Fast Feet, Flurry of Dollars : L.A. Marathon case shows need for a closer eye on political gifts

The state Fair Political Practices Commission and the Los Angeles Ethics Commission haven't exactly had kind words for each other lately. And that's truly unfortunate, because these two watchdog agencies were created to safeguard the public interest by fighting political corruption, not bashing each other.

Bad blood or no, both deserve praise for a joint investigation that has yielded a substantial settlement in a case of laundered campaign contributions. Under terms of the settlement, Los Angeles Marathon Inc., the firm that oversees the annual footrace, must pay a $436,000 fine for improperly funneling $73,000 in contributions to state and local candidates through third-party organizations and individuals.

Recipients of the illicit funds include eight current City Council members and former L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley. Most of the donations came at a time when L.A. Marathon officials were furiously lobbying the City Council for a contract extension; later they got one that allows them to hold the race here through the year 2000.

Some elected officials and candidates insist that it's difficult to identify the true sources of their campaign contributions. That may be true, but they certainly could try harder; we bet they could identify the sources in many cases. When an illegal contribution does elude their detection, at the least when they learn of the violation they should quickly relinquish the tainted money.

The Los Angeles Ethics Commission now holds seminars for local candidates and their campaign treasurers on campaign finance rules, with a special emphasis on fund-raising and campaign contributions. Elected officials should pay attention and keep careful notes. In the end, the issue of better identifying campaign contributions may have to be addressed through changes in campaign law.

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