe Alatorre violated any law.
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