More than six years after a proposal to ban fundraising by Los Angeles city commissioners collapsed before an unsympathetic City Council, those pushing change appear to be gaining momentum in their efforts to limit the influence of money in City Hall.
In the last week, Deputy Mayor Troy Edwards, who was Mayor James K. Hahn’s campaign finance director, was called to testify before a grand jury investigating conflicts of interest in airport contracting.
Two days later, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley called on Hahn to implement new fundraising limits.
And on Friday, the mayor, who has resisted the call for a ban on commissioner fundraising, gave perhaps the clearest indication yet that the political winds may be shifting.
Before a lunch with San Fernando Valley business leaders, Hahn said for the first time that he might sign a ban on fundraising by city commissioners. “If the council makes that decision, after careful consideration of the issue, I don’t see why I would disagree,” Hahn said, although he said he was not convinced that the council would support the ban.
To be sure, the years-long debate over how to prevent conflicts of interest in city contracting and to limit the influence of campaign fundraising in city business is far from over.
Advocates of tougher ethics laws have long complained that allowing city commissioners to solicit campaign contributions presents an appearance of impropriety and can corrupt the contracting process. But the City Council shelved a proposal to ban the practice in 1997.Most city commissioners are part-time, unpaid appointees who oversee the work of city departments. But those at so-called proprietary commissions -- which oversee the airport, the port and the Department of Water and Power -- control millions of dollars in contracts. Some of the commissioners have raised thousands of dollars for the mayor.
Still, many City Council members -- including Council President Alex Padilla -- are advising caution before Los Angeles adopts any broad new restrictions on the fundraising process.
And Hahn on Friday reemphasized the need to assess whether fundraising by city commissioners was truly a problem. “Some people are saying there is and some people are saying there isn’t. We are just evaluating it right now.”
The mayor noted that current regulations prohibit city commissioners from soliciting contributions from donors who have had business before their commissions in the previous 12 months.
Hahn said he did not think people who volunteer their time to help the city as commissioners should lose the right to support candidates for political office.
“I don’t know why that one class of people suddenly can’t be involved in city commissions, simply because they want to be part of the political process,” Hahn said.
The mayor said his preference continued to be a requirement that commissioners simply disclose their fundraising.
But Hahn and his council allies are under increasing pressure to support reform.
Cooley said Thursday that fundraising by commissioners was the core of the problem of influence peddling in Los Angeles city government and called on the mayor to act unilaterally to ban such fundraising.
Earlier in the week, City Controller Laura Chick warned that she might withdraw her endorsement of Hahn’s reelection if he continued to oppose the prohibition on political fundraising by city commissioners.
“I cannot endorse someone and stand by their side if they are not doing the right thing,” said Chick, who has not ruled out a run for mayor.
And City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, though he has not taken a position on the specific reform proposal being debated by the council, has previously expressed support for regulations that would eliminate conflicts of interest in city business.
“The momentum is with us,” Councilwoman Wendy Greuel said Friday, days after she succeeded in getting a council committee to direct the city attorney’s office to draft an ordinance that would ban members of city commissions from fundraising for local elected officials.
The council is probably months away from a final decision about new regulations, but the Ethics Commission will consider the ban Feb. 10.