Staff Says LAFCO Can't Order Funding Disclosure

The panel presiding over the Valley campaign to secede from Los Angeles does not have the power to force groups lobbying for or against a split to disclose their finances, officials said in a staff report.

The report by staff of the Local Agency Formation Commission, the panel that will oversee a study of secession and decide whether to put the issue to a vote, states that LAFCO lacks the authority to impose such disclosure rules because it is an arm of state government.

The opinion contradicts that of the city Ethics Commission, which asked LAFCO to require that groups trying to influence the secession process reveal their war chests and campaign contributors. The report concluded that the Ethics Commission should ask the Legislature, not LAFCO, to enact the change.

Larry Calemine, LAFCO's executive director, went a step further in an interview Monday, saying he believed the Ethics Commission's request was an unfair attempt to burden proponents of Valley secession with new regulations.

"There is nothing in the government code that specifies this commission has the power to do something like this," Calemine said. "That's my position. Even if we do have the power to do it, I don't think it's being applied fairly."

LAFCO's nine appointed panelists will take up the issue Wednesday, and the county counsel's office, which provides legal advice to LAFCO, is scheduled to explain its view of the issue. The report recommends that LAFCO take no action on the Ethics Commission letter, other than to thank the commission "for its interest in the subject."

Ethics Commission Director Rebecca Avila said Calemine may have misinterpreted the request, adding that the power to require disclosure appeared to be well within LAFCO's purview.

Nevertheless, she said, the Ethics Commission was already talking with the state Fair Political Practices Commission about potential statewide regulations.

Through its letter to LAFCO, the Ethics Commission was attempting to close what it regards as a loophole in the state's campaign finance laws, which require disclosure of contributors in nearly every type of political campaign that results in a public vote except for secession and cityhood drives.

As a result of the loophole, Valley VOTE, the main group pushing for a study and possible vote on secession, has not been required to reveal its financial backers. And it has chosen to do so only on a very limited basis, saying it fears retribution against donors by powerful city officials.

Valley VOTE has said it would comply with any new regulations, as long as they are applied to everyone seeking to influence the secession process. Leaders of the group say it is also weighing releasing information on its own finances in coming weeks, regardless of whether new laws are enacted.

Valley VOTE estimates it has raised and spent more than $500,000 on the secession issue, including roughly $290,000 on a signature drive to trigger a secession study. Last August, it revealed that its biggest donor at that time was the Daily News of Los Angeles, which had contributed $60,000.

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