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Ethics Chief Slips, Causing Ripples

Times Staff Writer

Shouldn’t the president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission, of all people, abide by the panel’s rules for campaign giving? A city enforcement officer thought so Monday, recommending that Ethics Commission President Gil Garcetti face triple the normal fine for making an improper political contribution to his son, City Council President Eric Garcetti.

The elder Garcetti has already agreed to a settlement that requires him to pay $1,500 in penalties for contributing $500 to his son’s 2005 reelection. Because the Ethics Commission is responsible for enforcing campaign finance laws, members are prohibited from making contributions in city races.

Garcetti, who was district attorney for Los Angeles County for eight years before joining the Ethics Commission, said in an interview that he accepts responsibility for inadvertently violating the panel’s rules.

“It was the power of my wife saying ‘Sign here,’ ” Garcetti said, adding that he did not notice the check was for his son’s campaign.

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The proposed fine is higher than the dollar-for-dollar penalty normally imposed by the Ethics Commission for campaign finance violations because investigators said Garcetti, in his current position, should have known better.

“The respondent was a member of the very commission charged with enforcing campaign finance law and, as such, should have been particularly aware of the city law that prohibits Ethics Commissioners from making campaign donations to any person running for city public office,” said the settlement agreement written by David Tristan, deputy executive director of the Ethics Commission.

The fine is lower than the maximum possible fine of $5,000 because, the settlement agreement said, Garcetti “fully accepted responsibility for his actions. Moreover, the violation is an isolated incident.”

Garcetti told investigators that his wife filled out the check for a joint contribution and asked him to sign it.

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“He did so,” the settlement said, “and states that either he did not notice the payee or it failed to register with him that he was prohibited by city law from contributing to his own son’s campaign.”

Garcetti, who was appointed to a five-year term on the Ethics Commission by then-Council President Alex Padilla in 2002, said that if he had realized what he was doing, he would not have signed the check. “I knew I could not give to my son,” he said.

The check was dated Sept. 29, 2003, about a month after Garcetti was elected by the Ethics Commission as its president.

At the time, Garcetti said he would recuse himself from any matter affecting his son.

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Getting the settlement approved by the city is proving complicated.

Normally, the Ethics Commission administers such fines, but a conflict of interest stemming from Garcetti’s involvement disqualified the entire commission from acting, according to a legal opinion by the city attorney.

As a result, the issue is scheduled today to be taken up by the council’s Board of Referred Powers, which is made up of five City Council members. Two of the board members serve on the board because of committee assignments approved by Eric Garcetti.

The city attorney’s office indicated that none of the board members have conflicts of interest that would prevent them from acting.

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Gil Garcetti expressed some concern that the action would be reviewed by officials who themselves are subject to Ethics Commission rulings.

But City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo said the city had no choice: “No other alternate decision-maker is currently provided for in the law.”

The case triggered another conflict of interest as well. Because Gil Garcetti is involved in the Ethics Commission’s evaluation of the performance of Executive Director LeeAnn Pelham, she recused herself from negotiating and recommending the settlement with Garcetti.

Instead, it was handled by Tristan, the deputy director, who reports to Pelham.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com


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