L.A. Council's Whining Ways

California voters made themselves eminently clear last election day on campaign fund-raising and contributions. Today, one might well ask where most of the Los Angeles City Council has been since the news broke.

Proposition 208 was approved 61% to 39% statewide. The measure put a ceiling on contributions for candidates and it banned contributions by businesses, labor organizations and nonprofit corporations. More specific to the issue here, it placed a $10,000-a-year limit on "officeholder" accounts, from the governorship on down to members of city councils.

L.A. voters favored Proposition 208 by 57% to 43%, while those in Orange County supported it with 58% of the vote.

Now a majority on the Los Angeles City Council is whining, saying they just can't live under such officeholder account restrictions. Under Proposition 208's rules, the council has already taken a preliminary, nonbinding 11-2 vote to put on the April election ballot a measure asking voters to override the restrictions. Only eight aye votes would be needed for final approval by the council.

By contrast, Orange County had placed strict limits on contributions to officials well before Proposition 208's mandate. And there hasn't been any clamor to reverse 208 limits by officials of cities in Orange County.

In Los Angeles, most of these funds come from lobbyists and longtime political activists, and only council members Richard Alatorre and Mike Feuer voted against the call for an override. Council President John Ferraro and Councilman Joel Wachs were not present for the 11-2 vote.

The council move is even more quizzical given the prior release of a city Ethics Commission report on $1.1 million in officeholder account expenditures by the 15-member council, Mayor Richard Riordan, City Atty. James Hahn and City Controller Rick Tuttle during a 21-month period that ended Sept. 30.

The council might have a stronger argument had the vast majority of that money been spent on worthy, district-based, constituent projects for which no other funding was available. But the 18 officeholders committed just $145,296 directly to civic and charitable projects.

More, $232,815, was spent on political consultants and accountants, and $154,499 was spent on mailings. An additional $118,422 was spent to, well, raise more money for the officeholder accounts. Individually, one of the most interesting expenditures had to be Hal Bernson's $244 dinner discussion of "ethics" with Art Snyder, who awaits sentencing on political corruption charges. Looks like the council has a very long way to go to convince the public that politicians cannot get by with a $10,000 limit on officeholder accounts.

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