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L.A. County may pay $1.35 million to settle case over use of public funds to back Measure H

L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, center, and Mayor Eric Garcetti celebrate passage of Measure H in March 2017.
L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, center, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti join in celebrating passage of Measure H in 2017.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

An investigation by the state’s political watchdog and a civil lawsuit have resulted in a pending settlement that would require Los Angeles County to pay $1.35 million to resolve claims that it failed to properly disclose its use of public funds to support a ballot measure that raised the sales tax to fund homeless services.

The case revolves around the campaign for Measure H, a multimillion-dollar effort approved by voters in 2017 that was sponsored by businesses and labor groups, among others. Measure H received 69.3% of the vote, clearing the required two-thirds’ support by 2.6 percentage points, and is projected to produce $355 million annually over a decade.

The Fair Political Practices Commission opened an administrative investigation in March 2017 following a complaint by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. alleging that the county had conducted an illegal political campaign by running ads with positive messages about the measure.

The L.A. County district attorney’s office decided not to pursue a civil enforcement action, and the taxpayers association filed a related lawsuit in July 2018, alleging that the county had failed to disclose taxpayer funds it spent supporting Measure H.

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Jay Wierenga, a spokesman for the state commission, said that its five-member body will vote Aug. 20 on whether to accept the settlement. Approval of the agreement would resolve enforcement proceedings by the commission against the county.

“This has been an ongoing frustrating issue for taxpayers throughout the state of California, and that is seeing the brazen use of taxpayer dollars for political advocacy,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. “This is not a situation where they’re merely engaging in informational outreach, which is allowed, but blatantly taking sides and using taxpayer dollars to do so.”

In a statement, L.A. County spokeswoman Lennie LaGuire said the county “is pleased to resolve this matter so we can continue to focus on the health and safety of the people of Los Angeles County.”

In its settlement with the state and with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., the county held that the agreement “shall not be considered an admission of liability.”

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According to the settlement, the county entered into a contract in January 2017 to conduct a public education campaign to support Measure H that included television commercials, and it ultimately spent about $1 million on materials related to the measure and the county’s Homeless Initiative. Commercials included the words “The Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative” and the slogan “Real help. Lasting Change.” Ads that ran before the election touted “Measure H on the March 7 Ballot” and said “Are you ready? Vote March 7.”

The contractor hired by the county to conduct public outreach also arranged for commercials to run on Spanish-language radio stations in the L.A. area and encouraged listeners to visit the county’s website to obtain more information, the settlement says.

Times staff writer Adam Elmahrek contributed to this report.


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