Common Cause Urges Conflict-of-Interest Probe of Dana

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The political watchdog group California Common Cause on Tuesday asked Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti to immediately open an investigation into whether Supervisor Deane Dana violated the state's Political Reform Act by permitting his aides to vote on contracts that benefited his largest campaign contributor.

In a letter to Garcetti, Common Cause Chairman Bradley Phillips cited stories published in The Times disclosing that aides acting as Dana's proxy on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission voted 29 times to approve $45.8 million in additional payments for Tutor-Saliba Corp. for its work on the Metro Rail project in 1991 and 1992. Records show that the construction firm contributed $28,000 to Dana's reelection campaign during the same period.

Sandi Gibbons, a spokesman for Garcetti, said: "Even before receipt of the letter we decided to review the situation to see if a criminal investigation is warranted. The matter is now under review." Gibbons said that Garcetti discussed The Times' stories with aides and then asked the Special Investigations Division to begin a review.

Don Knabe, the supervisor's chief of staff who cast most of the votes in question, said, "we welcome an investigation to clear the air." Knabe, who also was manager of Dana's hard-fought 1992 reelection campaign, said, "there was no intent on our part to circumvent the law. . . . We do not feel we violated the law."

Dana is on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

The Political Reform Act bars public officials from voting on permits, licenses and no-bid contracts affecting any campaign contributor who donated more than $250 during the preceding year.

Ruth Holton, acting executive director of California Common Cause, said the letter to Garcetti was also sent to Ben Davidian, executive director of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, the state agency that interprets and enforces the conflict of interest law, passed by voters in 1974 as the Political Reform Act.

Jeanette Turvill, spokeswoman for the FPPC, said that as a matter of policy the agency does not confirm or deny the receipt of a complaint. She said such complaints would be reviewed to see if the agency has jurisdiction and to determine whether there is enough evidence for an investigation. The matter could be referred to county prosecutors or investigated by the FPPC.

Phillips said that although the conflict of interest law does not explicitly prohibit a public official's substitute from voting when the officer is prohibited from casting the vote, "it would be a mockery of the law" to allow it.

Knabe said that while the matter is under review, he will follow the same guidelines that apply to Dana on voting on contracts for campaign contributors. Some of Dana's colleagues on the LACTC have called for the state law to be broadened to include the votes of aides and other substitutes sitting on the commission.

Holton said that if the district attorney finds there was no violation of the law, "Common Cause will pursue legislation to prevent such proxy voting in the future."

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