Ethics Panel Fines Padilla $79,000


The Los Angeles City Ethics Commission on Thursday levied its largest penalty ever against an elected official, fining City Council President Alex Padilla for campaign violations, as members said they hope to find ways to make future violators pay fines out of their own pockets rather than with contributors’ money.

At the same time, the panel’s staff director expressed skepticism about Padilla’s explanation for why the councilman exceeded city spending limits in his 1999 campaign.

Padilla blamed late, unexpected bills that arrived after election day. But LeeAnn Pelham, the panel’s executive director, said some of the bills came in before the runoff election that year.


The commission ordered Padilla to pay more than $79,000 for those violations and for accepting two contributions in excess of the city’s $500 limit on council candidates.

He will not have to personally pay for the violations, which the commission president called “dramatic and serious.” City law allows politicians such as Padilla to raise money for a legal defense fund to cover the cost of penalties, a path the councilman’s aides said he would take.

Commissioners said that although Padilla was entitled to use a legal defense fund, they may want to reconsider that practice in the future.

“Once a violation is established, it seems to me there ought to be some sort of more serious consequence rather than going out and raising additional money to pay the fine,” said Commissioner Dale Bonner.

In 1999, Padilla’s campaign agreed to abide by the city spending cap of $275,000 in order to receive city matching funds. A commission audit, however, concluded that he broke that cap by $54,738.

Padilla agreed to repay the $76,821.33 he received in matching funds and pay a $2,500 fine for accepting the two campaign contributions in excess of the $500 limit.


The fines are the third the commission has levied involving Padilla’s 1999 election. The first was against the political arm of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which the commission charged $2,000 for failing to properly disclose $31,000 it spent on an independent campaign supporting Padilla’s election. In 2000, the commission fined MediaOne for excessive campaign contributions to candidates, including Padilla.

Padilla, who was elected council president in June, had no comment Thursday.


Times staff writer Patrick McGreevy contributed to this report.