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Ethics Commission backs measure to bar contractors from contributing to candidates

The Los Angeles City Ethics Commission voted Tuesday to support a planned ballot measure that would bar city contractors from giving campaign contributions to candidates, including those running for mayor and City Council.

The council must decide by Nov. 17 whether to send the proposal to voters in the March 8 municipal election. Council President Eric Garcetti and four other council members have proposed such a move in recent weeks.

Candidates for city office routinely receive campaign contributions from companies seeking city contracts, leases and franchises, including law firms, taxicab companies, airport concessionaires and construction firms. Under the proposal, those who fail to comply with the law could lose out on the chance at a city contract for four years, commission officials said.

The Ethics Commission first voted to seek such a ban in 2005, said Heather Holt, the Ethics Commission’s director of policy and legislation. At the time, the council took no action.

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“This is an issue that the Ethics Commission has long considered an issue in terms of ‘pay-to-play’ concerns,” Holt said. “So we think this is a good move to ensure that contract decisions are made based on the merits of the case rather than on any money that might be put into play.”

The proposal, in its current form, would largely ignore one of the most powerful interests at City Hall — real estate.

Even though the council regularly approves lucrative zoning changes, tract maps, variances and other development decisions, the proposal backed by the commission would continue to allow real estate companies — as well as their architects, engineering firms and financial backers — to give campaign contributions.

That omission does not trouble Robert Stern, president of the nonprofit Center for Governmental Studies, who praised the focus on contractors. “It takes away the temptation to give to city officials who are considering contracts,” he said. “It obviously doesn’t cover everybody, but it’s a good step forward.”

Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb said the councilman was waiting to hear back from City Atty. Carmen Trutanich on whether the proposal could be written to apply to developers of real estate projects. Those decisions frequently involve a larger number of players and require multiple votes, making them more complicated than contracts for supplies and services, Robb said.

“This is an area that is extremely complex,” he added.

david.zahniser@latimes.com


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